May 2020 | Sight&Sound | 13
By Christina Newland
Before 2017, the role of the on-set ‘intimacy
coordinator’ did not exist in any formal
sense in film and television. The idea that
productions featuring scenes of nudity or
simulated sex should have a mediator whose
sole focus is to make sure those scenes are
safe, comfortable and well-planned came
into vogue in the post-#MeToo industry.
Yarit Dor is one of the co-founders of Intimacy
Directors International UK, and has worked
across numerous film and TV shoots. Her most
recent work was on the forthcoming Channel 4
drama Adult Material, about a British woman
who has spent her life working in the porn
industry. Combining pragmatic negotiation skills,
a choreographer’s dexterity and a deep sensitivity
toward the needs and safety of individuals on set,
the intimacy coordinator not only protects
people, but helps to make onscreen depictions of
sex more honest and thoughtful.
Christina Newland: How would you describe
the role of an intimacy coordinator?
Yarit Dor: Intimacy coordination is pretty new. It’s
roughly from around 2017. Alicia Rodis and HBO
kind of created that role together when she joined
on the second season of The Deuce [HBO’s show
about the sex industry in 1970s New York]. The role
has three levels to it. One is advocacy, the second
is choreography, and then the third is liaison.
The intimacy coordinator advocates for the
performers on set, and for the crew. When it’s
the performers, it starts from pre-production
into the days of the shoot. Once we get a sense
of what the director envisages for a specific
scene, we communicate that to the actor and
check in with them about it and how they
feel about that level of nudity, the type of sex
simulation [that] might be explored for that
scene. Some performers will inform us of their
own boundaries or what they’re happy to show
or not. For crew, it depends on their necessities.
So there was a situation with a make-up standby
who needed to put make-up on someone’s rear,
she requested that someone would be in the room
with her. I’ve had actors ask me to be in the room
sometimes with putting mics in sensitive areas.
For choreography, we help support with the
best positions, making sure the groins aren’t
necessarily in contact. Or for instance, if it’s
simulated oral sex, the minute you do a slightly
different camera angle, you need to change
the technique you were using. So we kind of
help adjust that for the actors: some might
want more feedback regarding what’s being
seen on the monitor, some will want less.
And then the last thing is liaison. So we
discuss anything related to the intimacy scene
- whether it’s the set, or the props. Maybe
there is prosthetic genitalia, or we know there
need to be merkins [pubic wigs], but maybe
that hasn’t been passed on to the make-up
department. So we make sure that info is passed.
CN: How much of your job would you say
is practical versus psychological?
YD: I would say it depends on how the actor wants
to utilise it. Sometimes it can be more of a support
system on the day. Sometimes a performer might
not want that, but will really want to utilise you
from a technical perspective, wanting to know
what you see on the monitor, asking technical
questions: is my hand at the right height? It
may change for them on the day depending on
how they’re feeling. So it’s a bit of a tennis game
between emotional and physical support.
CN: What happens if a performer
becomes aroused during the filming?
YD: Sometimes we have those conversations
with them one-on-one in pre-production. It also
depends on whether they want to bring it up,
because we don’t want to say “Oh hey, you have
an erection.” But some of them do ask. We make
them aware it is normal and natural, and not
voluntary. It’s a physical reaction. So they can
always ask for a little break. Some performers say
“OK, I need to move on.” If there’s a situation in a
bed, when the director says cut, they’ll be covering
themselves up. It is impossible to say, “OK, we’re
gonna stop until that reaction ceases.” Because
it might just happen again. And just by saying
that, you’re making a thing out of it. Whereas, if
the performer knows it’s a natural reaction and
everyone on set knows, and the scene partner
knows, we can all be human beings about it.
CN: How much mental health training do
intimacy coordinators need to have?
YD: We do require that people going into
intimacy coordination [are] mental health first-
aiders. Because they are that first point of contact,
and actors are taught to pretend. Their whole
job is to be really amazing liars! So sometimes
whether a performer is anxious or something is
bothering them on set is actually really hard to
figure out. The more you keep your mental health
first-aid renewed, and the more you get to know
that particular performer, you know when they’re
getting tired and frustrated. They’re starting
to be uncomfortable, and this is trespassing a
certain line for them. You can come to a first
assistant director and say, “Can we assess how
many shots we’re still gonna do on this?” And it’s
probably not worth continuing much longer.
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
For actors and crew, filming sex
scenes can be – who knew? – a
deeply uncomfortable experience.
Enter the intimacy coordinator
Contact improvisation: Yarit Dor
HOW TO WORK WITH AN INTIMACY COORDINATIOR
Prep for the intimacy in your show:
get CVs and additional health and
safety-related certificates from potential
intimacy coordinators. Interview certified
intimacy coordinators beforehand, start
intimacy meetings and chats with actors.
Talk about it beforehand: what is the
intimacy in the script, the intimacy
history of the characters, the style of show
and style of the intimacy in it? What intimacy
modesty garments are to be used and how,
potentially, will scenes be shot on the day?
Rehearse: preferably before the day of the
shoot, so any specifics can be addressed
and any requirements checked and met before
the day. Who is in rehearsal? The director,
the actors and the intimacy coordinator.
Create a safe space: make sure you
have a closed set, that the crew and
actors are briefed, and that everyone knows
who to go to for support if needed.
Sensitivity with ease: let’s remember
that at the end of the day we are
creating a scene with actors pretending to
simulate sex, so sensitivity is key. However,
sometimes an agreed one-minute window
for respectable levels of laughter is a good
way of breaking out and releasing energy.
‘ The nature of the job depends on
how the actor wants to utilise it...
it’s a bit of a tennis game between
emotional and physical support’