SEX AND PROFANITY IN SPEC SCRIPTS: An interesting discussion from Screenwriters Network page


Sex and profanity in your script. Do you use either or both of them? Tell us your thoughts on the use, or avoidance of sex and profanity in a screenplay.
    • Used to be, a PG or G rating for a non-Disney film was the kiss of death, and screenwriters would drop in a few F-bombs or some nudity to ensure an R rating. Is that still the norm?


    • I believe those things are script-specific. Depending on the story, the characters and the audience you’re funneling your script towards, each script will bear it’s own weight. I tend to cuss like a drunken sailor on shore leave — well, until kids came into my life — and I love creative uses of curse words (The Last Detail). I will say I use it now far less than I used to in my writing. And as far as sex…I love a good romance but watching two people in a graphic sex scene on film…ugh. I can think of only a handful of times it’s been hot on screen (The Big Easy, Sea of Love…hello, Ellen Barkin, Postman Rings Twice Nicholson/Lange.) Unless you’re using it for comedy (one of the best scenes in Bridesmaids) once two characters fall into bed, time to let the imagination take over.


    • Bart’s kind of hit it. You’ve got to be true to the story & characters–including in all dialogue and action choices. A story about low-end prostitutes that had no sex or profanity would work in a surreal fantasy, but not in a gritty drama based in reality. Make your choices and be fearless!


    • Howard Casner Like Bart, it’s script specific. For most of mine, though, I’m very frank about sex and language. For others, I hold back. It’s part of parcel of the milieu I write about. Most of my films would be rated R or even NC 17, unless a very creative director came aboard (and since they are often gay oriented, they automatically will get a higher rating for types of scenes that in a non-gay oriented film would receive a lower rating). There are exceptions and I’ve written a Disney type family film that could be rated G and a sci-fi that would be rated PG probably. I would add one thing–you can be as frank as you want in dialog, but I strongly advise ever using vulgarities in the narrative (always say have sex or make love, not f*ck like rabbits). The reason for this is that the narrative is you speaking whereas the dialog is the character. Producers often have a very different reaction to vulgarities in the narrative than in the dialog. It’s the same reason for never using politically incorrect ethnic terms in narrative as opposed to dialog. In the end, though, I don’t expect most of my films to be of interest to the studios, but are aimed toward the indie market.


    • Agreed definitely script specific in both cases. And also, avoidance to gratuitary sex/violence etc is best IMO, I find it can overwhelm the story and detract from the storyline one is going for, watering down it’s arcs/intensity etc. The characters one is creating, should allow them to gauge how much of each is needed if at all. Just my opinion! :0) Hey there Marty, hope you’re well! Been a while, been out of the loop on here a bit.


    • I have used both sex and profanity in my scripts – but like everyone else, it’s script specific. I wrote a kids film – no profanity. There was a love interest, but that amounted to two neighbors dancing in silhouette beside a backlit window.

      But when I write about something like a satanic themed rock band, the profanity just seems natural. Or if it’s about a relationship between a high school senior and a wealthy, lonely cougar – well the sex is a big part of it, and it’s meant to make the audience uncomfortable. Of course, there are tasteful ways to imply things, and I do try to keep that in mind.


    • Yup, script specific and never gratuitous. And I allude to “making love” but leave the “choreography” and extent to the director and actors. A script is merely a blue print. AND I have simply gone to identifying Me-the-Writer as S. J. Walker because some of my scripts have gritty characters with grittier language that doesn’t quite “fit” with a “Sally.” I made a Navy Captain laugh when I said I couldn’t imagine a Navy SEAL or 3-tour Marine saying “Gosh darn, you are a terrible idiot!”


    • script-specific profanity, but there’s usually always the ‘sex@60’ Midpoint moment, when ‘something orgasmic’ happens to rock the story over the hump and into the downhill stretch toward the Finale…


    • It depends upon the genre. I write a lot of faith-based and family material and it would not be appropriate for the audience.


    • I agree– script/story specific.


    • It really depends on what audience you’re aiming for. I use it sparingly, otherwise it seems I walk the fine line of smut-quality. I think using it for effect to add tension in a work is great, but overdoing it can hinder a good quality piece of writing.


    • When I was younger, in my first attempts at writing, I ripped off Tarantino, who was huge at the time, and tried non-stop swear words. But soon after that, I tried the opposite and kind of stuck with it ever since. In most of my writing, I put in about two or three swear words, or none at all. And as for sex, haven’t written anything like that yet.


    • Try to make the sex scene poetical rather than graphical and the F words to a minimal so when it’s uttered, it carries meaning


    • Howard Casner But what if you don’t want your sex scenes to be poetical? And what if you don’t want your F words to carry meaning, but simply to reflect a certain reality?


