TV sets have long included stunt coordinators, dialect coaches and choreographers. Now, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) suggests they add intimacy coordinators to the crew, as well.
On Wednesday, SAG-AFTRA, a union of over 160,000 entertainment and media professionals, released “Standards and Protocols for the Use of Intimacy Coordinators,” a document suggesting and guiding the use of intimacy coordinators in the production of physically intimate scenes.
Intimacy coordinators are often likened to stunt coordinators; much like stunt coordinators, intimacy coordinators are brought in for “intimate” scenes—ranging from a kiss to an assault—to ensure all actors involved are comfortable, and have their questions and concerns heard out, and directors satisfy their creative vision. They often act as a sort of liaison between actors and directors.
An intimacy coordinator may communicate with an actor and director to determine how much nudity is necessary to a scene and an actor is comfortable with; get scene partners on the same page with regard to hand placement and body positioning; or ensure nothing in a scene is triggering for an actor who has experienced trauma.
SAG-AFTRA’s directive, unprecedented considering the newness of the intimacy coordination vocation at all, appears however not to be a mandate, but rather a set of guidelines for the use of intimacy coordinators, with an implicit nudge towards their inclusion on set.
Its protocols state that the intimacy coordinator “meets with the executive producer/writer and director at a minimum … to determine 1) degree of nudity, 2) specifics of simulated sex,” “serves as a resource for directors and assistant directors (as needed) with any specialized movement or choreography to ensure consent and safety while enhancing believability and director vision,” and “may verify that a final cut is consistent with contractual obligations and riders.”
The move comes after over two years of workplace sexual misconduct scandals that have rocked Hollywood. The Weinstein scandal that kicked off the Me Too and Time’s Up movements came in fall 2017, and in January 2018, actor James Franco was accused by multiple women—his acting students—of using filming sex scenes as a cover to sexually exploit them, pushing them to go further than expected during scenes.
Before then, intimacy coordinators were effectively unheard of on set, leaving actors to advocate for themselves in a profession that rewards improvisation and pushing one’s own boundaries—in other words, leaving actors to suck it up and get it done regardless of their comfort level.
Jessica Steinrock, now the managing director of nonprofit Intimacy Directors International (which helped SAG-AFTRA develop its new standards) and a former actress herself, recounted to Reuters feeling uncomfortable but unable to voice concerns when an intimate scene partner went farther than expected while filming: “I found myself thinking, ‘Is it because he likes me? Is it because he is more in the moment today?’ Even though my character might be ok with that, me-the actor-was not. But I found it really difficult to have that conversation.”
In October 2019, HBO mandated the use of intimacy coordinators during what the SAG-AFTRA guidelines refer to as “hyper-exposed” scenes, and a number of shows, like Netflix’s Sex Education and Showtime’s The Affair have elected to work with intimacy coordinators, as well.
In a statement, SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director David White acknowledged the progress the industry is making and the work left to do.
“There is more work to be done by all of us in the industry, including standardized training and expanding the number of experienced professionals to serve in this role. These Standards and Protocols lay a solid foundation for this growth and for the continued, seismic change needed to eliminate the scourge of sexual harassment in our industry.”
You can read the organization’s document laying out their new standards and protocols in full here and catch their video package here.