How do you stop people being groped in the workplace when consensual groping is part of the job? It’s a question that the film and TV industries have been increasingly agonising over in the last few years, and which has now led to the rise of a new job on set: that of the intimacy coordinator.
“I didn’t think there was even a role in the profession when I first started developing this work several years ago,” says Ita O’Brien, a former actor turned movement director who specialises as an intimacy coordinator. “Now I can name at least 20 to 30 intimacy coordinators working around the world – and we’re training up dozens more to meet the demand.”
O’Brien’s job is to make sure that actors are comfortable, that boundaries are discussed, and every step of a scene is mutually agreed and choreographed in the same way as a fight, a dance or an action sequence.
Intimacy on Set is a company that was founded by Ita O’ Brien to help stage, TV, and film navigate the tricky waters of nudity and sexual intimacy. The intimacy coordinators risk-assess the show, take part in rehearsals, offer on-set supervision, and provide a post-production debrief. Intimacy on Set also offers training and workshops for the wider industry, as they try to change the way onstage sex is approached.
The company also produces a selection of best practice guidelines. These include recommending that actors don’t practice nudity or sex in auditions, and ensuring actors are made aware of all scenes which could include sexual intimacy.
For producers and directors, the decision to employ an intimacy coordinator is one that needs some thought. On the one hand, there’s a valid concern that the creative process could be stymied. On the other, creating a reassuring space for great creative work to flourish is vital.