    • I sometimes use profanity only because it can put emphasis on a character’s emotions. I don’t just add the F bomb for the hell of it! I have yet to write a script that has a sex scene. I think sex scenes in films are cheap unless it’s an important part of the overall story.


    • If there is a place for it.


    • It feels weird writing a sex scene. I feel like my Mom is looking over my shoulder. And, she passed years ago. Again, weird.


    • As always, I include what is important for the story. But I keep in mind that Natalie Portman had a role as a stripper and shows everything, without the audience seeing anything. So it is possible to write a lot without the need of showing anything.


    • Howard Casner But the decision for Portman not to show anything wasn’t the writer’s decision, but was probably made up of how much the director wanted to show; the rating they were trying to achieve; what Portman’s contract said; etc. Other directors might have shown everything.


    • Howard Casner why do you think sex scenes in films are cheap unless it’s an important part of the overall story? It’s a feeling many people have and I’ve never quite understood it, to be honest (it may partially be because I don’t know what “cheap” means exactly). Do you feel the same way about violence? It’s interesting how morals and mores vary from country to country and culture to culture. Some places are more open to sex, some more open to violence. I prefer sex.


    • @Howard, i.e. instead of “he clamps one hand on her breast and the other between her crotch”, I try to make it read less like blue and more like sparkle…and when telling one to F off, I inject a little more swagger in the creation. That is, a little more “ouch” in the wording. Note: the F word is fast losing its place on the stage of remarkable inventions 😉


    • ‎…and there is a reason the films that will stay in our hearts and minds long after our own dust to dust settles is because of the writer’s talent for creating the whirl of imagination in many a film goer without having to resort to the naked nipple and the F & C words. From Casablanca to When Harry Met Sally to Ben Hur to All About to Eve to Alien et al.


    • Howard Casner I have to be honest, I don’t think I understand what you are saying or how it responds to my response. I’ve already said that narrative should never be “blue”, but I’m not sure what sparkle means or why that would be poetical. I also am not sure what “swagger in the creation” means or what “the F word is fast losing its place on the stage of remarkable inventions” means. I also don’t know what “having to resort” means. If someone chooses realistic language or a realistic portrayal of sex, I don’t think that is “having to resort”, I think that is making a considered choice and I think as writers we should be more open than closed about each others decisions and encourage each other to find their own way. Joe Pesci told a story once about the shooting of Goodfellas or Raging Bull (I’m not sure which) where the producers suggested to Scorcese he reshoot some scenes and tone down the language so that when the movie was on TV they could replace the scenes; Pesci said to Scorcese, “I didn’t know you made movies for TV” and with that Scorcese got furious and didn’t reshoot any scenes. Different people have different philosophies about sex and violence in movies, but I’m not sure one is any better a philosophy than the other; like others have been saying, it’s script specific. I think All About Eve is one of the greatest movies ever made, but I’m not sure I want to return to those restrictive times when it comes to writing a screenplay.


    • Howard, yes, you are right, it is not the writer’s decision. I agree with you completely. What I meant was that there is really no need to worry about actual nudity. If I need a naked stripper for the story, then I can write that she is nude.

      Then of course I should consider what would happen if the director chooses to show everything I write and if it still would be a film I would have my name on.


    • I hope I’m not speaking out of turn, but your promotional posts don’t really address the prompt. Maybe they’re better suited for logline Wednesday.


    • Howard Casner I have read scripts where people detail sex scenes and I have to tell them, you know, this isn’t going to be your choice. So sorry for misunderstanding you, because you’re right. As for whether you would want to have your name on it, funny story: when Gore Vidal wrote Caligula, they weren’t going to put his name on it, and he fought to have it put there; then when he saw the film, he fought to have it taken off. In the end, what’s really odd (well, not really, there’s a reason for it) is that the WGA has the final say on whose name goes on as writer and even if you want to remove it, you might not be able to.


    • Less is more as far as the sex goes. You don’t have to get into detail, unless you’re writing porn. As for profanity, use it if you need it. It’s great for bringing a character to life. Real people swear. They also cheat on their partner, and showing a sex scene can really have an effect on how an audience feels about a character. Sure, you could show a couple leaving a cheap motel together and it would suggest the same thing as showing sex, but showing it can really turn a stomach, and that’s the business we’re in; making people feel things. So it’s up to you to figure out what the best way to tell the story is. In my opinion, getting into detail on a sex scene is pointless and a waste of space on the page. Be brief! When the script goes into production they’ll use their own vision of how the sex should be shown.


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