Earlier this month, Roman Roy blessed us with perhaps the single most awkward image of Succession thus far. In a horny accident that rivals the most hallucinatory of Waystar blunders, the clown prince of Soho accidentally texted an image of his fully erect penis — absolutely spilling out of a pair of white Calvin Klein briefs — to his father, Logan Roy. It was the ultimate distillation of Roman’s self-flagellating hubris; I think we all enjoyed witnessing his spine crumble to dust as he realized he’d crossed the point of no return. But here at Vulture, we’re obsessed with a more structural question: How do you get a dick pic on TV? (We don’t mean that in a Tipper Gore way; this is HBO, man. Anything goes.) Instead, we want to know what it takes for a production designer to source, clear, and authenticate a grainy, front-camera cock shot that pays off a crucial wrinkle in the script. Dick pics are a ubiquitous form of human expression — there are literally thousands of them bouncing between the satellites as I type this — but they rarely appear onscreen. So, when Roman committed his life-altering mistake, where did the prop department turn?
“It all depends,” says Rose Lagacé, a veteran production designer who runs the industry resource Art Departmental. “If you can find a good dick photo on the internet, then you can try to contact the person who made it and see if they’re willing to let you use it. There are adult stock-photo sites, but most of them aren’t very good. With something like Succession, it looks to me like they did a photo shoot. It’s so well lit and has the exact right framing.”
This is one of the many perks of being bankrolled by HBO, explains Lagacé. A show like Succession might have a litany of photo shoots on the docket for everything from family portraits to magazine covers for set dressing, and theoretically, Roman’s schlong was simply added to the to-do list. “You hire a nude model who’s okay with showing their erect penis,” she says. “Or, if someone I was dating sent me a dick pic, I might just ask them if I could put it on TV.” In fact, Lagacé speculates that HBO had a product-placement deal secured with Calvin Klein, given how prominent the company’s logo was framed on the waistband. Honestly, who’s a better endorser for a pair of tight undershorts than a media scion with a penchant for weird sits? Roman certainly seems like the type of guy who’d want Gerri to know he doesn’t wear Hanes.
“[Product placement] was my immediate speculation. Calvin Klein has a history of putting fuckable men in their underwear, and it seemed like a good opportunity for them,” continues Lagacé. “Or there’s a chance that’s just what it said in the script: ‘Roman takes a picture in Calvin Klein underwear.’ From there, you’d need to go through your clearance coordinator to make sure the company is okay with showing their product that way.”
Of course, the vast majority of production designers aren’t working with a Succession-size budget, and that’s when dick-pic scavenging gets complicated and frustrating. Chris Crane, who’s put together sets for films like Run This Town and Clara, tells me he’s heard of colleagues commissioning penis photos directly from friends and strangers under the protection of an NDA, which frankly sounds like a humongous compliment. That said, the deeper anyone gets in the murky weeds of clearance statutes, the more complicated the procedure becomes. Lagacé notes that both the actor and the author of a dick pic need to sign a waiver before the image can be laid to tape. So if one’s significant other immortalizes a schlong at a beautiful angle, they’ll have some annoying paperwork to address, too. There’s also the likely chance that whoever’s dick you want to consecrate on camera will ask for a hefty fee for the privilege, which will need to be negotiated. (For a rogue cock that exists purely in the background, Lagacé tells me she wouldn’t go higher than $250.)
Sadly, all of those bureaucratic hassles are why we rarely see dick pics onscreen. Lagacé explains that writers rarely consider the production overhead when they’re dreaming up a scene, so once a production designer reveals the varying expenses and moral tussles necessary to secure a picturesque penis snap, a lot of incidental nudity ends up on the cutting-room floor. Lagacé tells me one of the most frequent culprits are pulpy, ’70s style pinups — the sort of dirty calendars you might find in Spicoli’s bedroom. Those may seem innocuous to a screenwriter, but they’re a total nightmare for a set designer.
“They’re like, ‘Oh, you can’t just put these onscreen?’ And I’m like, ‘No, we can’t just put a naked woman onscreen without her consent.’ I either have to create the calendar or go to one of the companies who makes them, who are most likely not going to give them to us,” says Lagacé. “Those get written out all the time.”
All of this should increase our appreciation for Succession; the odds are stacked against any television production that wants to broadcast a dick pic, but through a combination of guile, diligence, and overwhelming budgetary willpower, this show beat the odds. Thank God Succession always has its priorities straight.