As the coronavirus further spreads and many people continue to stay indoors, governments around the world have found it necessary to issue guidelines for one of the few things people can do at home: sex. According to the Washington D.C. government, kissing can pass COVID-19. Sex can pass COVID-19. Anything involving saliva can pass COVID-19. “You are your safest sex partner,” it advised. That is the state of intimacy in the time of coronavirus. But that’s real life. What about TV, the one other thing people have been keeping busy with? What happens to shows where intimate scenes are abundant and caught up-close on camera?
As TV and film sets in the United States open up, producers, show-runners, and actors are getting creative.
For one popular soap, that means completely new actors: mannequins.
The executive producer of CBS’ The Bold and the Beautiful told The New York Times that the show writers’ first attempt at mitigating risks was to remove the love scenes altogether. But that made the drama “fall a little flat.”
So, for the next intimate scenes, they brought in mannequins. Though perhaps initially sceptical, the actors were all up for it — evading sickness and death is worth a latex kiss.
For the teen drama Riverdale, mannequins will make an appearance in upcoming crowd shots of a graduation scene, but not in intimate scenes. A showrunner told the NY Times that the show’s “weird retro 1950’s vibe” allows them instead to change the script itself to “suggest sex through coded language.”
The Netflix show You is full of chaotic, dramatic, and intimate plotlines and is also looking for a way to work around the pandemic.
“Smoke and mirrors are basically the entire job description of making cinematic entertainment,” showrunner Sera Gamble said. “Everything requires fakery.”
Hollywood intimacy coordinator Amanda Blumenthal, who founded the Intimacy Professionals Association and has worked on HBO’s Euphoria, said that COVID-19 safeguards might take films and TV plots back in time.
“One of my fellow coordinator friends joked the other day we are going back to the 1920s when there was censorship,” she told the Daily Mail. “Then you could not show anything and it was implied that they make love. Instead of a love scene, they show a door closing and the audience realize they are going to have sex.”
The story is no different in Asia, where similar precautions and movie magic innovations have to be made on set.
On Thai film sets, love scenes are completely banned during the pandemic, along with fighting or other acts that involve close contact. Bollywood also slashed any kissing on set.
In South Korea, filming the Netflix dramas Move to Heaven and Love Alarm during the pandemic required rapid testing and pausing of production when someone showed signs of infection, wrote Ted Sarandos, a Netflix chief content officer, in an op-ed.
The Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), in May, released safety protocols for film and audiovisual shoots during the pandemic and specifically stated requirements for intimate scenes.
“For kissing, sex scenes, or scenes that require one actor to touch another's face or body, the actors must test negative for COVID-19,” the FDCP stated. “Full and explicit consent must be secured from the actors involved. Otherwise, actors may refuse to act or participate in such scenes.”
Camera angles and editing — which have always been used to work around constraints — are also used to create sexually intimate scenes without actually risking the spread of the virus.
“There are ways to cut it to make it look like we're getting ready to kiss,” Rachel Flesher, an intimate scene coordinator for GLOW and Never Have I Ever, told Cosmopolitan.
Bradley Bell, executive producer of The Bold and the Beautiful, shared with The Hollywood Reporter a post-production trick that allows for social distancing during the shoot.
“We'll shoot one side of the couple in a romantic scene alone in the room, but looking at a spot very close to them, and then shoot the other side alone. When we edit it together, it will look like they're nose to nose."