What is an Intimacy Coordinator? | A vital member of any creative team

What is an Intimacy Coordinator?

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The intimacy coordinator has fast become one of film and tv’s most vital on-set roles. Initially a response to the post-Weinstein,  #metoo era, intimacy coordinators entered common industry usage in 2018 following HBO’s hardline adoption of the role for any intimate scenes in production. Five years later, the positive impact they have had on our business is readily apparent—even if it exposes the shocking lack of safety protocols that had existed until they were regulated. But what actually is an intimacy coordinator? What do they do? And how can they help your performance as an actor?

An intimacy coordinator ensures the safety and wellbeing of actors in scenes of an intimate nature on a film/tv set or during a theatre rehearsal. These scenes may be sexual, but may also relate to moments of physical touch or even verbal intimacy. The intimacy coordinator works with the script, the director and the actors to ensure the director’s vision is achieved. They also set and maintain boundaries for the actors in front of the camera, giving them the tools and vocabulary to articulate themselves.

As this role is quite new in the production landscape, there are many questions asked about the role around its function and continuing importance. To help with this investigation, we’ve taken some pearls of wisdom from Australian stage and screen icon Chloe Dallimore, who stopped by the StageMilk Scene Club to chat with our members about her work as an intimacy coordinator. This masterclass (included below) is one of a massive number we have archived—why not join up and see what else you can learn!

What is Intimacy?

“A lot of people think intimacy is just about sex scenes and kissing. But intimacy is anything about happens … within that arm’s breadth distance. Anything that happens within that [space] is intimacy.” – Chloe Dallimore

One of the first intimacy coordinator myths we need to explode is that they only deal with explicit, Game-of-Thrones-style sex scenes. As Dallimore clarifies in the above quotation, intimacy actually covers a far wider umbrella. It’s more about the crossover of personal spaces between, whether the act (within the story) is consensual or not. It can cover loving language spoken between two romantic partners, an actor holding a baby or hugging a child playing their offspring.

Intimacy coordinators acknowledge this wider spectrum and help actors and directors navigate these subtleties through facilitated communication. They’ll still be present on set for nudity or simulated sex scenes, but most of their work takes place before filming begins via conversations with the directors and the actors themselves.

What does an Intimacy Coordinator do?

An intimacy coordinator oversees moments of intimacy in a production, much like a fight director would oversee moments of violence or a dance choreographer would organise a musical number. Dallimore says: “Why is it assumed that actors won’t know how to safely stab someone, but they’ll know how to safely pretend to have sex with someone they’ve possibly just met?” They ensure that moments of intimacy are blocked, repeatable and speak to the necessity of the script.

While they may communicate across several departments such as wardrobe, art department and the 1st AD, the intimacy coordinator spends most of their time with actors. They make sure actors are knowledgeable about each and every aspect of an intimate scene, and have no questions in regard to what they are showing or doing on camera. A big part of an intimacy coordinator’s job with actors is to ensure that they don’t bring their own experience of sex or intimacy. This is especially important if a character is experiencing or perpetrating some kind of sexual violence or trauma.

An intimacy coordinator will have actors communicate with one another about their boundaries. In Dallimore’s work, she encourages questions around things like touch and proximity to ensure that lines of consent are firmly drawn. Each question must be answered with a “yes”, “no”, or “maybe” (which can become a “yes” with some negotiation or immediately a “no” depending on the comfort of the performer. Dallimore describes a goal of this process is to: “De-sexualise everything, de-personalise everything … it’s about the biomechanics.”

Do Intimacy Coordinators rob a Scene of Spontaneity?

This is a fairly common question asked by some actors of older generations. Right off the bat, it might sound like a valid concern. But allow us to assure you that it’s not. Seriously. There are a few ways to tackle this question: return to Dallimore’s fight choreography comparison. Does a planned fight in a film look less realistic? Of course not: if anything, it better serves the action and narrative of the piece, allowing all involved to finesse their performances! What’s more, it’s safer. And that should really be the end of the discussion.

