Today, while perusing my usual slate of movie-related websites, I saw an article that (for a few reasons) raised my eyebrows: The 10 Best Nude Scenes of the Year. The lead picture in the article was of Alice Eve, a delightful actress with whom I worked on Crossing Over. Alice had more nudity in that film than you would ever imagine. She performed like a real trooper.
Many people have asked me to write an article on dealing with nudity. It’s a touchy subject, and you can’t really be anecdotal in talking about it for fear of compromising actors’ trust and anonymity… but after today’s article (and a little encouragement) I decided to do it. I will be careful to not use any names, so as not to embarrass anyone.
In my opinion, nudity is a touchy subject because of America’s puritanical views on sexuality and the human body. The truth is – everyone has a naked body. We all see our naked bodies when we bathe, get dressed, whatever. People are all up in arms about these airport body scanners. What’s the big deal?! Why is nakedness such an apparent shock to society? It’s something that I will never really understand. But then again, I deal with bodies for a living. You’ve seen one body; you’ve seen ‘em all. Er, well, not exactly, but most of the time, that’s how it is. I have actually seen some crazy stuff in my time. But I’ll save that for the memoir I will write when I am ready to retire.
Dealing with nudity in the workplace is tricky. Most of the time (and this is changing, so don’t get me wrong) it is female nudity we deal with on set. Increasingly, however (thanks to movies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Brüno, Eastern Promises), we are dealing with male nudity as well. In my experience, I have found that the first discussions about how nudity will be handled come up in the fitting. As in, the actor is too afraid to ask the director about it (because s/he thinks s/he will be perceived as “a problem” if they start asking).
Some actors have riders built in to their contracts about how much can be shown – a naked back, but no naked front, for example – but this doesn’t always soothe fragile nerves. Often, I have to explain to the actor how “nude coverage” works. Sometimes, these actors – anxious and biting fingernails – are well respected, award-winning, experienced movie stars. They just haven’t had the opportunity to bare themselves on screen. Sometimes, these actors are new to the scene. Here’s what I tell them (especially when I get a really nervous one):
Okay, the scene calls for nudity. You’re going to have to talk with the director about how, exactly, this will be shot. But here’s what we, as a costume department, are going to do for you. Number one – we will request, in no uncertain terms, that the set be closed. That includes fire marshalls, medics, and police, who might try to make a case for being “essential” on the set. They’re full of sh*t and they don’t need to be on set. Number two – we will request that all video/playback monitors be clear of non-essential crew. That means the sound monitor as well as the director/scripty monitor. No one will be watching over the sound guy’s shoulder. Number three – you will have your own costumer, like a magnet, standing by with a robe to cover you up in between takes. And here’s the big one, number four – we will provide you with nude coverage that makes you feel comfortable.
Nude coverage? What’s that?! For women, nude coverage varies depending on what is being shot. If you have a woman under the covers, but with shoulders exposed, it means a strapless bra, generally nude in color so it won’t show through the sheets or cast a color reflection on the skin. If you are filming a topless woman shot from behind (to show bare back), nude coverage consists of a “sticky bra” or “petals”, sometimes known as “pasties”. If you are shooting a woman completely naked from the back, to show bare bum and back, nude coverage would consist of “petals” and a “privacy patch”. I know. It’s called a “privacy patch”. You can stop laughing now.
The “privacy patch” is not something they teach you in school. In fact, when I was first starting, I had to kind of figure this out on my own. I did some B-movies in the early days, one in particular where I had to design an underground sex club. It was a nightmare, but I learned a lot – principally about nudity! So, the “privacy patch” is cut from nude-colored lycra fabric. It is an elongated teardrop shape, about eight inches long, with Topstick (double-sided toupee tape) on the bottom of the teardrop, and on both sides of the skinny edge of the teardrop.
The patch is applied like this: the big side gets stuck to the front of the woman, so that the fabric covers anything you don’t want to see. The patch is then pulled through the legs and adhered (for lack of better descriptors) between the butt-cheeks. The tape helps the patch to stay put, and you can’t see anything from behind once the patch is in place. From the front, it looks like this (I changed the patch color to blue to highlight its placement).
For men, the options are more interesting. Shirtless man? No problem. Naked from behind? That’s where the jewel bag comes in. Yes, I said, “jewel bag”. These nifty little things are also made out of nude lycra fabric. It actually looks like a sock. Sometimes they are referred to as a “c*ck sock” for the alliteration. There is elastic in the “ankle” part of the sock, so that it stays on. This “sock” is worn over the entire package on a man, so that everything is covered.
So, it kind of looks like this (below) when worn. It allows for full range of shooting from behind, and it provides some contact coverage if the actor is doing a love scene.
I then show the actor the coverage garments. Sometimes, they blush. They want to know if these are used over and over (they aren’t), and if they can be custom made to accommodate their large size (ha, ha, ha). I (or a tailor) always custom-make these privacy garments. They are discarded (meaning THROWN AWAY) after use. Or burned, or chopped up into a million pieces if the actor wants. They are never used again, and I would always advocate wearing rubber gloves when wrapping rooms/trailers that contain these privacy items.
The thing about nudity is that it is intimate and personal, if you know what I mean. Body parts bump body parts, and sometimes a privacy patch is just not enough. Sometimes, people fail to consider that herpes and genital warts can be spread through skin-to-skin contact. The actual organs don’t even have to be directly in contact. This reality gives me great pause, and I try not to think about it. In my opinion, doing scenes that require intimate contact should require “hazard pay”. Hazard pay is usually given to employees like rigging grips who must do dangerous, weird acrobatics to hang lights, etc., or to stunt men who perform a maneuver with a very high degree of danger/difficulty. I think that bumping uglies (even partially covered) means hazard pay – it can be truly dangerous.
The only real solution to the blood-curdling thought of contracting an STD at work on set is to require that the other actor in the scene be thoroughly and completely tested for STDs prior to shooting. OR, to just not allow those areas to touch each other, ever, period, end of story. I realize that most producers don’t even want to think about this, much less discuss it, because it creates an awkward liability for them. Ultimately the producer is responsible for the welfare of the actors. If one contracts an STD on set (and believe me, it has happened on a film on which I worked), as part of their job, the producer is then (logically) responsible.
Something to think about.
Nude coverage is almost as important for the crew as it is for the actor. The actor wears the nude coverage so as not to expose him/herself. However, the actor also wears the nude coverage out of respect for the crew. Nudity can be distracting to some crew members, and in the interest of keeping the set “professional”, these garments are worn as a courtesy to the crew. Now, don’t get me started about the shows I’ve done where the actors drink a bottle of Patron Silver and rip their privacy garments off, casting fate to the wind! That is for the memoir book.
So, I am offering up a big cheer for Alice Eve for her performance in Crossing Over, which was heartbreaking. Alice did beautiful work in this film, clothed and unclothed, and I am glad that someone is recognizing her for it. Hats off (!) to her!