In The Mix

Bare Essence

A Starz doc covers the world of nude models.

Paula Chin
  • Steve Shaw

The truth, the naked truth and nothing but — that’s what producer Josh Shader and producer-director Anthony Sacco are laying bare in their Starz documentary, Nude.

Focusing on the NU Muses project — a high-end photography calendar celebrating the art of the classic nude, started by treats! magazine founder Steve Shaw and featuring the work of renowned fashion photographer David Bellemere — the documentary examines contemporary perceptions of modeling, the female form and where the line is drawn between the sensual and the sexual.

“The nude used to be revered in painting and sculpture, but in modern times it’s been sullied by non-artistic images on the internet and in social media,” Shader says. “There’s still a stigma about nudity that we’re trying to break down. We expect the film to generate some polarizing reactions.”

Shader and Sacco, who previously worked together on the Starz unscripted series The Chair, entered the project with no preconceptions. “We had to be flies on the wall, watching and waiting to see what the stories were and where the characters were going, and then follow them in real time,” says Sacco, who also worked as cinematographer.

Bellemere’s creative process is bound to raise eyebrows. “He doesn’t adhere to the pact of no physical contact with models,” Shader explains. “He literally bends, twists and sculpts them into the shapes and forms he envisions. I imagine that watching this very large man touching these women will be disconcerting for some viewers, and that’s understandable. There’s a power dynamic going on.”

The models, however, are strong women, and the act of posing sans couture “is very empowering for them,” Shader adds. “It was important for us to give them a voice and question the misconception of models as helpless swans who are better seen and not heard.”

Nude is still very much a work in progress (at press time, it was slated to air in the fall).

“We started filming last July and we haven’t stopped, even though the calendar has been shot,” Sacco says. “We’ve gone all over the world — France, the Philippines, L.A., Miami and New York — and we’re still following four models in particular, whose stories keep unfolding. Starz has been great and hasn’t given us a deadline yet. What they want is authenticity, and they’re trusting us to deliver it.”

Thanks to their complementary skill sets, Shader and Sacco are natural  teammates. “We wear different hats,” Sacco says. “I’m directing, shooting  and doing audio, and Josh isn’t just producing but also playing the psychologist on set, getting everyone to let their guard down, open up and let us into their world.”

And both say their wives are totally on board with the project. “We told them we were going to be following beautiful models around who were going  to be nude,” Sacco says, “but they had zero problems with it.” That said, the guys display the Nu Muses calendar only in their offices — pinning it up at home wasn’t an option. 

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 6, 2017