If that doesn’t convince you, if you think you’d be happy to wing a ‘simple’ kissing scene without any prior thought, bring it back to role preparation as an actor. When you show up, you do your homework. You analyse the script, you plot your actions and you determine your objective. Is not doing this more “spontaneous”? Nah. It tends to reek of unprofessionalism. Any actor who needs to keep things fresh through spontaneity is hardly going to last in an industry that requires concerted effort, take after take.

What do I do when an Intimacy Coordinator isn’t Present?

First of all, if you were told there would be one—or you requested one and none was provided—call your agent. Immediately. For any half-decent set, this is a major red flag and should be addressed to ensure your comfort and safety. There really isn’t a lot to negotiate around this: if sex or nudity was not mentioned in your contract, or not written into the script when you signed on, you do not need to participate. Directors and producers of all levels should know all of this, especially in the current climate of our industry that punishes such oversights severely and publicly. And actors have every right to ask for an intimacy coordinator to be present.

If you are aware that there won’t be an intimacy coordinator present on your production, it’s slightly different. The first thing you’ll want to do is talk with your director and scene partner. Trust, at every turn, is paramount. Facilitate conversations around consent, touch and proximity. Establish the blocking and use the script—not the director’s vision—as your departure point. And at all times, have a third person there. An AD or stage manager can record notes around the points of consent for each performer and the agreed upon plan of attack for the scene.

Finally, if you’re the director/producer of a production with no budget? Dallimore suggests reaching out to an accredited practitioner anyway. Many of her peers are glad to offer pro-bono services to ensure the safety of the set: “It’s better that the work gets done, experienced and people see that it works.”

How can I Become an Intimacy Coordinator?

If you’re an actor looking to expand your roles in the industry and think being an intimacy coordinator sounds like fulfilling work: now is the time! Depending on your location, there are plenty of accredited courses that you could enrol in if you’d like to work as an intimacy coordinator. As the role is still quite new, we are yet to see many dedicated intimacy coordinators who haven’t come from a performance or directing background. But it stands to reason that the role would be strengthened by the practitioner’s background in performance—you may find yourself in the perfect job you didn’t realise existed.

However, if you’re not looking for a full career switch, it would still be beneficial to do a short course or workshop. These are particularly popular with emerging/independent directors and producers, but greatly benefit actors looking for the correct protocol and communications skills when filming intimate scenes.

Conclusion

So there you have it: a breakdown on the role of the intimacy coordinator with some first-hand pearls of wisdom from a industry expert! We’ve included the full session below for reference, and would heartily recommend every last second. There’s even a demonstration with some of our Scene Club members of the above-mentioned exercises. This is exactly the kind of thing you can fold into your own training/process.

But before we wrap up, let’s cover one last point. Intimacy coordinators are there to facilitate, not police. They are actor advocates, they promote and ensure safety, yes. But they’re just as committed to story and performance as you. They want the story told in the best, most engaging way possible. And how do we know this? Because stories told with intimacy coordinators attached are often better. They’re more nuanced, they’re more honest and human. Take the work of Ita O’Brien, who has been lauded for her work on shows such as I May Destroy You and Normal People. Intimacy coordinators allow actors to access more, to act more, look good while doing it and be safe all the time. Who doesn’t want that?

For more resources like this, along with monthly coaching and feedback sessions, join up to StageMilk’s Scene Club!

About the Author

Alexander Lee-Rekers

Alexander Lee-Rekers is a Sydney-based writer, director and educator. He graduated from NIDA in 2017 with a Masters in Writing for Performance, and his career across theatre and television has seen him tackling projects as diverse as musical theatre, Shakespeare and Disney. He is the co-founder of theatre company Ratcatch (The Van De Maar Papers, The Linden Solution) and co-director of Bondi Kids Drama, a boutique drama school offering classes to young people in the Eastern Suburbs. Alexander is drawn to themes of family, ambition, failure and legacy: how human nature can flit with ease between compassion and cruelty. He also likes Celtic fiddle, mac & cheese and cats.

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