Yes, Virginia, There is a Nudity Clause - Complications Ensue
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Thursday, March 20, 2008

An odd thing came up during our discussions in the writing room. I'm writing a pay cable series, so I felt free to write in a fair amount of nudity. The main character is an entity that wouldn't be self-conscious about nudity in the first place, and hell, it's pay cable.

My two veteran story editors (technically executive story consultants) warned me that I'm not going to get my lead to actually take off her clothes as much as I've got.

When you hire an actor who's going to be expected to disrobe, the casting director will discuss nudity and then put a nudity clause in his or her contract. The nudity clause is quite specific about what the actor might be expected to expose.

The problem is that there's a big difference between what an actor will promise to expose when he or she wants the role, and what they'll do once they're hired. Particularly if they're the lead, they know you're unlikely to fire them for not showing their behind even though they promised to. They just balk and won't come out of their trailer.

Naturally this depends on the actor and the show. Some actors (especially French ones) have no trouble showing skin. Actors will also show skin if they feel the show is creatively strong: great director, great writing, the nudity makes an essential story or character point. Julianne Moore has a great scene in SHORT CUTS where she's arguing with her husband, played by Matthew Modine, with her panties off. The point was that this is how married people sometimes argue. So theoretically with the right actress I might get away with my nude scenes -- if I can convince the actor that she's telling the audience something about her character, rather than just providing eye candy.

The smaller the role, the less likely the actor will balk, as well. An actor whose character can be killed off is unlikely to become a pain in the butt on set.

But you never know. I worked on an "erotic thriller" years ago. Pretty much the whole point of the movie was a few sexy scenes with the female lead. Guess what? She wouldn't do them, and neither the director nor the producer was willing to go to the mattresses to make her do it.

The movie was unreleasable.

I've also heard tell of a certain actress now showing lots of skin in a sexy cable series who signed on for a show about a stripper, directed by an award-winning director. A stripper! She didn't show anything. The director was tearing his hair out. It does take quite a bit out of the movie.

What can you do? Make sure there are lots of conversations about the nudity before shooting, so the actor knows you're serious about it. Have the casting director roll tape on the conversations in the casting office. "So, you understand the role calls for full frontal nudity? And you're okay with that?"

In a movie you could, I suppose, shoot the nude scenes first, so you can replace the actor if she refuses to do what the script calls for. Can't do that in a series, though. You could also, I imagine, build financial penalties short of firing into the actor's contract.

I guess the most important thing is probably checking the actor's filmography. If there's a lot of nudity there, ask him or her if she's still cool with it, or if he or she has made a decision to change tack. If not, you're probably okay. If the actor has never done nudity, you'd need an explanation why he or she is willing to do it now. (You might have Sharon Stone, for example, just before BASIC INSTINCT, telling you that she and her manager have decided to "sex me up.")

In the rush before filming, these sorts of things get lost, unless you have experienced people around you. That's why experience is rated so highly in TV, often much more than talent. There are so many things that can go wrong that you wouldn't think of, unless you've been there.

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2 Comments:

I think one thing actors may take into account when they think about doing a nude scene now is that their top hit when someone image searches their name is likely to be a still from that scene.

In the old days, if an actor showed a brief glimpse of something then it would take someone some dedicated work with their VCR to... well, do what they have to do.

Now. Well, an image search on Sharon Stone sure isn't work safe.

There's whole sites devoted to libraries of these nudity frames.

By Blogger bodnotbod, at 10:49 AM  

And let's not forget the availability of body doubles...

By Blogger Cunningham, at 1:01 PM  

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