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Paul Verhoeven Does Storyboards for Sex Scenes

Paul Verhoeven Does Storyboards for Sex Scenes

Paul Verhoeven Benedetta sex scenes

Movie News

Paul Verhoeven doesn’t understand why there’s such taboo around sex scenes. In fact, he says, he plans them meticulously.

“If you feel, like I do, that one of the most important things in life is sexuality, then I don’t know why there would be a problem to show sexuality,” the Basic Instinct director told MovieMaker. “Sexuality is essential for life. Without sexuality, there are no babies. Without babies, there is no species. You should at least think that sexuality is as important to survive as oxygen… if you don’t feel that way, it is difficult to defend showing it.”

Verhoeven is used to people getting upset over sex scenes in his films. His latest movie Benedetta, starring Virginie Efira and Daphne Patakia, follows a heavily sexual affair between lesbian nuns at an Italian convent in the 17th century.

The movie’s sex scenes, one of which involves the use of a Virgin Mary statue as a dildo, have drawn so much ire that protestors actually showed up outside of its recent New York Film Festival premiere.

Verhoeven has no intention of stopping the sex scenes in his films anytime soon — but he does have a method for making sure the actors know exactly what the scenes will entail, he explained. When filming sex scenes, the director, whose other works include RoboCop, Total Recall, and Elle, said he likes to make storyboards in order to keep everyone on the same page.

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“In my own life, it’s extremely rare that when I explain myself and explain the scene, that people refuse to do it. That is also certainly true about nudity and sexuality. To go back to sexuality, it’s important that if you do sexuality or nudity, then it has to be made extremely clear to the actor and actress what the shots will be. Whenever there was nudity, I had storyboards,” he said.

“We discussed the storyboards with the actors and actresses, every storyboard on its own. Every actor and actress knows not only his dialogue, but also his position, and what kind of nudity will be used. That has to all be done before one shot of the movie. The actors need to know precisely what the shot will be and from what corner, how far away, what lens. When I showed Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone the storyboards of the sex scene for the first time for Basic Instinct, they were like, What? But when we were shooting, there was no problem at all. We didn’t discuss anything anymore, because it was choreographed. I didn’t have to tell them what to do.

MovieMaker reached out to reps for Basic Instinct stars Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone for comment on Verhoeven’s use of storyboards with them, but did not immediately hear back.

In Stone’s memoir, The Beauty of Living Twice, she said that Verhoeven misled her into appearing nude below the waist in an infamous Basic Instinct scene. Verhoeven has repeatedly denied that he misled her.

“Because everything was said before and it was explained and drawn so they could see it, more or less, by doing that, I have not had any discussions about nudity on the set. Even if Sharon Stone said that I did, that’s not true either,” he told MovieMaker.

Rather than toning down human sexuality in media, Verhoeven feels it’s more honest to show it as it is in real life.

“I have a problem with this kind of Puritanism that there is now. As if we are not animals. We are. We come from primates. By hiding sexuality, you are trying to say we are not animals, we are something different. But we are not,” he said. “Violence is another factor of the universe—that building up and destruction. Violence is probably one aspect of our universe that is also dominant. But we have no problem in going to the utmost in showing violence. But there are problems in showing two naked people. So don’t worry about it, when you ought to do a sex scene. I’m a little bit unclear what the problem is.”

Our full interview with Paul Verhoeven appears in our fall print issue, on newsstands now.

Main Image: Virginie Efira and Daphne Patakia in Benedetta. Photo Credit: Pathé Distribution

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  1. Paully says:

    Now Starship Troopers looks much better and smarter than in 1997..
    This man needs to make a sequel..

  2. Mark says:

    Sex should be better likened to electricity than oxygen. It’s powerful and beneficial and extremely harmful when not handled according to code.
    Sex makes babies but it also transmits diseases among the promiscuous and said diseases can render inoperal the reproductive capacity. The director sounds very progressive but in fact he is just another pimp exploiting human urges for money.

  3. Josh says:

    As an avid movie-goer, I’m long tired of sex scenes. It’s like a crutch for a lack of credible storyline. In my 39 years of age, I could count on one finger exactly how many times a fellow movie goer remarked on a sex scene as something they enjoyed in a movie. But I’m just a straight, married guy with kids… what do I know.

  4. Doug says:

    Do lesbian nuns make babies? Just asking.

  5. Bert R says:

    “Paul Verhoeven doesn’t understand why there’s such taboo around sex scenes”

    I suggest he ask people why. Then listen. For comprehension, that is for understanding. Then he will understand.

    But does he want to know?

  6. nobody says:

    Sex is actually more dangerous than violence. Unbridled sexual desire led to the destruction of life at the flood of Noah. The problem with sex desire is that, if not restrained, people will eventually have sex with anything that walks or crawls including sex with fallen angels. The creatures that were birthed before the flood of Noah were monstrous and blood thirsty. It was horrifying. We actually do need to keep a lid on sex. Obviously there is already enough sex in the world. We don’t need to promote it and get everyone worked up into a lather.

