Sex in the age of Covid – what it looks like on screen

Abby Robinson
·5-min read
Photo credit: ABC
Photo credit: ABC

From Digital Spy

This Is Us showrunner Dan Fogelman recently shared a photo of cast members Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia behind the scenes ahead of the season five premiere.

We're all familiar with Covid protocol by now and yet, seeing the two co-stars masked up and standing well away from one another was no less jarring. We are truly living in a new age.

"A 2020 television sex scene," Fogelman captioned the snap.

It was a joke, of course, but it got us thinking, how are sex scenes and interactions which require people to get up close and personal being managed in the age of Covid?

The Strictly professionals and their celebrity partners have bubbled up for the 2020 series, enabling them to dance as they normally would during a year which has been anything but normal.

"Each couple has formed a support bubble," said the BBC. "Meaning, one half of the bubble is a single adult household living alone, while the other half may remain with their household. This means they are permitted to have close contact with one another.

"The bubbles are exclusive and the couples are not able to form other bubbles with anyone else whilst they are in the competition."

Photo credit: Guy Levy - BBC
Photo credit: Guy Levy - BBC

But what about those who aren't holed up with their cast members?

A number of productions are significantly reducing the number of close encounters, or scrapping them altogether.

"I don't get to do any hanky-panky," said SWAT's Shemar Moore, and hand-to-hand combat is similarly ruled out.

Initially, US soap The Bold and the Beautiful took drastic action and removed all of its love scenes. But the show felt a "little flat" because "we're all about romance and family interactions", executive producer Bradley Bell told The New York Times.

That prompted the use of a number of nifty tricks to ensure that its characters can still enjoy intimate moments when the mood strikes.

Photo credit: Adam Schreck/AP/Shutterstock - Shutterstock
Photo credit: Adam Schreck/AP/Shutterstock - Shutterstock

Bell told The Hollywood Reporter that actors will shoot eight feet apart, but it'll look like they're right next to one another.

"We'll shoot one side of the couple in a romantic scene alone in the room, but looking at a spot very close to them, and then shoot the other side alone," he explained.

"When we edit it together, it will look like they're nose to nose."

Another technique includes using the partners of the actors as stand-ins, or "love-scene doubles".

"So if you see hands touching faces in close proximity from a wide shot, instead of a stunt double we'll have a love-scene double, where it will be the husband or the wife doing the actual touching," Bell added. "Then when we edit it together, it will look like our couple on screen."

Photo credit: CBS
Photo credit: CBS

Mannequins have also played their part in both "the intimate scenes and hospital scenes".

"It's working quite well," Bell told NYT. "We're shooting it from a great distance or in a way you can't see the form is inanimate."

He added: "We've had a lot of strange looks and questions like, 'Do you really want to do this?' But everyone is game. They are getting their first latex kiss."

And there will be scenes when you'll know exactly what's happening without physically watching it unfold on screen.

"When things heat up, we pan to the fireplace or pan to a candle to indicate things are getting hot," he said. "All in all, I think a lot of it will be done with the eyes and the voice, and there can still be love in the air and romance on the screen from a safe distance."

The power of the unseen has long been an approach favoured by filmmakers, and it's likely that we're going to be seeing a lot more of that moving forwards.

Riverdale showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa told NYT that he plans to have his cast members "suggest sex through coded language", adding: "I think we'll almost lean into that melodrama and suggestive behaviour."

Photo credit: The CW
Photo credit: The CW

Grey's Anatomy boss Krista Vernoff has told fans of the medical drama that it won't be business as usual in the kissing department.

"Obviously you can't have people making out," she said on The Hollywood Reporter's TV's Top 5 podcast. But "sex" is something that they can still do.

She explained: "There's been a lot of sex on Grey's Anatomy that doesn't involve kissing. There's a lot of sexy lifting of clothes and pulling down of clothes and taking off of things and standing behind a person in a sexy way.

"There's a lot of ways to skin that cat, so to speak."

According to Variety, technology will also play its part, with camera lenses able to make it look like people are positioned closer together.

Photo credit: ABC
Photo credit: ABC

It's evident from listening to the creatives who are tasked with delivering our favourite shows in the current climate that the obstacles are both great and likely to remain in place for quite some time.

But while the finished product might not resemble quite what we were used to pre-Covid, love is very much still in the air.

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