Cue Alicia Rodis (High Maintenance, The Deuce), who, in her intimacy coordinator role at HBO, is the first intimacy coordinator in the US to be employed by a mainstream network. She and Ita O’Brien (Normal People, I May Destroy You) are widely considered to be the original intimacy coordinators, simultaneously having developed their techniques on opposite sides of the world.
Though the job is only in its third year in the limelight, Rodis underlines that the “industry has grown considerably and continues to today.” And while not every network requires its projects to retain an intimacy coordinator on set, the industry’s evolution is evidenced by coordinators’ employment beyond HBO at Netflix, Hulu, and elsewhere — like Lena Waithe’s production company, which announced last summer that it will use intimacy coordinators on all of its projects. Schachter estimates that there are 80-plus intimacy coordinators in training or graduated in the US as of late 2020.
Since production in Hollywood has restarted after a wave of shutdowns earlier in the pandemic, intimacy coordinators like O’Brien, Rodis, and Schachter have seen their work in communication, consent, and boundaries become an important pillar of successful Covid-19 prevention measures. On what is to be expected of the intimacy coordination role for the remainder of the pandemic and even after it, HBO’s Rodis anticipates being called in more frequently. “It’s even more important to define consent and be specific. I think we’re going to find a lot of those tools being used.”
“Since March [of 2020], a lot of my time has been devoted specifically to the protocols and processes around reopening the industry,” says Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, general counsel and COO of the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the labor union commonly known as SAG-AFTRA. These protocols are vast and granular, specifically tailored to alleviate risk as much as possible in an environment where central workers have to take off their masks to successfully perform their jobs.
SAG-AFTRA has brought in outside consultants, epidemiologists, and industrial hygienists. And according to Crabtree-Ireland, it was having pre-production meetings for every project — up until the unions reached an agreement with the studios and streamers in September. This diligence stems from the fact that reopening affected every staff member, from the camera crew to the wardrobe department to the showrunner and producer.
“With Covid,” Schachter says, “what we’re doing is predicting a lot more.” Now, there’s a need to go beyond the questions of consent and comfortability embedded in sexual choreography, with coordinators facing the question of health and actors’ anxiety when re-entering work after isolation.
When asked about this responsibility, O’Brien — who is renowned for her intimacy work, perhaps most famously on Normal People — dovetails the pandemic and sex in a way that could melt any gender studies theorist: “We are not health experts, but we can pose to the actor, ‘Are you happy with this? Do you have any concerns we can help facilitate?”
O’Brien explains that the beauty of the intimacy coordinator role in the Covid-19 era is that it was already established prior to the pandemic, unlike newer roles created to oversee Covid-19-specific safety protocols and provide their stamp of approval for, say, staff bringing their own masks to work. Intimacy coordinators’ training has set them up for success; their onus to communicate comfortability and safety can now incorporate actors’ health apprehensions, making them well-suited and prepared for a Covid-19-conscious set.
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