Watch: Sex, Nudity, and Why You Need to Get Actors' Consent

Basic Instinct
To become a respected director, start by respecting your actors.

What is the nature of the relationship between a director and a film's actors? Is it that of the employer and the employee? Is it that of colleagues, working together toward a goal? Is it the relationship of a perpetual student and a wise teacher? Or is it none of these? Whatever the case, it's safe to say that both director and actor have rights, as humans. Film history reveals a myriad of cases in which, caught up in the intensity of a film, a director might violate the rights of an actor, without necessarily thinking that's what he or she was doing. This excellent new video essay by Ivana Brehas gives two solid examples of cases in which an actor's rights were violated. How? By using the actor's body as a tool without the actor's express consent.

The first scene discussed is the widely-watched, much-talked-about, no-longer-that-scandalous-but-a-shocker-when-it-came-out scene in Basic Instinct when Sharon Stone flashes a room full of police interrogators as she uncrosses her legs. Director Paul Verhoeven apparently staged the shot without making Stone 100% clear as to its content, saying her underwear was distracting, having her take them off, and then showing her the rough cut on such a small screen where she couldn't tell the extent of what was shown. By the time Stone saw it, it was in theaters, larger than life, and out of her hands. Granted, it's a provocative scene, and probably in retrospect the most interesting scene in the film, in terms of its shock value. But—and this is a large point—it was filmed in such a way without the actor's express consent; knowing this lessens the scene's impact, at least for this viewer. From the director's perspective, one does what one can to make a moving, intense film experience—but shouldn't there be limits to that "what one can"? What does it say about you as a director if you can't elicit realistic performances from your actors without deceiving them?

"A director must maintain ethical standards that still allow the artistry of the film to flourish."

The more egregious example discussed here is the famous rape scene from Last Tango in Paris. Neither director Bernardo Bertolucci nor Marlon Brando, the film's male star, told Maria Schneider what the explicit action of the scene—violent anal sex—would be before it was filmed; as with the Verhoeven film, she was kept slightly in the dark about it until it was too late for her to resist. The scene was realistic, obviously, and, for many viewers, it might be the only scene they remember. But at what cost? A substantial one, it would seem. Schneider—who was only 19 at the time to Brando's 48—remained scarred by the experience until her death, as well one might be.

There are obviously cases in which keeping actors guessing about the scenes they're filming could help a film, keep it spontaneous, give the work a mood of excitement it might not have otherwise. But it goes without saying that a director must keep his or her judgment in good check, and maintain ethical standards that still allow the artistry of the film to flourish. For the good of the entire industry, let alone your own reputation, get consent from your actors before having them engage in any kind of nudity or sexual behavior. For some best practices on how to do this, check out our Indie Film Weekly episode on the topic (at 27:25).     

You Might Also Like

Your Comment


Truly shocking your actors like in Alien is indeed totally different from expoiting sex/nudity. Respect is indeed the key and consent is essential. One should ask this question: if you dare not communicate your plans to your cast, are you sure it is a proper idea?
(We are not talking surprising twists here. Revealing them just before shooting can be helpfull sometimes.)

December 6, 2016 at 11:06AM, Edited December 6, 11:06AM

Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer

Interesting. Love how the video starts talking about consent in the professional world of cinema, but by the end it changes, and becomes something else. A narration from someone who can't tell the difference between news about a person's career, and news from their personal life. It almost seems like this video had it's own agenda.

You can't make a logical jump from what happen in "Last Tango in Paris" and consent in films, to what Woody Allen does in it's personal life, or the fact that Nate Parker is allowed to make films. That argument is a non sequitur.

December 6, 2016 at 11:23AM


I'm sorry, I don't believe for a second that Sharon Stone didn't know. You have to light it. You have to set the camera up to shoot up her skirt. You have to focus on her vjay. All of that takes a lot of time. And then there is the blocking where she uncrosses her legs on purpose and pauses so you can see up there.

I call TOTAL BS on she didn't know. My guess is she just said that to save face and appear to be a respectable actress who would never show her hootinani on camera. Just my opinion.

And in an interview with her, she said that if she was the director and the roles were reversed, she would use that footage too! She said it was perfect for her character.

Yeah, she's really smart but didn't know that taking off her underwear and then spreading her legs apart while lighting and a camera were shooting up her skirt wouldn't show her panama canal. Right!

In regards to Last Tango, this is misinformation. The rape scene was written in the script. There was dialogue that they spoke. What she didn't know about was Marlon getting butter on his fingers and then placing his hand between her thighs. It's totally untrue that the ENTIRE SCENE was done without her knowing it was going to happen. I live in L.A. and I'm an A.D. and trust me, they don't do a scene like that like improv.

December 6, 2016 at 12:52PM, Edited December 6, 12:59PM



December 6, 2016 at 9:03PM


A well considered article and video.... that touches on a very sensitive subject...

It's not the "action" which is the problem but the gaining of consent before and afterwards to first get the footage and then to show it.... There is always going to be manipulation... that is just a part of reality and actual human interaction, but by making consent part of the deal it gives people the right and ability to be respected as well as cared for and looked after properly.

The problem is the betrayal of trust.

December 9, 2016 at 5:43PM

Andy th Sage
Philosopher, story teller and interesting person