Public Media Arts Hub

How intimacy coordinators ensure safety on theater and film sets


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Geoff Bennett: In the aftermath of the MeToo movement, a new field has come to prominence in the film and theater industries, intimacy coordinators and directors.

This role puts a focus on consent and safety for actors and the production teams.

Jeffrey Brown has a look as part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Jeffrey Brown: The touch of a face, clasping hands, an embrace, it's a different kind of choreography on set or stage, one of intimacy.

Claire Warden, Director of Advanced Training, Intimacy Directors and Coordinators: Whoever hasn't been the outside eye will now be the outside eye.

Jeffrey Brown: And a new kind of training.

Man: Your actors are coming in knowing that they're doing the kiss. They're falling onto the bed and then they're starting to...

Jeffrey Brown: Of what are called intimacy coordinators in TV and film and intimacy directors in theater.

Jessica Steinrock , CEO, Intimacy Directors and Coordinators: Intimacy coordinators and intimacy directors help make intimate scenes look real, when they're actually fake.

Jeffrey Brown: Jessica Steinrock started her company IDC in 2019 to certify and bring more people into this growing field. She herself has worked on Showtime's "Yellowjackets," Netflix's "Never Have I Ever," and Hulu's "Little Fires Everywhere."

Jessica Steinrock : We are actor advocates, we are liaisons for the sets and the crew, and we are also there as choreographers to help set movement and make sure that everybody's boundaries are respected in the creative process.

Claire Warden: Creating choreography from up front.

Jeffrey Brown: We watched a recent class in New York led by Claire Warden, an actor turned intimacy director and coordinator.

Claire Warden: Two of you will be creating the physical storytelling.

Jeffrey Brown: To teach some of the fundamentals of movement, but also how to watch carefully and talk through issues with actors and directors.

Claire Warden: We're also physical storytellers. So we are creating agreements of movement or choreography sometimes in order to keep the clarity about physical storytelling and the boundaries that have been agreed on by the actors telling that story consistent.

Jeffrey Brown: So, Jessica, do you see this as a real sea change in Hollywood and theater?

Jessica Steinrock : Oh, 100 percent. Physically having this new role dramatically alters the landscape of entertainment, creates space for conversation, where, before, there was less space.

Jeffrey Brown: It's an industry in which everyone understands the meaning of the casting couch, and stories abound of actors being surprised, taken advantage of, traumatized.

Then-19-year-old Maria Schneider in 1973's "Last Tango in Paris" said she felt -- quote -- "a little raped" in a scene with Marlon Brando. Director Bernardo Bertolucci would later admit he did not tell Schneider ahead of time how he wanted the scene to unfold.

Actress Sharon Stone has said she was told parts of her body would not be shown in a scene in 1992's "Basic Instinct," but later found out that wasn't the case.

Claire Warden: For every story that the public get to hear, there are tens, hundreds of thousands of stories that we don't get to hear from similar people.

Jeffrey Brown: This past January, the leads in 1968's "Romeo & Juliet," Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, filed a lawsuit against Paramount for exploitation and using nude images of them, teenagers at the time, that they were told wouldn't be used in the film.

A California judge recently ruled the case could not go forward, citing First Amendment and technical barriers. But a lawyer for the actors said they would file a new suit in federal court.

Kristy Guevara-Flanagan, Director, "Body Parts": There's a lot of potential for danger and coercion.

Jeffrey Brown: Kristy Guevara-Flanagan is a professor of film, TV and digital media at UCLA. She directed "Body Parts," a documentary that depicts the history of sex on screen.

Directors, historians, and actors including Jane Fonda, Rosanna Arquette, and Rose McGowan, share their experiences in the industry.

Kristy Guevara-Flanagan: There's so much power differential in Hollywood, I think. Young women were feeling like they didn't know how to navigate this, that they were feeling pressure, and that they felt like they didn't have a lot of options.

Jeffrey Brown: As far back as 1967, SAG-AFTRA, the union representing thousands of actors, developed the nudity rider, a legal agreement used to clarify parameters of filming an intimate scene.

As of 2020, these riders are now decided upon 48 hours in advance. But Jessica Steinrock says things can still change in the intensity of the moment.

Jessica Steinrock : There's a lot of money involved, a lot of crunch time involved. And when we have power dynamics, we also have opportunities for folks to lose their ability to give consent.

And so what the intimacy professional really does is help reconstruct the entertainment landscape so that everybody is really excited and feels consenting about what those actions are going to be on any given day.

Jeffrey Brown: A recent turning point, HBO's 2018 "The Deuce," a drama series set amid the pornography industry in 1970s New York. It took on a coordinator after actress Emily Meade spoke out about issues on set.

HBO then began to require coordinators on all productions with intimate scenes, helping to set a new standard throughout the industry.

Kristy Guevara-Flanagan: The main thing that allowed for this was really the Time's Up and MeToo movement and the Harvey Weinstein scandal coming to light.

People were finally having to answer to these questions of like, what has been happening on their own sets? Where have people not felt protected, and what can be done?

Jeffrey Brown: Sarah Polley, who began acting as a child, has written of traumatic situations she was put in during filming, in her case not involving sex. Now a director herself, that's influenced how she runs her sets.

We spoke recently about her Oscar-nominated film "Women Talking."

Sarah Polley, Director: I think, for so long now, it's been considered a badge of honor to tell war stories as a filmmaker about the way you manipulated people or betrayed people or told them something, when something else was actually happening, in order to get a great moment.

But I'm always curious, if those same filmmakers could remake their films and behave with a certain amount of decency and care, I wonder if they'd make even better films, even the good ones. I wonder if they would have been better if people had felt safe. We will never know.

Jeffrey Brown: Speaking recently to actress Rachel McAdams about her new film, "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret," also asked about the new higher-profile role of intimacy coordinators.

Rachel McAdams, Actress: I feel like the intimate scenes I have done that have gone -- have been most successful have been very well-choreographed. I don't think it takes anything away. I think it's totally additive. And I'm really glad it's a part of the business now. And I think it should always be there as an option.

Ariella Salinas Fiore, Trainee, Intimacy Directors and Coordinators: Thinking of it in a technical sense. I have been doing the emotional work.

Jeffrey Brown: Back at the workshop, student Ariella Salinas Fiore says her desire to do this work was shaped by her experience as an actor, director and producer.

Ariella Salinas Fiore: I did come from this mentality of, no, you just say yes. You just do the work. You don't need to do -- be difficult, and me myself realizing, well, maybe there is a better way.

Jeffrey Brown: Shelby Terrell, another trainee, agrees.

Shelby Terrell, Trainee, Intimacy Directors and Coordinators: If we can practice these things in our daily lives, normalize it and create a culture of consent in our lives, in TV and film on set, it will just change the culture and change lives.

Jeffrey Brown: Jessica Steinrock says she too hopes intimacy coordinators become the rule, not the exception.

Jessica Steinrock : We have animal wranglers and stunt coordinators. If there's children on set, there's a specialist for that.

These scenes are so complicated and vulnerable, it's almost shocking that we haven't had specialized support in these scenes until now.

Claire Warden: The climax has an explosion of breath.

Jeffrey Brown: For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown in New York.

Support Canvas

Sustain our coverage of culture, arts and literature.

Send Us Your Ideas
Let us know what you'd like to see on ArtsCanvas. Your thoughts and opinions matter.