  7. Joe Smith says:

    The issue is not Puritanism. The issue is that watching a sex scene seems creepy and voyeuristic to me. I don’t know why most others don’t see it that way. I have no business watching another couple have sex. It’s weird to watch it…even if it is just a movie scene.

  8. Greg Anderson says:

    I’ve no more problem with sex scenes than any other kind. While I make no general defense here of Mr. Verhoeven and his use of sex scenes (currently and in past work), I do grant a nod toward his assertion that they are a vibrant part of life.

    Are they a tired crutch too often used? Yes. But so is blowing something up or rolling a car or unleashing a torrent of bullets offered in anything from a Peckinpah, WILD BUNCH presentation to a DePalma SCARFACE take. Sex scenes should / must be held to the same standard as any other — they must move the story and / or character arcs forward. They must be “necessary information” and not simply a story side-rail meant to distract or titillate. Anything can be exploitative or gratuitous if included for the wrong or unnecessary reasons.

    Yes, the crisp crackle of palatable tension in DOUBLE INDEMNITY, CASABLANCA, THE BIG SLEEP and countless others is accomplished without nudity or explicit sex scenes, but films like BODY HEAT, THE LAST SEDUCTION, SEX & LUCIA, EYES WIDE SHUT and select others manage to conjure proportionate tension with the inclusion of sex scenes and nudity. Can the story of FRIDA really be told with including notable content of the artist’s sexuality that influenced her work? It seems unlikely. Can a heartfelt and ultimately realistic portrayal of the nuances of coming of age like that found in Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN not include an authentic depiction of young male sexuality and hormonal longing? Probably not. Can we truly empathize with the damage and injury to Lisbeth in GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO without inclusion of the sexual attack of her appointed guardian (and her ultimate retribution)? Arguably, no.

    And no, I have not watched REVENGE OF THE NERDS with my parents, but I did watch THE GODFATHER with them. In a cinema. When I was at an impressionable age. The Sicily-based, prelude-to-sex scene and nudity were presented elegantly and well within the needs of the story. In retrospect, I found it far less disturbing or intrusive than seeing the character Apollonia blown to bits in a car bomb not long after.

    I do feel for the actors at times. Especially when reading of unprofessional on-set treatment during the filming of sex scenes in projects like BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR and others. For whatever it is worth though, I am currently prepping a New Media Series, and a handful of scenes do include sensitive material. When, during the audition process, I informed the candidate actors of the material — with full explanation of the nature of the scenes and how they will be shot — so that they might opt out of the audition process if they felt uncomfortable or no longer interested, only 3 of 47 chose to do so.

    All artistic expression should serve the presentation and greater understanding of the human condition. Sex is a foundational element of that. I wonder if perhaps the issue for filmic sex scenes with some viewers is at least partially a function of vibrancy. The vividness of image and proximity of camera may contribute to simply being too much for some viewers. I hear far fewer comments of disapproval of sex scenes in literature or fine art such as painting or sculpture. Somehow those presentations seem capable of elevating the act of sexual congress rather than degrading it (as well as the viewer).

    Fortunately, we live in a time of wealth of entertainment product choices. For those who find nudity and sex scenes off-putting, shows like “Game of Thrones” or “West World” are easily avoided. For those who feel cheated in that they might otherwise enjoy those series and ones like them were it not for the sexual content, they are asking for stories other than the ones the storytellers wished to tell. The sexual carnage in “Game of Thrones” and the sexual exploitation depicted in “West World” are part and parcel with the themes of those stories. Plenty of other viewing options to find — some of which might even deal with the similar thematic content without sexual content.

    It is not only possible, but arguably preferable, to opt out of watching sexual content without negating its potential to illuminate the human journey for others.

  9. Doug says:

    I think people are trying to simplify a more complex issue here. I’ve seen films that had sex scenes that added to the energy and the theme of film (“Body Heat (1981)”, “The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)”, but I’ve also seen (probably more) sex scenes in films that feel totally gratuitous. Verhoeven’s films often seem like he’s trying to shock by putting in as much sex/nudity as possible (“Showgirls”), but they often end up just looking silly and kind of juvenile.

  10. Carlos Perez says:

    I don’t necessarily have a need to see a sex scene, but I do have problems with our hesitancy to show nudity when it logically would be in the scene. For example, a couple has just made love and are in bed, yet when they get out of bed the woman has a bra and panties on and the man is wearing boxers. This puritanical stand on nudity is absurd. Surely there should be no problem viewing a couple naked after they just had sex. Just be nude for crying out loud. I don’t have an interest in watching a couple copulate, but I do think that allowing nudity for believability is acceptable. Also, someone mentioned a fear of seeing violence after a sex scene and I understand that fear because we seem to be taught by Hollywood that if you have sex or are naked then naturally you’re going to be a subject of violence. It’s a shame that nudity and sex in our society are so closely tied to violence. Nudity and sex are natural, while violence should not be.

  11. Max Myers says:

    Agree completely.

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