Friday, February 27, 2015

'Fifty Shades of Grey' Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey Talks About Filming Sex Scenes and Mentions Jamie

New York Times - To hear most actors tell it, filming sex scenes is no turn-on. There are big cameras, of course, and big crew members that come with them. It’s a performance with a stranger-turned-scene-partner, for a director who’s judging every caress and whimper. It’s the antithesis of hot, stars assure us on late-night TV; it’s awkward and tense. Speak to the filmmakers, though, and you get a different take.

“I personally am very excited when we shoot sex scenes,” said Sarah Treem, a creator of the Showtime series “The Affair.” “Because I think they can be transgressive; they can be very, very real.”

When they work, she added, “everybody actually enjoys them.”

Audiences certainly do, if the blockbuster success of “Fifty Shades of Grey” is any measure. But they are delicate moments to capture. “We did actually save the explicit sex to the final week” of shooting, said Seamus McGarvey, the cinematographer of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” based on E. L. James’s S-and-M-centered novel — though on-screen, some of the whipping is created via digital imagery.

To simulate sex, actors employ tricks: pillows between them, prosthetics and body stockings, and push-ups to get their muscles bulging. But the movement is often improvised. “If it’s overly rehearsed or overly thought through, it seems like a bad soft-core porn on Cinemax,” said Judd Apatow, the auteur of raunchy rom-coms (and a producer of “Girls”). In the forthcoming comedy “Trainwreck,” Mr. Apatow directed the writer and comedian Amy Schumer in her first big-screen sex scenes; she pumped herself up by listening to Beyoncé in her trailer.

On “Fatal Attraction,” Michael Douglas and Glenn Close were loosened up with Champagne and margaritas, said Adrian Lyne, the director of that sexually charged classic as well as “Indecent Proposal” and “Unfaithful.”

Naturally, not all steamy scenes are amorous. Some, like those in Jean-Marc Vallée’s “Wild” and “Dallas Buyers Club,” are meant to be uncomfortable, and those are among the most difficult to create.

In individual telephone conversations, these film professionals discussed one of the weirder aspects of their jobs, the logistics of sex on screen.

Write, rehearse and choreograph? Or just let the camera roll?

Seamus McGarvey: We did have rehearsals and to make the actors feel comfortable initially, look at how we might photograph the sex. Also, that suited the first few sex scenes, to have a slight awkwardness to them; the camera would be more at a distance. In the Red Room, when things heat up a little bit, that was less choreographed. Sometimes we would use a remotely operated camerahead so the actors wouldn’t have an operator leaning in.

Do you ask for nudity, and then worry about covering it up afterward?

McGarvey: We were protecting the actors. Jamie [Dornan] had a cover over his penis. Dakota [Johnson] had kind of a patch that went over her pubic area, and right round her whole body. We were in the curious situation, in postproduction, of adding [pubic hair]. I wouldn’t say it was one of the highlights of my career, but it certainly was one of the most surreal scenarios. We did have a butt double for Dakota. I had the pleasure of casting a nontattooed bottom — Surreal Scenario No. 2.

Sex scenes mean a small crew. But how close are the cameras and how many takes?

McGarvey: For the sex, we would always shoot with two cameras, so they wouldn’t have to do numerous takes. I have done sex scenes before that have more abandon, for instance, in “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” When I did that scene with Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly, with a 5D [camera], I was literally under the covers.


  1. So cool to read Seamus' viewpoint!

  2. So cool to read Seamus' viewpoint!

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