Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Re: Lawsuits and Nudity (NSFW?)


You may not know this, but there's a battle being waged right now between an actress named Anne Green and the producers of a show called Femme Fatales that, somewhere along the line, was meant for Cinemax (aka worldwide as "Skin-emax")... 

The crux of the suit is this: Ms. Green alleges that she was coerced ("bullied" or forced) into simulated sex scenes and nudity during the production of the show. Incredibly, or perhaps not so incredibly depending on your stance, the companies named in the suit are counter suing for breach of contract. 

I recently blogged on this murky topic for the site Stage32, which is a sort of Facebook for film creatives, and what follows is a (slightly modified) version of that blog. It's murky because I've been on a set or two (not mine) in which I could see how an actor might be pressured into going a bit further than he or she otherwise might be comfortable. I also know all too well, what it's like to be a producer as the minutes tick away (along with the money) while a director creates new blocking on the fly to accommodate an actor who is... less than agreeable about all those little deal points he or she initially agreed to.

So, here's my take on the dueling "Nudity Rider" lawsuits: 

I have produced a number of projects featuring nudity - everything from shorts to features to music videos. It should first be said that the shooting of any scene in which any actor needs to be nude (or simulate sexual situations) is a very strategic process, and the filmmakers (and crew) must all take into account the uncomfortable nature of such scenes - it is, therefore, the job of the filmmakers to make the set as comfortable as possible for those performers during the shoot. 

Actors and actresses are, particularly in this day and age, used to the process - the cast members of Game of Thrones or True Blood, for example, are damn near experts by now - but the parameters by which any scene is put on film (or digital) is very specific, and no two sex scenes are exactly alike in the handling. 

Game of Thrones (HBO)

True Blood (HBO)

Nudity Riders are brought up, by honest filmmakers, at the beginning of any initial conversations with cast. Like, in the meeting phase. I actually point out sex scenes or nude scenes in a script when I first talk to reps. Conversely, reps tend to know which of the actors (male or female) at their agency are amenable to scenes like this, which makes the process mercifully easier in the negotiation phase. 

Nonetheless, one must always be aware that, in the internet age, whatever these young men or women do onscreen, will live forever on the web... and that's a hard pill to swallow... especially for young actresses who are asked (far more than their male counterparts) to lose their clothes in a scene. This is also why you see, more often than not these days, sex scenes in which nobody actually gets naked. Still, there are actors of every age, weight, race... whatever... who have no qualms about nudity (Kate Winslet, Michael Fassbender and Marisa Tomei come to mind) and there are those who will just never do it. 

Black Swan (Fox Searchlight/Cross Creek)

I've had negotiations so detailed that deal points come down to not only which body part/s will be shown but, literally, the amount of frames in any one shot that will be shown in the Final Cut of the film. Frames! [Note: One frame is 1/24 of a second.] Of course, I don't begrudge any actor (or their teams) for this kind of specificity. I completely understand why they'd want to know what's going in the picture and for how long.

Where things get tricky (and I assume this happens more in indie film), is when an actor shows up on the day, having signed the Nudity Rider weeks or even months earlier, knowing full-well the content of the screenplay, only to have second thoughts or... to protest in some fashion as to force the filmmaker to re-conceive the scene. This, too, has happened to me as well as a number of directors and producers I know.

9 1/2 Weeks (MGM)

So, wait... Why couldn't you just show the actor the contract they signed and compel him or her to do the scene as written? Well, this is littered with complication: How many shooting days are left? Does this actor or actress work the majority of the remaining days? Will there be animosity between the talent and the director? How much of a delay will fighting over this issue cause? Is this a situation where we'll have to call their reps?

