Sex scenes? In this climate?
The Girlfriend Experience
Credit: Aimee Spinks/Starz

The crew behind The Girlfriend Experience has a rather unique... well, experience on their hands.

Season 3 of the Starz anthology officially started filming this week in the U.K. with a brand new cast. But unlike other productions that are attempting to weather the COVID-19 storm by returning to work during a global pandemic, this series has an added challenge: shooting sex scenes.

The Bold and the Beautiful may have decided to use mannequins to shoot intimate moments on the soap opera, but The Girlfriend Experience, by nature, leans more heavily on sex and nudity. (i.e. skin-to-skin contact.) So, how does one pull off those kinds of scenes in the time of social distancing?

In a statement, executive producer Steven Soderbergh points to the Safe Way Forward, a list of guidelines jointly released by a number of Hollywood guilds that include filming best practices.

"First off, as a participant in the creation of The Safe Way Forward document, I'm happy and relieved we've been able to go back to work safely and thrilled to be partnering with Starz for the third installment of the series," he said, in part. "Second, our approach to this series has always been to empower independent filmmakers, and what [director] Anja [Marquardt] has achieved in blending cutting-edge technology with The Girlfriend Experience world is super exciting and very provocative."

The Girlfriend Experience
Credit: Aimee Spinks/Starz

The Safe Way Forward encourages the implementation of a three-zone system to block off parts of the production. Zone A would serve as a bubble "perimeter," in which actors can work without the use of masks alongside the crew. Zone B would be for everywhere else the production has a footprint, in which crew members would have to wear PPE. Workers in Zone B would rarely cross into Zone A. Zone C would then be for "wherever people employed in the production go when they're not working." No one would be able to enter Zones A or B for the first time unless tested and cleared within 24 hours.

For intimate scenes specifically, the guidelines encourage rapid on-site COVID-19 testing of up to 1-12 hours and a reduced number of monitors on set for necessary parties only. Photos from The Girlfriend Experience's season 3 production see Marquardt directing actors while wearing a mask and going over scenes without physical paper scripts. A paperless environment, or as much of one as possible, is also suggested among the guidelines.

Marquardt writes and directs the 10-episode third season, which stars Julia Goldani Telles as Iris, a neuroscience major who begins to explore the transactional world of "The Girlfriend Experience." Her client sessions give her an edge in the tech world until she begins to question whether her actions are driven by free will or something else.

Guest stars include Oliver Masucci (Dark) as Georges Verhoeven, Frank Dillane (Fear the Walking Dead) as Christophe, Daniel Betts (Atlantic Crossing) as Rupert, Armin Karima (Sex Education) as Hiram, Tobi Bamtefa (Feel Good) as Brett, and Jemima Rooper (Gold Digger) as Leanne.

The Girlfriend Experience
Credit: Aimee Spinks/Starz

On Thursday, the same day Starz announced the show's filming start, the Directors UK organization released its own set of safety guidelines, specifically for intimate scenes. Though, they suggested filmmakers employ the Casablanca method rather than simulate sex.

"Be innovative and come up with new ways to convey sexual desire or intimacy without resorting to conventional tropes," it reads. "You may even find inspiration by revisiting classic films such as It Happened One Night (1934) or Casablanca (1943) — some of the greatest screen romances ever made and all filmed under the Hays Code, which prohibited the depiction of sex on screen. Consider what tools classic works offer for contemporary storytelling."

A rep for Starz told EW that the crew would be abiding by the Safe Way Forward guidelines while staying abreast of any U.K. requirements.

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