The last couple years have seen a startling phenomenon for moviegoers: a rise in online backlash to sex scenes. At the IndieWire Studio at Sundance, presented by Dropbox, “Hit Man” actor Glen Powell and director Richard Linklater, who also wrote the film together, addressed the issue head-on.

“Yeah, the last couple years there’s been a lot of thought [on] ‘Oh, sexy movies? Is it gone? People are uncomfortable,’” Linklater told Executive Editor, Film, Kate Erbland. “And I’m like, ‘My God, that’s the only reason I went to movies as a young person — I was hoping to see a sex scene.’”

“Hit Man” uses sex scenes to chart the evolution of Powell’s Gary, an everyday guy who occasionally uses his IT skills to help out the local police force, who is then pulled into a sting operation in which he poses as a hit man to catch people looking to solicit the services of one. His undercover persona is “Ron,” and the two identities are quite different.

Gary has little passion in his day-to-day. “That part is completely absent from his life,” Powell said. “He’s living completely in his head. He’s completely binary in terms of logic. And a lot of the big exploration of what we were trying to play with here is a guy who slowly but surely turns off the logic part of his brain and gives into humanity and passion and checks that logic at the door — which will eventually bite him in the ass!”

“His passion [as Ron] becomes dangerous,” Linklater added. “You’re gonna follow passion, and you don’t know where it’s gonna take you.”

Gary realizes that a woman (Adria Arjona) who hires him has very good reasons to do so. They form a deep connection.

“I think what’s interesting about those [sex] scenes is that they’re not there just to say, ‘Oh, now they’re a couple,’” Powell said. “It’s the exploration of Gary not being in his head, and by putting on this other identity, he’s actually better at this thing than he thought he would be.”

He continued, “I thought the process of how we found the sex scenes in the movie — remember, we found an impressionistic approach, like pieces of art. Like there’s an old painting or a photograph, and we kinda went, ‘What about this do we like? As much as this is a fantasy for Gary, it’s a fantasy for her [Arjona’s character]. And you have to have the female gaze on that sex scene. So we really team-sported it to show images that we got excited about, things you’ve never seen before. Because that’s the thing: Sex scenes can be kinda paint-by-numbers and so boring and so ineffective.”

“And the exploitation has always been against young women, so if she’s fine, we’re fine,” Linklater said.

“Rick’s process is a lot of rehearsal, talk out everything,” Powell said. “There are no questions when it comes to gameday. And that’s the thing that I think makes actors also feel safe in those scenes. I think the hard part of those scenes is that they can come down to legal riders. What are you comfortable with a month before starting shooting, and then how do you feel on the day? And I think we were constantly talking about it so the mystery was taken out of it in a great way.”

“And I think, looking at the history of our industry, people’s problems are always like, ‘What?’ Because they’ve only heard about [filming a sex scene] at the last minute,” Linklater said. “It’s new information and they’re thrown off because there wasn’t disclosure. We’re the opposite of that. We talk it through. And by the time we shoot it, there have been many, many weeks of thought going into it.”

The 2024 Sundance Film Festival runs January 18–28, with festival talks taking place January 19–26. See the full lineup here for the IndieWire Studio at Sundance, presented by Dropbox.

Dropbox supports and champions independent makers, crews, and teams behind the camera who bring their unique perspectives to life at the Sundance Film Festival. We’re proud that over 60% of films at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival leveraged Dropbox in their filmmaking process. It takes a monumental effort for film projects to go from ideation to completion, and Dropbox is dedicated to helping filmmakers get their projects across the finish line faster. Filmmakers used Dropbox as one organized homebase to keep video files secure, to remotely collaborate with teams around the world, and to get real-time video feedback with Dropbox Replay.

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