Tag Archives: Screenplay

Sex and the Screenplay

A guest post by Tracy Mangum.

Love it or hate it, Fifty Shades of Grey is a cultural phenomenon. Since Random House bought the rights to the trilogy in 2012, the series has sold over 100 million copies worldwide. Trailers for the movie have been view 250 million times, and has already made over $300 million at the worldwide box office. That means that Fifty Shades is about to become all the more influential, so now seems like a good time to discuss writing sex for screen, and what it’s like filming those scenes.

Note, I haven’t read Fifty Shades, nor have I seen the movie. I also have never written or filmed a sex scene. I do have a BA in film studies, but if my lack of first hand knowledge upsets you, you have permission to click away now.

Still here? Awesome.

Sex in film is a tricky subject. There’s a fine line between too explicit and too tame, and either side can cause you to lose the audience. Another problem from a writing standpoint is that the screenwriter is the least important part of the sex scene. It’s up to the director, the actors, the director of photography, and the editor to determine what will be shown on screen. As a screenwriter, you never give directions or suggested shots/edits in your script. You are there to paint the overall picture and allow the director to make the specific decisions.

The first thing to think about is why are you including a sex scene in the first place. You could just fade out on a couple kissing, and then fade in on them in bed the next morning. The fade is a common editing technique to suggest a passage of time, and it visually gives the audience the information without actually showing anything. You need to have a solid rationale as to why we need to see the scene take place. You need to find the drama in the sex: Is the relationship disintegrating? Is there a healing happening? The script needs to explore the relationship between the characters that is happening during the scene. The scene isn’t about sex, but rather the exchange of emotions. Is it rage, or desolation, or exultation, or tenderness, or surprise? If your scene is only about lust, it might be shocking at first, but quickly becomes boring.

You as the screenwriter sitting at the laptop can easily create a vision of two individuals expressing their love to each other. These characters are deeply in love and this intimate moment plays out beautifully as they lovingly caress each other. Sounds lovely in your head and on paper, but remember you are asking real people to bring your vision to life.

You have two actors that may be strangers, may be friends, may have a decent working relationship with, or maybe despise each other, strip naked, and pretend to share intense intimacy with each other. They have to be mindful of technical restraints such as where the camera focus and framing is, reciting any dialogue, choreographed movement with their partner, all in front of bright lights, cameras, and about 10+ people on set watching. Then you have to do the exact same scene from multiple angles and you try to perfectly replicate the movements and speed in each take to make it cut together in post-production.

Filmmaking is a construction of reality that is very mechanical, practiced, and choreographed. It is made to look like the camera/audience has just happened upon this intimate moment between two people, but the reality is anything but that. Scenes will often be framed to show the actors heads, and only part of their upper torso. This will allow the actors to keep pants on. For scenes that need to show more of the body, actresses often wear flesh colored underwear, and men will wear what is basically a sock. Often times, the actor/actresses significant other is on set to watch and make sure nothing unusual occurs, but this can make a difficult scene even more awkward.

But what about films that appear to be much more explicit like “Nymphomaniac” or “Blue is the Warmest Color” or even “Game of Thrones” on HBO? They look so realistic! Well, that’s because they are good at creating a false reality. Filmmakers will use body doubles, clever lighting and editing, body molds/props, or even computer generated images.

So as you write your script, remember that a good sex scene is just like any other scene in the film. It needs to have a reason to be there, reveal something about your characters, and propel the scene forward. If it doesn’t meet that criteria it shouldn’t be in your screenplay. Cut it out before the director leaves it on the cutting room floor.

Tracy MangumAbout Tracy Mangum:

I’m a local Salt Lake City filmmaker and blogger.

My short film “Father Knows Flesh” won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor at the SL Comic Con FanX Film Festival last year. I cover the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Agents of Shield, Gotham, and Disney for Lord of the Laser Sword.

I taught film in SLC for 10 years at LDS Business College.

The Terror of Goals

A guest post by Patrick Sullivan.

One of the biggest struggles a writer can face is against oneself. It can lead you to either not write at all, or if you do write a piece, to never let it out into the world to find an audience. When it comes to resolutions, this can lead down one of two paths very easily. Not making them to avoid any chance of failure, or making a resolution so easy that no growth comes from its completion.

With the onset of a new year, there is a chance to look deeper and find where improvement can happen. Has enough time been spent optimizing writing productivity? Or perhaps more time could be devoted to the craft at a sentence level. Unless every word put down gets its turn at being polished and seeing the light of day, there is always room to grow when it comes to seeing your work go out into the world.

Until fears are faced, they can never be overcome. Once the things that are shied away from are known, it is possible to figure out how to face them, defeat them, and grow in the craft, as well as the art of writing. This is why regular introspection is always key, be it as part of a New Year’s resolution or simply a regular part of your growth as an author.

Personally, I know I need to improve my craft at the sentence level a great deal, improve my output by dedicating more time to putting words on the page, and get my work out there so it can have the impact it is meant to. Therefore, I have set a number of goals for myself. Will I fail? Possibly, but I have to have the courage to risk that failure, and to own it.

My first goal: to write three brand new novels this year. The best I’ve done previously is a novel and a half, but that tends to be accomplished over a short period of time. If I dedicate enough time to preparation and putting down words, I can do this, and if I ever intend to reach where I want to with my craft, I have to learn to accomplish this.

Secondly, I will write one screenplay this year. I believe that spending time exploring other types of writing can improve different parts of the craft. Screenplays can allow a strong focus on dialogue and focused scene setting without all the other prose being there to hide those aspects. This means focused practice while gaining another skill.

Thirdly, I will write twelve poems this year, one per month, across multiple styles. This will force me to work on imagery and focused word choice, things that can be applied to novel-writing.

Finally, I will submit my work. There are two parts to this. One is polishing and submitting at least one novel to agents and editors, and thereby facing the fear of letting my work face critique and risk it being found wanting. The other half is writing two short stories and submitting them to Writers of the Future, with its prestige and knowledgeable judges making another excellent test to see where I am in my craft.

Will I fail at some or all of these goals? Possibly, but unless I try, I won’t know what I am capable of, which would be a foolish mistake for me to make. What are your goals for the coming year, and how will they help you grow as a writer?

Guest Writer Bio:
PatrickPatrick Sullivan is an explorer of ideas across many forms, from digital data and code to stories. He grew up in southern Arkansas, but found his true home in Denver, Colorado where he now lives working in the software industry while writing tales he intends to someday share with the masses.