My first feature film “Inside You” — a comedy about a couple that switches bodies after a night with a magic sex toy — released this week on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Xbox & Google Play. Before filming, I asked the lead actor, Marshall Stratton, out for drinks. We went back to my place, and I asked him to kiss me and grab my boobs. He did. I feel embarrassed and apologetic about it still.
But here’s the important thing: I implored him that he didn’t have to do it, I felt extremely uncomfortable about it, he knew in advance the purpose of that evening, and the only reason it happened is that I was acting in the film opposite his character, we had a sex scene, I was afraid of the intimate contact we would soon portray together, and I wanted to avoid doing it for the first time in front of the crew. The sex scenes were also essential to the story.
We had some drinks at a local bar, I brought him back to my bedroom, and the whole thing felt incredibly squeamish. I would say things like — ok, I think our characters might do something like this: and then he grabbed my boobs after I asked him to do so. And one last thing I wanted to try- “I think my character might straddle your character.” We did it. We laughed about it. We called it a day. Thankfully Marshall was completely supportive as it became clear I was even less comfortable than he was.
We instantly discovered that kissing someone you’re faking it with is miles away from sexy. None of it felt real nor hot nor heavy. What a relief.
Here’s the kicker- the actual sex scenes were more tame yet more silly and gross than we prepared for — which made me feel even more embarrassed that I asked Marshall to grab my boobs unnecessarily. Perhaps it helped us get past any heeby jeebies we might have had. Still I felt kinda gross having asked for it because I hired him, and gross because I was the director and he was the actor — a dynamic I was keenly aware of.
The following year I directed a tv pilot that had a makeout scene and I discussed with the actors the possibility of physical contact before shooting the scene and the lead actress herself suggested something she had read about from other actors — the two actors hug each other for a long time before filming. This helped them get physically closer and get out some sillies beforehand. It worked beautifully and it’s one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever directed. The script was also very funny and their physical work allowed for some fantastically intimate and high stakes moments. Neither actor felt violated and all of us were happy with the scene.
Why were we so responsible and respectful of each other’s feelings on both of these sets?
Is the answer to have more female directors like me? Women who know what it’s like to be violated and do not wish to violate others? Yes. But there’s also several men with the same sensitivities. Men whose core humanity hasn’t been violated by the tenets of rape culture.
My point here is the feelings we all had- discomfort, embarrassment, explicitly asking for consent — are what SHOULD be present in abundance on film sets, in work places, in life. Who the hell are these people who want to abuse their power, coerce others into things they don’t want to do, and get off at someone else’s expense? Embarrassment is an expression of empathy and compassion. Harvey Weinstein boasted with pride about his sexual assault and abuse of power to others when he should’ve been disgusted with himself.
I’m not suggesting shame with regards to consensual sex, but I am suggesting shame with regard to sex in professional environments, and especially when others’ boundaries are at stake.
Abusing power is not powerful. It’s cruel, pathetic, predatory, and for the most part — illegal. If one cannot recognize any semblance of embarrassment, need for consent, or awareness of their sexuality and its impact on others, they don’t belong in positions of power and cannot be trusted with it. This extends far beyond the film industry.
You don’t have to sexually assault someone to make a movie. You don’t have to sexually assault someone.