After another week of cinematic pleasures closing in, EYE Amsterdam is offering the opportunity to realise some of your most deeply invested desires in a workshop by Jennifer Lyon Bell. The Dutch art-house-slash-porn filmmaker will teach you all there is to know on putting an erotic film in scene. Having produced award-winning movies such as Headshot, Matinee and Silver Shoes, Bell’s unique cinematic eye allows for an off-kilter view on sex—advocating orgasmic films that leave out the in-betweens. Get her sound advice and see why sensual tenderness doesn’t necessarily imply getting undressed.
You’ve directed a number of award-winning short films. What makes an erotic film sexually arousing?
It’s so personal what we find erotic. When I watch an erotic film, I hope to evoke powerful emotions of sympathy and empathy, which I believe makes it more arousing.
What distinguishes art-house films from porn films and how do you seek to find a balance between the two?
There’s no clear line between art-house films and porn! For me, porn is simply the category of films designed to sexually arouse you. However, designing a sexually arousing film that also takes on a more artistic approach helps reconsider notions on sexuality, or allows engagement to exist between viewer and film-characters.
Headshot was a reaction to Andy Warhol’s Blow Job. What were you specifically reacting to in terms of cinematic direction?
What I loved about Andy Warhol’s film is how much it engages the viewer. 20 minutes in, you start to wonder: “Wait, is he even getting a blowjob?” I removed this question to create a more simplistic narrative. I hoped that by restricting the frame, as Warhol did, the viewer would be forced to focus on what the main character was feeling. From a technical standpoint, I gave the film more space to “breathe”. Allowing the frame to shift, adding close-ups, colour, sound and an emotional layer helped infuse sympathy and empathy into the film and made it more sexually arousing.
Does a worthwhile erotic film need to include nudity and sexual encounters?
Great question! Sensuality definitely doesn’t have to imply being undressed. I’m equally interested in those clothed and semi-clothed encounters. I’ve just finished my first virtual reality film. It’s very erotic and orgasmic, but the actor and actress keep their underwear on, even as it gets steamy, giving it a completely different feeling. Clothing adds texture and personal, emotional context. It’s a big part of how we become attracted to somebody and plays with our expectations.
Sexual encounters often involve a lot of improvisation, is this also true for your cinematic work?
Absolutely. I love that feeling that anything could happen next. Once we start shooting, we don’t stop. We film with multiple cameras, so I’m able to edit the improvisations to look as natural and beautiful as possible. It also helps bring the emotional dynamic of the sexual encounter to life on screen.
What’s your view on diversity in the pornographic film genre?
Diversity is crucial. It would be wonderful if we saw more diversity in porn; different body types, fantasies and styles of sex. Which can be achieved through encouraging more people to get involved in erotic filmmaking. Personally, I’ve been increasingly exploring both gender and sexual orientation in a less binary way. I like the idea that your gender has an identifying role but is also something you “perform”—it’s complex and interesting.
Which camera angles, shots and techniques are fundamental to creating an erotic film that will no doubt have the audience turned on?
I love facial close-ups. Headshot was an erotic film shot in close-up mode, which helped establish an emotional engagement with the performance. I also included a lot of hair and skin close-up stills in Skin. Like. Sun., activating senses like touch and smell.
Could you dish us the exclusives on new films you’re working on?
I recently shot an experimental film that almost runs in reverse; the characters start off completely naked, but end up very sexual, yet fully clothed. It’s filled with surprises. It was also great fun to shoot because Sadie and Parker, the performers, had no idea what would happen next. We all threw ourselves into the unknown, trusting it would lead to something good.
What advice would you offer aspiring filmmakers who want to create their own erotic film?
Don’t try and make something pretty or “sexy”. Sit down with yourself and dig deep. What is it that fascinates you most? What do you secretly want to see? Have faith that if something interests you, it will interest lots of other people as well.