Romantic Kissing Scenes – How They’re Really Done

If you’re wondering whether actors really kiss when they’re acting, you’re not alone.  How are these romantic kissing scenes shot anyway? Well, I was wondering the same thing so I decided to do some reading to find out.

Actors do kiss when they are acting – most of the times. When they’re not actually kissing, certain camera angles can be used to give the appearance that actors are kissing when in fact they are not.

There are several techniques that can be used to shoot a kissing scene. Which technique is used is usually decided by the director. However, the actors may have some input based on their comfort level.

How Kissing Scenes Are Done

Actors can avoid kissing on the lips by simulating a kiss with the camera placed in a position where the lips can’t be seen.   With the right head tilt, a “non-kiss” can look like a passion-filled one.

Some other kissing techniques are the closed-mouth kiss, open-mouth kiss, with no tongue, and the open-mouth kiss with tongue. Closed-mouth kisses are the most common technique used by actors for on-screen kisses.  With this method, actors keep their lips closed tightly and kiss lip-to-lip.

The open-mouth kiss with no tongue is also a very common technique used by actors.  To make the kiss look more realistic, actors often kiss attaching to the lower lip and gently sucking.

Occasionally actors with kiss with open mouths, using their tongues.  This is what is typically known as a French kiss.  This is far more rare than the other techniques.

Kissing and love scenes are so intimate that some studios have begun to hire intimacy coordinators or directors to ensure that actors feel safe on set. But what if there is no intimacy coordinator? How can actors create their own boundaries on set?

How To Make Kissing Scenes Go Smoothly

Having to kiss your co-star can be a strange experience. Fortunately, there are some basics things an actor can do before shooting a kissing scene to help make it less awkward.

Know Kissing Etiquette

It’s important for actors to be familiar with kissing etiquette. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Talk to your co-star to discuss what you are both comfortable doing during the kiss.  Clearly set your boundaries.  You should discuss whether you will engage in a real kiss or a fake kiss; whether you will kiss with your mouths open or closed; and whether you will use your tongues or not.
  • Get comfortable with your co-star. Choreograph your hand placement and rehearse the kiss until you are both comfortable.
  • Be clear on what the scene calls for. The kiss shouldn’t be any longer than is required. If you’re not clear, ask your director for clarification.
  • Practice good hygiene. Make the scene as pleasant as possible for your co-star.

Is Fresh Breath Required

There are some unspoken rules about kissing on screen.  One rule revolves around having fresh breath when shooting a kissing scene.  In America, it is expected that actors will have fresh breath and the actors may even go so far as to offer their scene partner a breath mint.  However, fresh breath is not expected between actors in the UK and Australia.

Intimacy On Set Guidelines recommend certain best practices regarding on screen kissing. First, as a standard practice, kissing should not involve the use of tongues. However, if the director feels it will be better to use tongues, there must be consent from both actors.

Do Actors Rehearse Kisses?

Actors do sometimes chose to rehearse their kissing scenes. These rehearsals can go a long way towards making for a far more pleasant shooting.

The Intimacy On Set Guidelines lays out best practices for rehearsing kissing scenes centered around communicating, choreographing the scene, and slowly working through the scene. The Guidelines recommend the following:

“When rehearsing a stage/screen kiss, start off with the actors giving and receiving a peck when agreeing physical touch, and sculpting the physical actions, using plain words. Then exploring the quality of the kiss when identifying the emotional content of the scene, and integrating the physical actions and emotional content.”

Can Actors Refuse Kissing Scenes

There are times when actors refuse to do a kissing scene. Some of the most commonly stated reasons for refusing to do a kissing scene are:

  • Medical concerns – there are legitimate concerns about catching diseases such as herpes or strep throat from kissing;
  • Religious reasons – Some actors’ religious beliefs keep them from kissing anyone they are not married to;
  • Romantic relationships – Often times actors have agreements with partners about boundaries on their jobs. These boundaries may include a “no kissing” rule;
  • Dislike their screen partner – If co-stars don’t like each other it may lead to their refusal to share an on-screen kiss.

When an actor refuses to perform a kissing scene a body double is often used instead of faking a kiss. Some examples include Renee Zellweger using a body double in Cinderella Man for her scenes with Russell Crowe; Lindsay Lohan refused to kiss Charlie Sheen in Scary Movie 5; and Chris Hemsworth used his real life wife in a kissing scene in Thor: The Dark World instead of his co-star, Natalie Portman.

Actors who refused to kiss their co-stars

Effect of On-Screen Kissing On Real Life Relationships

It is not uncommon for on screen love interests to end their real life relationships after starting an affair with their co-star. There just seems to be something about spending months pretending to be in love that leads to real love.

To avoid this potential unfortunate by-product of kissing scenes, some actors refuse to participate in them. Kirk Cameron and Neal McDonough are two stars who are well known for such refusals.

Related Questions

How are sex scenes done?

Planning boundaries – As with kissing scenes, actors must discuss their boundaries. With sex scenes, because of the level of intimacy and vulnerability that actors are placed in, it’s even more important to do so.

Choreographing scenes – the director and actors choreograph sex scenes. Every part of the scene is choreographed. Actors directed on everything from where their marks are, when they should kiss, and when they should reach their fake climax.

Actors wear special wardrobe items to cover their bodies discreetly. The potential “wardrobe” items (available on Amazon):

Is the set closed during kissing and sex scenes?

There are times when the director will choose to close the set to only the necessary crew and actors. Actors can be better protected when they are exposed to fewer people. A closed set can also make actors more comfortable when doing these scenes.