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The Telegraph: Intimacy coordinator Ita O'Brien was the real star of the Baftas – and could save the TV industry
The standout winner at the 2021 TV Baftas was Ita O'Brien, and she wasn't even nominated for an award. O'Brien was the intimacy coordinator on Michaela Coel's I May Destroy You, which won best mini-series and Leading Actress for Coel. But O'Brien also worked on Normal People (with Leading Actor winner Paul Mescal) and Sex Education (for which Aimee Lou Wood won Best Female Performance in a Comedy Programme) as well as The Third Day, Gangs of London and I Hate Suzie, all of which were nominated.
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By Chris Harvey
There is a lot of sex in Sky’s Brave New World. I wonder if Brown Findlay had an oh-my-god moment when she saw the script. First off, she says, she’d only been given the pages for the first episode before her audition and “learnt more about quantity, let’s say, as the show went on”.
The series turned out to be something of a trial run for the intimacy co-ordinators who have been widely introduced since the Me Too movement alerted the world to abuse in the world of film and television. “What has massively changed, for me, in the industry is that when I started out, it was a negotiation … ‘We want to see this,’ and it was like, ‘Well, I don’t want to show you that. I can maybe show you this’. It was all a push and pull.”
On the set of Brave New World, she says, she would consult the intimacy co-ordinators “basically every single time there is something intimate – and that’s not even just sex stuff”. “You negotiate with them, you talk to them,” she says. “You think, ‘How do I feel today, in my body, right now?’ When I was younger, I had no idea I could say no. And when I tried to sometimes in the past, it just didn’t go down well – ‘You’re new, we can find someone else.’ It was very manipulative. So, this was actually an amazing experience, considering the show. It was the safest and the most comfortable I’ve ever felt.”
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The Telegraph: 'Rogue' sex scene experts threaten progress made by MeToo, warns Normal People intimacy director
By Craig Simpson
Rogue sex scene experts on film and television sets threaten the progress of the #MeToo campaign, the intimacy coordinator for BBC series Normal People has warned.
Ita O’Brien, who also choreographed intimate scenes for Gentleman Jack and Sex Education, prevents actors crossing personal boundaries and ensures they do not feel victimised by their co stars.
She believes romantic scenes should be treated "like a stunt of a fight" and is training a generation of sexual stunt workers to ensure performers can act without inhibition or exploitation.
Ms O'Brien noticed a rise in dubious practitioners on sets encouraging actors to take part in scenes without appropriate consent and warns it will ruin progress made by the #MeToo movement.
“People have jumped on the bandwagon,” Ms O’Brien told The Telegraph.
“I’ve had people that started training with me who then felt ‘I know what I'm doing’ and set themselves up as fully accredited.
“I feel aghast, because I know they are not, and haven’t got the experience.
“We don’t want to have situations where someone is going on set who is claiming that they have experience that they don’t have, and something concerning happens.”
“We don’t need to pussyfoot or feel embarrassed about the intimate content,” Ms O’Brien added.
“We need someone with skills and body awareness to choreograph hand holds, rhythm, how we physically make this.”
By not having these skills rogue practitioners risk compounding awkwardness and the risk of sexual transgression on set.
Ms O’Brien believes by making actors feel more comfortable actors sex scenes will become more realistic, diverse, and more celebrated, without viewers being offended or cringing on their sofas.
She said: “We need more of the reality and the beauty of our sexual loving on screen.
“It allows stories like Normal People and Gentleman Jack to be told.
“Writers tell me they can now write the scenes that I want because there is structure that means it can be created professionally.”
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The actor discusses making compromises for the BBC's eye-opening new sexual consent drama I May Destroy You
By Catherine Gee
But Opia, who is a committed Christian, drew the line at being nude on camera while filming the threesome. Fortunately, there was a solution. “I had a body double for that scene. I'm not comfortable with nudity or sex scenes,” she says breezily over video chat from Barnet, north London, where she’s riding out lockdown with her brother and mother. “[She was] a lovely lady called Lana. She was brilliant. I think if I ever have anything like that again, I'm going to be calling her.”
As is becoming increasingly common in the current climate, the producers brought in Ita O’Brien, the intimacy co-ordinator who worked on the BBC’s Normal People and Sex Education on Netflix to make sure the actors felt safe and comfortable during the explicit moments. At the end of the threesome scene, the two men who had given Terry the impression that they didn’t know each other and that this was a spontaneous event, leave together – suggesting that they hadn’t been honest with her.
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By Anita Singh
The BBC’s latest drama, Normal People, is a tender tale of first love that features a number of intimate moments between its two leads, played by Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal.
But the show’s intimacy coordinator, Ita O’Brien, has said it may be among the last for some time to feature scenes in which the actors are within touching distance of each other.
Instead, dramas filmed during lockdown will have to rely on a healthy dose of imagination.
O’Brien’s job involves working with actors and directors to choreograph love scenes, ensuring that all parties feel comfortable.
Asked how sex scenes can co-exist with rules that bar people from close contact, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s absolutely something that we are considering, as intimacy coordinators… how we respect social distancing so we can support everybody’s health while also creating intimate contact.
“Intimacy coordination is about serving character, serving storytelling. So actually there is so much intimacy that we can still tell - intimate stories but through intention, sculpting the gaze and perhaps a movement towards each other that might not require actual touch but which can still generate all that intimacy.”
O’Brien also works on the Netflix show, Sex Education, which is known for dealing frankly with the sex lives of teenagers. The third series was due to go into production in May but has been postponed due to the covid-19 outbreak.
