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CRAFTWORKS: 6 Practical Tips for Shooting Porn

Jennifer Lyon Bell PinkLabel Feminist Porn Filmmaking Advice

There’s more to filming sex than just picking up a camera. As new directors find their cinematic voice, they begin to craft their aesthetic using camera and lighting options. When it comes to directing and documenting sexuality, there’s many ways to do it. 

We’ve tapped award-winning filmmaker Jennifer Lyon Bell of Blue Artichoke Films, director of films such as Adorn and Wild Card, for her best practical tips for those curious about directing sex, or seeking advice about shooting porn as a DP (Director of Photography) or cinematographer. Here’s what she had to share. 

6 Practical Tips for Shooting Porn

By Jennifer Lyon Bell

1. Ditch the Script
My style of shooting is based on allowing the performers almost total freedom in the scene. Though I know what sexual acts are likely to happen, I have no idea what order or exactly where in the space they might happen. I do this because I’ve found that first-time performers (that’s who I often work with) struggle to hold blocking notes in their mind while truly enjoying themselves. I’d rather just give them the freedom to have fun, and work it out silently myself with the other cameraperson on set.

2. Double the Pleasure
I would always shoot with two cameras (or more). I like to employ a cinematic conversation style when I edit — shot/reverse-shot — which is only possible in an improvised scene if you have two complementary angles covered. I have tried using only one camera, and though it certainly is nice not to have to worry about keeping the other cameraperson out of frame, it completely lacks intimacy in the edit. I need and love that intimacy.

3. DSLRs and Tripods
Your camera choice will probably inform your style of shooting. I really enjoy handheld, which for a long time made my choice a non-DSLR camera. I could hold the camera close to my body and move slowly with it. That meant there were two sources of movement: the performers, and me.

With a DSLR, of course it’s a challenge to manage focus under such circumstances. A few weeks ago I tripod’ded my camera for the first time so that I could manage focus on the DSLR better. It was a completely different experience. I still need to study that gorgeous footage and decide for myself if that was the best DSLR plan for my style.

4. Handheld
If you shoot handheld, be conscious of your breathing. As the performers start to get into it, your body might try to match their breathing. But with handheld, you can often see the cameraperson’s breathing or even heartbeat. Hold the camera gently and breathe slowly.

5. Take Your Time
If you shoot handheld, be sure you are getting good long takes. It’s tempting to re-frame constantly if there is a lot of good stuff going on at the same time. As with all shooting, you have to simply make a choice and stick with it. Keep your frame for 10-15 seconds at least. It will seem like an eternity! But you will need it in the edit. Don’t be afraid of things leaving the frame. They will probably come back. The result will be less “porn-like”, which could be a benefit. And, yes, it is theoretically possible you will miss something if you let the action leave frame for a few seconds, but I choose to have faith. Later, it’s surprisingly enjoyable to watch in the edit because your eye can relax.

6. Get close
I developed my own film style in part because I just love facial reaction shots. Not just for orgasm-type moments, but throughout. They bring out the narrative element of the sex scene. If you have a shooting plan, make sure you are covered for facial reactions. A lot of fiction film DPs are used to a shooting plan where one cameraperson shoots totals and the other shoots close-ups. On an erotic/porn set, they may think “close-ups” means genitals. With erotic/porn material, you need with the total *and* the mediums of each character *and* the body/genital closeups of each character *and* the faces of each character. Make sure all the camera people are clear on the plan you want.

Jennifer Lyon Bell is the creative force behind Blue Artichoke Films. She’s a Harvard graduate with a BA in Psychology, an MA in Film Studies from the University of Amsterdam and a lifelong passion for understanding sexuality. More than anything else, she’s felt that her sexuality wasn’t yet reflected in the erotic and pornographic films she saw, and she noticed that many of her friends felt the same. 

This article was originally published on September 19th, 2014. It has been updated for relevance.


Watch Blue Artichoke Films on PinkLabel.TV.

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