During a time when people can’t get closer than two metres to each other, it’s unsurprising that TV shows depicting intimacy have racked up phenomenal success – from Normal People to Bridgerton. The triumph of those steamy sex scenes, however, has been hugely reliant on a behind-the-scenes crew member: the intimacy coordinator.
Similar to a stunt director, the intimacy coordinator is responsible for aiding in the creation of sex scenes and, most importantly, ensuring actors are comfortable and consent to what they’re being asked to do. Last week, Keira Knightley made headlines when she stated she’d no longer film sex scenes with male directors. In a similar vein, Netflix’s Bridgerton has been heralded for its portrayal of sex scenes through the female gaze; with leading actors Phoebe Dynevor and Regé-Jean Page speaking out about the importance of having an intimacy coordinator on set.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement in 2017, HBO became the first network to commit to hiring intimacy coordinators when filming nudity or sexual content; since then, other leading organisations have followed suit. In a condensed period of time, the intimacy coordinator has become essential to the industry – so what are the tools and tricks of the trade and how is a sex scene actually filmed?
Mia Schachter has worked on Grey’s Anatomy and Euphoria
“I will speak to the director before I speak to the actors, to get an idea of what kind of shots they’re looking for. For example, I’ll see if they want to shoot full frontal topless nudity. I think ahead and ask, ‘If the actor isn’t comfortable with that, can you shoot from the side or from behind?’ We go through options that will still achieve the same storytelling vision.
“It’s really essential to pay attention to non-verbal cues. If an actor ever says, ‘I don’t know how I feel about that…’ I’ll offer them alternatives. What comes up a lot is that people are willing to do side nudity, excluding nipple, or they’re happy to do rear nudity. A lot of people don’t want a straight-on shot or a close-up. I’ve worked with actors who are absolutely fine with doing rear nudity, but they’re not okay with any close-ups.
“When I arrive on set, I speak to the actors and go over their nudity riders with them. We choreograph the scene and block it, in a private rehearsal. The actors discuss with each other where they are comfortable being touched, and how. Then I pass on the riders to the script supervisors, who ensure that information is passed on to the editing team.
“Then we shoot. I make sure the set is closed and the monitors are flagged. As we shoot, I’m there to help with any movement that needs finessing. It has happened before when, in the heat of the moment, an actor accidentally touches another actor in a way that has not previously been agreed. If that happened, we would have a conversation about whether that was crossing a line and establish if everyone is still comfortable. Or, we reshoot with additional direction, for example, ‘Can you move your arm so you’re covering her pasties?’ After we finish shooting, we have a closure moment – we high five or shake hands – so that we can wrap up and put away the scene.
“A lot of the time when you see a penis on-screen, it’s not the person’s penis, it’s a prosthetic penis. There’s never any genital-to-genital contact. So, what you need to do when you’re showing naked people rolling around with each other, is you have to give her a pubic wig (a merkin), so that she’s covered completely and you have to give him a prosthetic penis, so that there’s no genital touching skin.”
Intimacy Coordinator Yehuda Duenyas reveals what’s inside his kit bag
- Nippies / Nippets – to cover an actor’s areola
- Merkins – a pubic wig, often used for period pieces or for actresses who want more coverage of their pubic area
- Hibue / Shibue – a strapless thong that sticks to an actor’s pelvis, which acts as a barrier that prevents genitalia from touching
- Vajoga – a yoga mat for genitalia, used as a genital barrier when two bodies are grinding against each other
- Swim Shapers – used for nipple covers or as a barrier to cover female genitalia
- Mints / Gum – for fresh breath
- Heat Pads – to keep actors warm between takes
- Flesh coloured underwear – to use as a modesty garment
- Aloe Vera gel – to soothe skin irritated by modesty garments
- Bright green tape – so the cameraman knows the actor’s boundaries
- Evian water spray and glycerine – for creating the impression of beads of sweat
- Penis cups – a genitalia barrier for men
- Exacto knife – for any makeshift barrier or modesty garment that needs to be made on set
- Alcohol prep pads
A Typical Prep Day for an Intimacy Coordinator
9am: Call the director – establish their vision / what the scene entails / what nudity is required.
10am: Call first actor. Establish their nudity boundaries in-depth.
11am: Call second actor. Repeat.
12pm: Email production with summaries of the actors’ conversations.
1pm: Contact wardrobe to arrange for the correct modesty garments to be ordered.
2pm: Contact make-up if actors have tattoos that need to be covered. Discuss whether the actors has pubic hair, or if pubic hair needs to be added.
3pm: Write up nudity riders.
A Typical Shoot Day for an Intimacy Coordinator
6am: Arrive on set.
6:15am: Go over nudity riders with actors.
6:45am: Choreograph and block sex scene in a private rehearsal with a closed set (only essential cast and crew present).
8am: Shoot scene. Ensure monitors are flagged (can only be seen by essential crew and cast). Reshoot with additional direction.
6pm: End of shoot. High five to wrap up and have closure.
If you’re looking for something to watch, check out our TV Guide.