Why Sex Sells Screenplays & Makes The Movie
Sex sells. Sex scenes in movies can be moving and passionate, but must remain subtle, understated. Sex scenes are a glimpse of what sex is in life, but that glimpse must be more than just a visual feast, it must be integral to and enhance the story.
In a screenplay, the writer must direct the director to understand whether the scene is loving and impassioned, or spicy and erotic. It is hard to understand this maxim, but nudity is less sensual than the suggestion of nudity – a bare leg, shoulder-blades, a scooped back, invite the eye to imagine what is not seen.
A girl in a mask, even fully dressed, is automatically alluring – why is she in a mask? What is she hiding? Who is she? A camera that pans across a nightclub and pauses at a shapely leg in elegant heels make us want to know who is wearing those heels. It’s sexy. And sex sells.
It is the potential of sex more than sex that’s exciting to an audience. A couple climbing the stairs, dropping their clothes as they go holds our attention far more than that same couple stripped naked banging away on the bed sheets. The sex act is pretty much the same, him on top, her on top, the variations are limited. It is flirtation, the verbal and visual foreplay, the scent of sex that grips the audience.
Describing a sex scene requires the same restraint and nuance – he lifts her shirt over her head and reaches for the clasp at the back of her bra. She smiles because he can’t find it. Their eyes meet and he looks down as she unhooks the clasp between the cups and her breasts are briefly revealed before he looks up again. Now they kiss and we see her busy fingers pulling the shirt from his pants. This is sexy. The audience wants more – the secret is to make them wait.
Sex Sells Maxim
Words in a sex scene detract. Silence is sacred, except for a music track which, again, must be subtle, no marching bands and sliding chords; strings are best, a quartet by Schubert, Death and the Maiden, perhaps, something moving and mysterious, the violin (the maiden) in counterpart to the deep resonance of the cello (her lover). Schubert understood the maxim: sex sells.
If there is a need for dialogue, almost anything a writer can think of will have been thought of before and will thus be cliché: I’ve wanted you so long; I never knew it would be like this; Wow, you’re amazing.
Avoid all this stuff and strike out for something original. Let the sex play out and maybe she says: You know, I wish I’d never given up smoking. Maybe he says: You must have done this before…
Sex is cool. What people say has to be cool. Encounters that don’t end in sex can be just as passionate. It is done with the eyes, with light and shadow. Any director worth the name will have watched thousands of films to see how it’s done – and then set out to do it the same, but different.
In the book I am writing now, a couple meet at the New Years Eve Tartan Ball. They are Tom and Katie. Katie is dancing alone on the edge of the floor. Tom speaks to her and there is a frisson.
TOM: Do you want to dance?
KATIE: I am dancing.
TOM: That’s not dancing, it’s just moving about.
KATIE: I happen to have a broken finger.
TOM: And the kilt’s not that good.
KATIE: I like it.
TOM: Can I buy you a drink.
KATIE: Seeing how the bar’s free…
He smiles. She smiles. That night they will see in the New Year in her big bed with a view of the City banks across the Thames – and we don’t even need to show the sex scene, we can cut straight to New Year’s Day with Tom and Katie sitting up in bed eating marmalade on toast.
Sex sells. Get the sex right and it will sell the screenplay. There are sufficient books on how to write a screenplay to build a new planet. My favourite is Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey.