Introducing our How to Have Sex (Scenes) Saturday series… the sex scene – often overlooked and glossed over with a smooch and CUT TO: a cigarette is the perfect opportunity to explore character and plot. You have absolutely ZERO excuse to put any kind of protection on the sex scene these days. Why? Because gone are the days when a screenwriter’s only option to tell the audience that a sex act has been consummated was with a metaphor. The train rushing, full-speed through a tunnel. The wayward firehouse. The cigar. A flower opening. Fireworks.
After Edison zapped Topsy the elephant with 6,000 volts of electricity on film, folks were wondering what’s next? Sex of course. Morality rules governing the sex act – or the depiction of sex via a metaphor was set in motion. The Production Code prohibited “excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures.”
So now that lustful kissing and suggestive gestures – S.E.X – isn’t censored, how the hell do you write it?
It’s a topic screenwriters rarely discuss in interviews. Yet, the sex scene is an opportunity not only to convey that THE COUPLE DID IT – it’s a way to move the story. Why write a “Slam, Bam, Thank You Ma’am” scene when you can USE the sex scene – a moment when your audience will be gaping with rapt attention – as a way to illustrate theme, character truths, and plot.
Take the scene in DISCLOSURE.
The scene isn’t about sex – it’s about the power struggle between Meredith (played by Demi Moore) and Sanders (played by Michael Douglas).
It’s after work, late. Meredith is tired and in her office. She asks Sanders to give her a shoulder rub, what’s the harm in that? Two ex-lovers can help one another out with a shoulder rub. It’s just good grooming, chimps do it.
Do you understand the controller chip is what positions the split optics? Let me show you the schematic —
Sanders moves to get the diagrams…
Sanders goes back to rubbing her shoulders…
The power play has begun. Who will penetrate who?
As Meredith makes the moves of a sexual nature, Sanders tries to repel her advances. He grunts a “no” and a couple of “oh, Gods…” Hoping she’ll stop. Finally, when she seems to have pushed this clammy executive to hot stuff on the love ‘o meter tester – he takes action. Grabs her, and tears her blouse. They wrestle.
Is this what you want? Huh?
He hikes up her skirt and his fingers get busy. When he catches a glimpse of himself in the window –
His reflection. The family pictures … his wife and kids.
He pulls up his pants and she hits him. The struggle for power ensues… He grabs her wrists, she breaks free and scratches him across the chest. The scene ends when he pushes her, she falls – a wine glass shatters – and he gathers his workman tools – the folders, the schematic, and his cell.
For Sanders, the scene begins and ends with work. Despite Meredith’s sexual power play, Sanders stayed in control – and came out on top (without the sex).
What a sex scene! It’s more about the fact that Douglas DIDN’T do IT than the actual act of doing IT. Sex (and the lack thereof, i.e. resisting) is treated as a weapon. The scene is sexy and full of both emotional and physical action. So when you’re writing your next sex scene, take full advantage; write it in a way that illuminates your story’s theme, characters, and plot.
Written by: Mich Medvedoff