Shooting such scenes requires sensitivity, discretion and above all, a written Nudity Rider to accompany the contracts of any actors who appear fully- or partially nude.
What is a Nudity Rider?
Nudity Riders are primarily the product of the collective bargaining agreements between actors unions, such as SAG/AFTRA in the U.S., and ACTRA (Canada). These agreements provide that when scenes in a film or TV project require nudity or simulated sex, the production environment is restricted to a small number of persons present, each of whom must be directly related to the scene and material in question. Still photography is not permitted, and clips from the scene may not be used in promotions, etc., without the actors'; consent. Body doubles can only be used with consent of the performer being doubled, unless that performer has previously agreed to perform the scene, and later opted out.
It should also be noted that restrictions apply not only to production of the scene itself, but also to the auditions for such scenes, if auditioners will be expected to disrobe there. (Which may occur only once per project.)
A separate document called a “Nudity Rider”; must accompany the performer's contract. The Nudity Rider must include specific descriptions of the exact nature of the nude, semi-nude or love scenes involved, along with detailed explanation of the nature of the attire involved (see-through clothing, for example), along with any other relevant information required to fully disclose the nature of the nudity required.
Riders typially contain very detailed narrative descriptions, and excerpts from the screenplay so there can be no dispute or misunderstanding about what's contemplated.
The Nudity Rider must be presented to the performer well in advance of the signing of the contract, so the actor will have sufficient opportunity to consider without pressure to sign.
But I have a contract with my actors. Why do I need an extra document?
Every contract is intended as a manifestation of the parties' mutual assent. That is to say, a contract is proof that the parties have had a “meeting of the minds.” So, it's important that the precise details of any unusual or sensitive performance requirements be carefully laid out. While it's technically possible to incorporate all of the scene details into the body of actors' contracts, doing so is not considered proper. The use of a separately signed rider document lends gravity to the situation, and reinforces the significance of things. Without this carefully drafted discussion of the sensitive scenes, the producer is vulnerable to claims that the actor didn't fully understand what would be expected of her (or him), and the actor is vulnerable to bullying, intimidation and an extraordinarily uncomfortable work environment.
The goal of a nudity rider is to address all of the possible issues that might arise from the incredibly sensitive nature of performing nude, semi-nude and simulated sex scenes. When agreeing to perform such scenes, actors take enormous risks, and are extraordinarily vulnerable. It's only proper that they're fully-informed before agreeing to do such work, and that they've had opportunity to discuss and negotiation for protections to ensure their comfort and safety on-set.
I'm shooting non-union. Do I still need a nudity rider?
Technically, and legally speaking, productions using non-union performers are not subject to the requirements and limitations discussed in this article. Nevertheless, I recommend that every project involving nude, semi-nude, or simulated sex scenes (or other extraordinary, dangerous, or sensitive performances) be documented as fully and thoughtfully as possible. Using Nudity Riders has become the accepted best practice for non-union production as well as for shoots governed by SAG/AFTRA, ACTRA and other performance unions.
If you're shooting material that includes nude, semi-nude or love-scenes, a carefully considered and well-drafted nudity rider describing the exact details of those scenes is a must. Your casting team and entertainment lawyer should confer early in the process to ensure that all union rules are observed, and that the contract and rider are prepared properly.