Sex sells. Always has and likely always will. Especially in film and television. But before a movie trailer is released, or a film opens in theaters, or even before the cameras roll on set, filmmakers and actors are required to enter into a separate contract if there is any nudity or sex acts in the film. That contract is commonly known as the Nudity Rider. Filmmakers and actors both need to know critical information about this Nudity Rider to ensure compliance with law and protect individual rights.
The SAG-AFTRA Basic Agreement contains a specific reference to nudity in films and television. This nudity language is buried deep in the Basic Agreement, specifically on Page 105 (Section 43). However, this section of the Basic Agreement does not serve as a sufficient contract between the filmmaker and the actor. This Section specifically requires the actor’s prior written consent in the form of a letter or rider that outlines the specific details of the nudity or sex scene that will take place in the film.
According to the Section 43 of the Basic Agreement, the actor must be notified of “any nudity or sex acts expected in the role … prior to the first interview or audition.” Therefore, there should not be any last-minute nudity requirements foisted upon an actor in the audition room. Section 43 further provides that the actor “shall have the absolute right to have a person of the performer’s choice present at that audition.” Actors should therefore not hesitate to have whomever they want in the room with them. It is mandated by the Basic Agreement.
The scope of nudity in an audition is also proscribed by Section 43, which provides that “total nudity shall not be required at such auditions or interviews; the performer shall be permitted to wear “pasties” and a G-string or its equivalent.” Actors are contractually entitled to reject any requests or demands for full nudity during an audition. Filmmakers should be aware of liability in the event they require full nudity from performers during an audition.
Drafting the Nudity Rider
SAG-AFTRA does not provide a sample nudity rider to its members outside of providing the requirements set forth in Section 43 of the Basic Agreement. However, many filmmakers utilize the language of Section 43 and then fill in the details of the nudity and/or sex acts to be filmed. There is not a standard boilerplate nudity rider from which to start. Ideally a filmmaker or its attorney will draft the exact details of what will take place in the scene. An actor should absolutely have either their attorney or their SAG representative review it for compliance.
It is good practice for a filmmaker to err on the side of overly detailed descriptions of the nudity and sex acts when preparing the nudity rider. This will ensure that all parties are on the same page regarding expectations. In fact, the HBO show “Westworld” had a nudity rider that gained widespread exposure (no pun intended) for its detail.
There could be a situation where no nudity is required, but it involves a steamy sex scene. As a general rule, if there is a scene that could give an actor cold feet because of racy content, then having a written nudity rider outlining this content will benefit both the filmmaker and the actor.
Many conflicts can be avoided by ensuring a meeting of the minds from the initial stages. This detail includes all of the action occurring, shot descriptions, characters in the scene, how long the nudity or sex acts are to be depicted on screen, etc. Avoid any temptation to use colloquialisms or Urban Dictionary terms in describing the nudity or sex acts. Keep it clinical and avoid any puns or jokes. Just be professional.
Changes to Nudity Scene
There could be situations where a revision to a script requires the addition of nudity or sex acts after casting, or even after filming has begun. There could also be situations where the scope of the nudity or sex act changes after the nudity rider has already been signed. If legitimate, the filmmaker will still need to comply with the nudity requirements of Section 43 of the Basic Agreement.
In this case, it is best practices to fully communicate the changes as far in advance as possible. As soon as the filmmaker is aware of these changes, it should be communicated to the applicable actors. Simply communicating the changes is not enough, though. The nudity rider must be revised to reflect the current scope and re-signed by everyone again. Actors are only bound to provide the scope of nudity as is defined in the nudity rider.
Shooting the Scene
The nudity clause governs the scope of the nudity or sex acts being filmed. What the filmmaker uses of that footage is entirely a creative decision to be made by the filmmaker. Those rights are not entirely unlimited, though. A filmmaker cannot falsely represent an actor’s nude body by digitally superimposing an actor’s head on another actor’s body. Of course, if the nudity rider provides for this permission, then it will be permitted.
It is also critical from a production standpoint to understand that “during any production involving nudity or sex scenes, the set shall be closed to all persons having no business purpose in connection with the production.” It is also important to understand that “no still photography of nudity or sex acts will be authorized by the Producer to be made without the prior written consent of the performer.” From a practical matter, it is always a good idea to have a designated party ready to provide a robe to the actor in between scene takes.
It is not uncommon for an actor to have some hesitation when they are standing naked as a jaybird under the lights. If an actor gets cold feet and decides not to do the scene before filming, they absolutely have the right to do so. But the filmmaker also has the right to hire a body double to replace the actor for that scene. That body double will need to sign a nudity rider and perform the scene exactly as outlined in the rider. However, if an actor gets cold feet AFTER the scene has been filmed, they don’t have a right to keep the footage from being used. If an actor has any apprehension, it is important to make that determination before filming, but once that scene is captured, there is no right to withdraw that footage.
There could also be a situation where an actor initially balks at the nudity, but agrees to the filmmaker hiring a body double to perform the nudity scenes. A filmmaker will not be permitted to hire a double for such nudity scenes without obtaining the original actor’s prior written consent, usually in the form of a nudity rider.
It is always advisable to contact an attorney or a SAG-AFTRA representative to discuss and negotiate the terms of a nudity rider.