What was the brief from Sid Lee/SKYN and did you instantly know how you wanted to approach it?
The script was simple, but specific — a remake of ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ for adults that was playful and irreverent. It’s not often that a commercial script comes along that’s so close to my personal work, so I could see the see film immediately.
Four real couples feature in the film: did you get involved in casting decisions or was this done by the agency?
I’m very hands on with casting in all of my projects. Representation is always at the centre of our casting conversations, but especially with depictions of intimacy we all wanted to make sure we portrayed a spectrum. The casting was a mix from our casting director and friends of friends via my social media. Of our four couples, only one is a cis-het couple — which benefited the campaign being about a range of products and not just condoms (penetrative sex).
The film has a very spontaneous and natural feel – did it evolve as you filmed or was it planned right down to the minutiae beforehand?
Given the lyric-driven, see-say nature of the film, we had to be precise on what we captured. However we wanted it to feel immediate, so much of that was up to Rina Yang (the DoP) and where the camera looked. Our talent, on the other hand, lived in a loose blocking moment that I adjusted on-the-fly. Having directed/captured well over 50 sex scenes — both scripted, documentary and xxx — a lot of it is intuitive and reactive to the moment and the cast.
The importance of consent and communication in sex scenes can’t be overstated: as a director, how easy is it to achieve your vision while keeping the participants safe and comfortable? Did you work with a professional intimacy co-ordinator in this case?
Communication is everything. Once we’re on set, things move so fast and people don’t always speak up when confronted with the energy of crew and lights. It’s really about the conversations that begin from the first castings and continue throughout. I usually offer and open-line throughout pre-production and make sure I’m constantly checking in. On set, once the initial tension has passed, it’s about keeping things playful and light.
I’ve actually recently consulted on a TV series as an intimacy coordinator. My general rule is that no two people are ever the same and what ever one person experiences in a moment is their reality and therefore true — never assume.
The visuals are really complimented by the soundtrack, Peaches’ brilliant twist on the classic song ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes’. Was it a conscious decision to focus on less ‘obviously’ erotic body parts in line with the song?
Peaches and I played with different initial ideas in her studio in Berlin, but with her iconic voice and twist on words, we didn’t need much more in the end.
How did filming work within the confines of social distancing etc?
For these kinds of scenes I tend to like tight spaces on-location which create a cozy feeling for the cast, but also mean that very few people can be in the room. The social-distancing restrictions made that approach official.
You’ve gained a reputation for your authentic portrayals of sexuality, gender and identity in your work. How much have the issues and landscape you’re drawn to explore evolved over the years?
Conversations around representation are constantly evolving and I try to make sure the intimate scenes I create and the people in them reflect this. The ways we connect sexually in digital spaces has been rapidly growing — especially in 2020. Projects like my recent xxx music video, Moan Together, have attempted to capture this new medium of expression.
Interview by Selena Schleh
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