The second series of Gentleman Jack, the BBC drama which also featured scenes of a sexual nature, is also on hold. But if lockdown continues for several months, producers will have to consider whether they should commence shooting with social distancing rules in place.
Films and television series that will be shown this year and which do feature sex scenes were all filmed before the outbreak - including the new Bond film, No Time To Die, which was due for release in April but has been pushed back to October.
Normal People, an adaptation of Sally Rooney’s acclaimed novel, follows the relationship of two young people, Marianne and Connell, as they progress from school in the west of Ireland to university in Dublin.
The director, Lenny Abrahamson, was at pains to make the intimate scenes as comfortable as possible for the actors, particularly Edgar-Jones.
He told the Telegraph: “There are a lot of sex scenes and, 10 years ago, a shoot was very male. You’d have a male director, male assistant director, male sound department, male cinematographer, all looking at a woman naked with a man.
“I’ve never been a traditional shouty male director anyway, but this time I made sure Daisy wasn’t the only woman in the room.”
Intimacy coordinators have become commonplace since the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the advent of the #MeToo movement.
O’Brien said her role is “to provide clear communication around the intimate content and then to put in place a structure that allows for agreement and consent of touch, and then a process to choreograph the intimate content clearly so that everything is done in a professional manner… and the actors are able to separate out their personal selves and professional selves.
“In the past, invariably people were just embarrassed to talk about the intimate content, there wasn’t a professional structure so one of two things would happen: the director might talk about the scene and say, ‘You two go off and work it out for yourselves and come back and show me what you’ve created,’ or they’d just put them in front of camera and say, ‘Now go for it.’... leaving the actors in a vulnerable situation.”
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The Telegraph: Normal People star Daisy Edgar Jones on sex scenes, imposter syndrome and working with Sally Rooney
‘I love that scene, I think it’s one of my favourites,’ Daisy says. ‘It’s beyond accurate, when you both know exactly why you’re there, but you’re going, “When do we get to the bit when we…” The bit where he was taking her bra off, it just happened to be the most awkward bra ever to remove and my arms were stuck. It was a moment for Paul and I to laugh, and it’s normally meant to be perfect and gorgeous on screen, but the directors said play into all that stuff. And we had a wonderful intimacy coordinator; it’s a stunt, which means it takes you personally away from it, it’s just about the choreography.’
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One thing that helped, he tells me, is the fact that they had on-set intimacy coordinators to work with. Ita O'Brien and David Thackeray have advised on British shows such as Gentleman Jack and Electric Dreams and were available to discuss any worries that the cast might have with the sex scenes they were asked to act out, ranging from the sensuous - Swindells's detention-time romp with Eric (played by Ncuti Gatwa) - to the horrifying - Wood's character is traumatised by a stranger who ejaculates on her on a bus.
Butterfield didn't need the intimacy coordinators himself much, but he was aware that others found their presence hugely helpful. "I didn't have so many intimate scenes," he says, "and for a lot of the intimate scenes I did have I was by myself and I felt like I didn't need a 40-year-old woman to guide me through that." He laughs. "I thought I could probably manage on my own.
"Quite a few of the other actors, this was their first job, and to have someone who you know you can talk to if you have any concerns was great. And the atmosphere on set was actually really great. The directors and producers were so respectful. We always knew where our boundaries lay, knew that we could say no. No one ever went home feeling that they had done something they didn't want to do."
The Telegraph: Sex Education’s Emma Mackey, interview: ‘We’re lucky our show isn’t about ridiculously passionate intercourse’
“I’m really glad I had Sex Ed to kick me off, because on Eiffel I’m naked,” she says. Sex Education was among the first shows to publicly announce the appointment of an “intimacy coordinator”, Ita O’Brien, to coach young actors through delicate scenes and safeguard against any pre-MeToo behaviour on set. O’Brien’s first ice-breaker for the cast was to have them watch videos of animals having sex, and attempt to imitate them. The stars could find the animal they felt best meshed with their character, and choreograph their sex scenes accordingly. “Honestly, I was watching it thinking, what the hell is this job? It’s absurd,” says Mackey. “But it was also a really good way of bonding. It was a great day, like being part of some really odd drama school.”
Does Mackey think O’Brien’s role is necessary? “Yes, it totally demystifies and desensationalises what might be a really intimidating sex scene. And getting to know each other beforehand is a real luxury, because sometimes you rock up and you have to film an intimate scene and strike up chemistry with an actor you’ve never met before in your life. Luckily, too, our show isn’t about ridiculously passionate, romantic sexual intercourse.”
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The Telegraph - ‘We should have sex therapists at school’: how season two of Netflix’s Sex Education puts female desire first
Marking an industry first, Netflix even hired an “intimacy director” (Ita O’Brien, who’s joined by David Thackery for season two) to guide its young stars through the more uncomfortable moments on set, and Nunn hired a “sex educator” for her (largely female) writers’ room.
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The Telegraph - Sex Education, Netflix review - an addictive teen comedy drama with empathy, wisdom - and a hip soundtrack
Few TV series are as likely to cause such a stir this year as Sex Education. This addictive new comedy drama from Laurie Nunn which was written as a love letter to those American High School movies such as John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club.
Be warned – with sex both shown and discussed in graphic detail, the series is not suitable for younger teenagers. The programme makers hired an "intimacy coordinator" in order to make the young cast (several barely out of their teens) feel safe as regards the many explicit scenes . . .