     Last Tango in Paris (UA)

So, what do you do? The truth of the matter is this: On an indie film, you generally don't have time to waste trying to get agents or managers on the phone. You also can't afford to have your actors working against your director for the rest of the shoot, not to mention that, if scheduled later in the shoot, it'll be too late to "make a change" in cast and consequently, the scenes usually get rewritten or reimagined. 
Here's where you're thinking, "but it's a contract, right? Why would it be tricky?" Well. It's tricky because actors KNOW that you most likely have limited time and probably no money... They know that if you're further into your shoot schedule, you'll be locked in and so, (perhaps not so surprisingly) an unscrupulous actor will agree to everything in advance, knowing full-well that when it comes to the shoot day, he or she can find any number of reasons to explain why the nudity no longer works in the context of the scene for him or her... or any other myriad excuses... and so: OMIT.

Blue Is The Warmest Color (Wild Bunch)

In the past, I'd always tried to be a nice person and have asked my AD's to schedule nudity or simulated sex scenes for later in the schedule so that the actors have time to become comfortable - not only with one another, but also with the crew - but I've been burnt... so now, I ask my AD's to front-load those scenes if possible - even on Day One... this way, if the actor has agreed and the Rider has been signed (and provided the director isn't trying to add shots which weren't agreed upon per the contract), on the day, if the actor resists, you still have a shot at re-casting if the director feels compromised... the flip side is that, if the filmmaker determines they can live without the nudity, you move on accordingly.

Ultimately, there are ways to avoid this issue prior to your standing on the set and preparing the shot, and again, the goal is to make everyone feel comfortable "on the day." 

For me, personally, I wouldn't want to hire a woman to play a stripper in a film who wasn't willing to be nude. I also hate the 'L' shaped covers in a film. I mean, really, who does this?

(This, of course, is a joke... right?)

Obviously, I don't have the full details of this particular case, but in my mind, when you sign a contract, you've made a deal, and as a producer in the indie spectrum, I'll be very curious to see how this plays out.

My advice to actors..? If you don't want to be naked in a film, you PrObAbLy shouldn't take a role which requires nudity. And filmmakers? Be honest. Be upfront. Then stick to the terms of the Rider. Whatever is agreed upon in advance, is what will be: 4 frames of full frontal nudity? Fine. Side-boob (with visible nipple)? That's it. That's all you get. No inventing stuff on set.

If you want to have a look at the article about the case, you can find it here: The Hollywood Reporter

Oh, and those stories of Paul Verhoeven sneaking the shot of Sharon Stone's... nether region... into BASIC INSTINCT? Don't believe it for a second.



I was recently offered the opportunity to speak at the SAG FOUNDATION on the topic of Post Production. I dragged my good friend (and editor of my last three films) Jeff Castelluccio along and, though he hadn't intended to be a panelist, he ended up on stage with producer Sebastian Dungan and myself. Sebastian has produced a number of films - from the festival hit TRANSAMERICA, to the scathing documentary INEQUALITY FOR ALL. The program was moderated by Kelly Thomas of Juntobox Films

You can check out the full Q&A here:

I want to thank Dennis Baker of the SAG Foundation for the opportunity to speak with the members of my union and I hope to do more in the future.

By way of information, The SAG Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 1985 that "provides vital assistance and educational programming to the professionals of SAG-AFTRA while serving the public at large though its signature children's literacy programs." They are separate from SAG-AFTRA, and rely solely on support from grants, corporate sponsorship and individual donations in order to maintain its programs and create new ones.

I've had the privilege, for several years now, to read to children in "at-risk" schools in my area through the SAG Foundation's BOOK PALS program (you DON'T need to be a Screen Actors Guild member to volunteer!) and I've loved every minute of it.

All of this is to say that there are some very valuable and rewarding programs offered to both members and non-members alike and, if you can, I highly recommend making a contribution to the Foundation.

