As we continue to navigate the pandemic, we're thinking about how to produce new spanking content while keeping our cast and crew safe. Is there such a thing as a COVID-safe set when you're shooting spanking porn?
Towards the end of last year, we spent three days filming. One was during the November lockdown and the other two were just before Christmas when we were in Tier 4. Even during lockdown it's legal to travel for the purposes of work if you absolutely can't work from home. My job was to comply with the guidelines to make our indoor workplace as safe as possible.
What does it mean to run a COVID-safe porn set?
Firstly, it means being careful with our behaviours and activities in the days leading up to the shoot, and being transparent with each other about our risk exposure and activity level. Fundamentally, how much activity feels okay before the shoot is up to the cast and crew. This isn't about me prescribing an organisation-wide policy, but about fostering communication between the people who are going to be sharing space, so that everybody in the room is comfortable.
It means preferring to work with people who drive rather than take public transport, to minimise risk exposure.
It means maintaining social distancing wherever possible. When somebody is over your knee of course this isn't possible, but the rest of the time we can maintain a safe distance. Crew can distance from performers.
It means ventilating the space. That might mean having a window open at all times and cranking the heating up to compensate. And we can open the windows wide between scenes to blast as much air through as possible.
It means people wearing face masks if they feel safer doing so.
Face masks in porn
This is a controversial subject. I did a Twitter poll a little while ago asking how people felt about seeing face masks in spanking videos, and I was actually reassured to find that the majority of respondents felt that safety was sexy, and that they were happy to see facemasks in a porn film, because then they can feel comfortable that the performers aren't being placed in undue risk, and are only having as much contact as they're comfortable with.
However, I know for a lot of people, porn is an escape from the real world. I understand if viewers don't want to be reminded about the pandemic when they're watching a fantasy. I also know that for many viewers facial reactions are important, and face masks can make a scene less erotic.
There's no pleasing everyone, and I suspect preferences will vary from scenario to scenario as well as person to person. In some films, a face mask might be a lot less intrusive; in others it might feel more of an impediment, depending on where the emotional charge in the scene comes from.
Dreams of Spanking is founded on principles of consent and performer-centric production ethics. We also try to make films which are aligned with our values in one way or another. I think we have a role to play in modeling good practice. I wear my mask when I'm going to be in contact with people outside my bubble: if I ever go to the shop or if a tradesperson has to come into the house. We won't beat this virus until everyone takes the same level of care. Porn is fantasy, yes, but it can also play a part in normalising mask wearing and making it sexy.
Plus, facemasks open up possibilities for all sorts of hot scenes. How about medical scenarios featuring sexy nurses? Or historical scenes set during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic? When the masks are part of making the setting more believable, it can add to the fantasy rather than intruding on it.
We need to talk
What safety protocols are needed on a given shoot is really up to the people who will be taking the risk. There are lots of things to consider.
I won't shoot with anyone if they've shown symptoms or been in recent contact with someone who has. But other considerations are up to the performers. How vulnerable or susceptible do they feel they are personally, and how at-risk are the people in their bubble? How immune are they - have they had COVID? Have they had the vaccine? If so, how recently? Finally, how big is their bubble, and how porous is it? Can they name everyone in it? Do they know the risk exposure and activity level of everyone they share contact with?
For example, two people who both work from home and socially distance in all other situations will present a lower risk to others than someone who's got a child in school or nursery, or a key worker who can't socially distance at work. COVID safety isn't about me as the director laying down the law, but about asking everybody involved in a shoot to be honest with each other and make an informed decision.
It's similar to the conversations we have before having sex. Before having sex with someone new, or directing a sex scene, the people involved need to talk about their sexual health history, and share any relevant information about their risk factors. They might talk about previous infections, recent sexual activity, and the date of their last negative test result. Armed with this information each individual can then make an informed, consensual, risk-aware decision about how to proceed.
As we navigate this pandemic, we need to talk to each other. This is true in every scenario where we might share air, not just porn sets - but as directors and producers, people making porn have a special responsibility towards the people we employ. As adults we're allowed to take risks if we all agree, but it's crucial that this is done consciously and intentionally - and when money comes into the equation, especially during a time when sex workers are struggling for work, there's a power balance to be aware of. I don't want anyone to feel pressured to shoot in an unsafe way because they feel they need the money. So my job is to create a permissive space which encourages and normalises strict safety protocols, so that performers know that they aren't under pressure to take undue risks.
It's not possible to live a completely risk free life. Following the government guidelines isn't enough to stay completely safe - early years childcare settings remain legal, although they are a significant transmission risk. For myself, my policy is to only take risks that are essential or extremely valuable - wanting to see my friends isn't sufficient reason, but keeping my business above water is. All of us need to inform ourselves about how the virus spreads, and be upfront and transparent with other people about the choices we're making. Who have we seen lately? Have we gone to the shops? Have we sat indoors with someone and talked? What are our childcare arrangements? Who's come to the house lately? Who have the other people in my bubble seen? If performers are going to be working together, all this information needs to be exchanged.
Testing and self-isolating
One option we're considering going into 2021 is suggesting that performers test and self-isolate before shoots. But this is a big burden. Tests cost £100, and in order to give a useful answer you need to isolate for three days before taking it, and then continue to isolate until you get your result and go to the shoot.
If someone lives alone or in a closed bubble, self-isolating might not be a big deal. But for someone who's got a child attending school or nursery, or one member of the bubble works outside the home, it might not be possible. And the expense is a significant one, whoever pays it.
So with all that in mind, as we continue to shoot in 2021 we may sometimes need to mask up.
Does this mean that everything we produce this year will be masked? No. Does this mean we'll stop shooting entirely? Also no. We're planning to shoot, and in a way that keeps our cast and crew as safe as possible. Yes, we have already shot some face masked scenes, which you can expect to see over the coming weeks. Depending on who we're shooting with, sometimes it will be necessary, and sometimes it won't.
Let us know your thoughts! Do our safety precautions sound good to you? Is there anything we haven't thought of? And how do you feel about the idea of face masks in spanking porn? Our first scene with masks comes out this weekend, and we look forward to hearing what you think!