The key, I think, to shooting great sex, is the same as shooting anything else: Time.
Time for your performers and time for you.
Over the course of the day, we might shoot across a couple different locations. We definitely shoot for coverage, first getting our wide shots, any mobile shots, shooting close ups for that emotive touch. In that time, we have to move lights around, make sure we’ve got fill on our actors faces, that continuity remains while taking advantage of the moving frame limits. We’ll put on and remove lavaliere microphones, hang booms inches above actors faces just outside of frame. We’ll run take after take, refining the performance between actors and director until it’s all just… Perfect.
Then, our actors strip down and we shoot the intra-sexual dialogue scenes, usually in close up. This gives us a little more flexibility in terms of lighting and sound, as well as ensuring we get our close-ups and dialogue recorded before everyone gets too sweaty, flushed, dishevelled or otherwise anointed with fluids. It’s not that I’m worried about the photogenic-ness of our actors during a supposedly mid-coitus bit of talking; sometimes, I think it’s got to be way harder for us to get that look using make up and some tactical hair tousling than it would be to interrupt our actors during the act.
Except for one thing.
In a lot of mainstream porn, the actors spend a good amount of their time in positions that are designed to maximise camera and lighting exposure. These contortions, constant interruptions to get a particular shot, a particular angle, to put the talent into a specific body configuration destroy the natural flow of sex. The way I shoot, the way I try to shoot, is to let my actors get going with their sex scene and, once they’ve started, then try to interrupt them as little as possible. I set my lighting in a nice, even, versatile way before the sex actually begins, and move with a reflector if I need a quick fill on a certain angle. I’ll run a boom microphone and throw a shotgun on top of my camera (not how I usually like to capture sound, but this part of the film is a single take kind of deal).
The whole point is I want to interrupt, or distract, the two or three people who are focusing on getting down as little as possible. I want to give the talent the most amount of space possible to work their magic. No long breaks while we reset lighting rigs, no arguments about framing with the DP or lenses being held in front the of the guys face so we can get that POV doggie angle. Hell, the ideal is that the talent legitimately forgets that me and my crew are in the room. I’d love to see them talk to each other, negotiate what they want from each other, worry about each other’s pleasure and their own performance like people actually do when they have sex. I’d edit around a guy having to hold himself back from blowing his wad early fifty times over fighting to get both players back to the level we need them at after a fifteen-minute lighting change break. Every interruption takes the talent further from the moment, from the scene; from the idea that they are two people actually having sex.
It’s a bit like reverse Stanislavski. You’re asking these two people to actually have sex on camera, in character as two people who are having sex. Are they method acting? Two actors in mainstream film wouldn’t have to worry about it. They can pretend to have sex like they pretend to do everything else. In the porn industry, there’s an expectation that we want them to have real sex in a fake story; and, no expectation that we would give them the time or the space to worry about characterisation, about the role, about getting into the mindset of the character or worrying about their backstory. We expect the sex to be real. Real, actual sex between people who have no chance to consider why they are there. It’s almost no wonder that the industry has fallen back on everyone being choked, hair-pulled, spat on, tit slapped and throat fucked. At least, to the average viewer, you’ve added a layer of complexity to these characters who are getting at it.
“Oh,” they say to themselves, “he likes to be a bit rough, and she likes it a bit rough.”
Or she doesn’t. It actually doesn’t matter. It’s not a directorial choice, a character choice, an organic moment that the actress found through her study and work. It’s as fake as a face full of pina colada mix.
My point is that once the lines are shot, once the script is down, and it’s time to put the sex bit on film. I want to give my actors the best possible chance to follow natural, characterised urges and impetus. I want to do that by giving them space and time and a chance to direct themselves and each other. Therein, I think, lies the best sex and, consequently, the absolute best porn.