More updates soon.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Regarding Sarah Jones

This is a reposting of a blog I wrote for

If you've been following the news lately, you've likely heard about Sarah Jones, a 2nd AC who was struck and killed by a train while working on the new Allman Brothers biopic, MIDNIGHT RIDER.
Over the past few days, more and more information has been coming to light, and I wanted to weigh in as a producer...
I should mention that there is little concrete information out of Georgia at this point, but this is what is known: "The crew, including director Randall Miller, had been warned to expect two trains on the local bridge, one in each direction, and waited until after those two trains had passed to set up their shot, which involved placing a bed on the tracks. The railroad had also told the production that if any additional trains came, they’d hear a whistle about a minute before the train would reach the bridge.

Sarah Jones
A third train did arrive unexpectedly, blowing its whistle while the crew was on the bridge and the bed was on the track. Crew members ran toward their base camp, which was on land at one end of the bridge, using a plank walkway on the side of the trestle bridge. However in doing so they ran toward the bed. That proved disastrous.
Miller, who also directed the 2008 film “Bottle Shock,” and a still photographer rushed to get the bed off the tracks. Miller fell onto the tracks but the still photographer pulled him off, according to the witness, saving his life. The train was unable to stop and crossed the bridge while the crew was still on the walkway and the bed was still on the tracks.
The bed was hit by the train and shattered, sending debris flying. One large piece of debris hit Jones as she was running and knocked her onto the tracks. She was then struck by the train and killed. Debris also hit and injured several other people, including one who was seriously injured and airlifted to Savannah’s Memorial Health University Medical Center." – Source: Variety.
Sarah Jones
I have produced three feature films at this point in my career, but this is my 20th year in the industry, and what I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt, is that there are several people who should be held criminally liable for the tragic death of Sarah Jones if, in fact, the information we currently have proves true.
One of the first jobs I ever had on a feature film, was as a set P.A. on Katherine Bigelow's film STRANGE DAYS. In the film, there is a sequence in which a woman flees a murder scene and runs across a series of train tracks as she's chased by a pair of dirty cops (played by Vincent D'Onofrio and William Fichtner).
My job for that night, was to be driven in a van more than three and a half miles down the track in City of Industry, where I would wait trackside with a military style repeater walkie. My ONLY job that night was to announce over the radio if I saw a train coming at me, at which point the First AD. Steve Danton would clear the track.
In truth, my job that night was redundant - a rep from Southern Pacific was already with the AD's on set and monitoring their own walkie channels in case any unscheduled trains may have made their way toward "the set." 
In my roughly 14 hours in my lock-up, there were (maybe) two trains. Both were scheduled, and in both cases the AD's were given advance warning by the rep for Southern Pacific and by me. Nobody was hurt.
This crew had ABSOLUTELY NO REASON to be on that track. Plain and simple. They should NEVER have been there. And now a bright, beautiful young woman is dead.
On a recent project, I had the distinct pleasure of watching our First A.D. make a judgement call which took to mind the SAFETY of the crew BEFORE any other obligation to the story or filmmaker, and that's EXACTLY as it should be.
When the below the line crew show up for work each day, it is their belief that the grown-ups on the set (Above the line crew), and the 1st A.D., other A.D.'s and location reps have done their diligence and have assured the safety of the unit. It should never be the concern of the rank and file crew to ask for the permit or to inquire as to their own safety. That safety is implicit, and simply by their showing up at call, there should be NO REASON to question the preparedness of the production.
Regardless, of anything, Sarah Jones died because the Producers, locations people and A.D.'s failed her. And that fact is sickening.
If you are a producer or an A.D., let the senseless death of this woman with such a bright future be your wake-up call. There is no such thing as "cinematic immunity." YOU are responsible for the safety of your crew.
Sarah Jones was let down by her producers, locations reps and A.D.'s, and for that... for trusting and not questioning (as most crew often do and SHOULD BE ABLE TO), she lost her life.
As a producer, I will always and ONLY work with A.D.'s who place the safety of the cast and crew at the top of their list - A.D.'s like Scott Kirkley, Seth Edelstein, Carey Dietrich and their teams. A.D.'s who will stand their ground and say "no," when it matters. To me, they'll only need to say it once.
RIP, Sarah. May your death prevent others dying in the future.