Alicia Rodis enters the scene in New York with a mission: to supervise the filming of a very complex and daring group sex scene for a television series on a large American channel. She is there to ensure that the director respects the privacy limits set by each of the 30 participating actors.
She tracks the conditions of their consent on a large spreadsheet, to make sure everyone is comfortable when the camera is rolling.
In a theater elsewhere in the city, Chelsea Pace choreographs an intimate scene performed by a couple.
“Here you are not” fiddling “, you are making muscle contact with the front of your partner’s body,” she said, using non-sexual language to interpret the directions of the scene, while the two actors rehearse a set of movements.
Welcome to the world of privacy coordinators.
These women would not have done this job just a few years ago. Now they are part of one of the fastest growing professions in the entertainment industry.
As trained animators, they help artists and productions to navigate sensitive scenes involving physical contact, hugs and kisses to nudity or simulated sex.
Just a few weeks ago, the powerful union of American actors SAG-AFTRA published a historic document, regulating sex scenes through the recruitment of these privacy experts. This is part of a larger effort to end sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry.
“This came from behind the concern of our members for their safety,” said SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris. “The actors, and the women in particular, spoke to tell their stories. Not just about Weinstein, but many others,”
Former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, 67, was convicted of two accounts of sexual assault during a trial in New York last month.
The allegations against him helped spark the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. Over the next two years, the demand for Hollywood privacy coordinators exploded.
“We have stunt coordinators, choreographic combat scenes and we really take care of people in the event of physical violence,” explains Alicia Rodis, who first trained as a combat choreographer.
“But when it comes to privacy and nudity, which is another high-risk situation, there has been no consideration at all. It is shocking.”
Rodis is now a full-time privacy coordinator and co-founder of Intimacy Directors International.
Industry experts estimate that around fifty privacy specialists currently advise productions, mainly in the United States and the United Kingdom, a tenfold increase in just a few years.
Improvising intimate scenes after the director’s basic instructions were the norm, leaving the actors to fend for themselves in setting the boundaries.
“We used to build on the experiences of the actors, we just had to hope that an actor’s idea of ’doing passionately’ would match that of the director,” said Pace, who also acts and co-founded the Theatrical Intimacy Education research group in 2017.
The power dynamics at play in the industry make it difficult for actors – especially women – to express themselves if they are not happy.
“The first rule of self-preservation is to say” yes “to everything you are asked. It is really integrated into the training of actors,” says Pace.
The issue has been simmering for a long time before the Weinstein scandal broke out in October 2017.
Decades after the shooting of Bernardo Bertolucci’s last tango in Paris in 1972, Maria Schneider declared that she felt “humiliated” and “a little raped” while the director surprised her with unscripted sexual contact. She was 19 years old at the time.
More recently, Emilia Clark talked about shooting explicit scenes on Game of Thrones, which she found “terrifying”.
“I’m now on a film set completely naked with all these people, and I don’t know what I should do, I don’t know what is expected of me, and I don’t know what you want and I don’t know what I want, “she said in an interview.
But things started to change in the #MeToo Hollywood post.
One of the turning points happened on the set of the HBO series The Deuce, on the thriving porn industry in the 1970s in New York. Emily Meade, who played a sex worker and a porn star, spoke to the bosses when she found some of her nude scenes overwhelming.
“I’m someone who’s been playing really sexual characters all my career. I had my first sex scene at the age of 16. And there are many times when I have felt uncomfortable, that I either realize it now or look back retroactively, “said Meade in an interview with HBO.
Alicia Rodis came, hired for the first time by a mainstream television channel to facilitate the simulation of sex in a scene.
“I always say, ‘Let’s discuss what’s on the page but also what’s not’, so there are no surprises when you get ready,” she says.
“I want to defend the director’s vision but also to make sure that we stay within the limits of the performers.”
HBO later announced that the network would hire privacy coordinators for any show involving nudity and other companies, such as Netflix, Amazon and Apple +, were following suit.
Intimate directors are now often found on major theatrical productions.
“You are a support system but also part of the creative process, to explore how intimacy as a storytelling tool fits into the story,” says Yarit Dor, credited as the first director of intimacy. in the West End of London.
“In the theater, it’s a four-week process. On TV and in the movies, it has to be much faster, so you work intensively with the actors before arriving on set,” compares Dor.
Amanda Blumenthal, a Los Angeles-based privacy counselor on Showtime’s highly sexualized series, The Affair, says the work is “partly mediator, partly counselor, partly choreographer”.
“A program will assume that an actor will agree to do nudity because he has already done so, which is not always the case,” said Blumenthal, who heads the Intimacy Professionals Association.
“It is an incredibly difficult situation to live with. I found myself on set to help the actors to respect their limits.”
Over the past year, the growing community of privacy experts has developed techniques and protocols for work – from advice to writers to discussing the technical aspects of how to film simulated sex.
The new SAG-AFTRA guidelines cover the pre-production phase, the intimacy coordinator meeting one-on-one with the artists before the rehearsal, and ensuring that the costume department provides appropriate nudity clothes, prostheses and barriers to cover the genitals, such padding in silicone or hard tissue.
While filming an intimate scene, the coordinator will ensure that the decor is closed and that the crew numbers are kept to a minimum. And they will help choreograph the physical interaction of the scene itself.
“A big part of our job is to make sure there is continuous consent throughout the filming of the scene,” says Blumenthal.
In the UK, Directors UK worked to set up the role of privacy coordinators and Ita O’Brien, the first BBC privacy director and Netflix sex education advisor, developed directives.
There is a need to set boundaries, says O’Brien, “including an agreed strategy to stop the action if necessary”.
These scenes require as much planning as a car chase or any other stunt, experts say.
“If there are kisses and maybe caresses, do we agree that our breasts are affected? Having the back, the shoulders, the bottom touched? We make sure that there is not of genital contact or, if the actors agree to have genital contact as part of the scene, that there is a barrier, “explains Rodis.
Before, the role of caring for artists often fell to makeup artists, who distributed dresses between shots and looked at the monitor to ensure that the camera did not reveal more than had been agreed.
Now the privacy coordinators are bringing a new element to the decor – a de-sexualized language to interpret the directions of the scene.
“It is not an actor who gropes another actor: it is a character groping another character, but the actors make contact at the muscular level, “says Pace.
Rather than “petting your partner,” Pace says she would ask an actor to “make skin contact with the side of your partner’s face.”
“It is not only more specific but also free of sexual overtones,” she said.
“We find that the scenes are getting cleaner. And I’m not talking about censorship, it’s just better thought out,” acknowledges Rodis.
However, the new role of privacy supervisors has encountered some reluctance in the industry.
At first, says Carteris of SAG, the directors and producers feared that the filming process would be slowed down.
There is also a financial concern, because the hiring of a specialist can remain out of budget for small productions.
“We are not the sex police. Sometimes the directors think we are there to tell them” no “at a time of nudity that they want to have. That is not what we do,” says Pace.
“Once they have worked with an privacy expert, many directors believe that having this extra person take some of the weight away from them is a safeguard,” says Yarit Dor.
There is, however, a more radical change of industry that is needed – one that shakes up this “yes culture” which prevents actors, particularly women, from defending their positions.
“It’s about redistributing power on set. We need directors who want the actors to have a say and the actors to know how to articulate what they need,” says Pace.
The growing number of choreographers trained in intimacy, as well as new generations of actors concerned with intimacy, can help this sector to evolve.
Last year, according to Reuters, Intimacy Directors International received more than 70 applications for 10 places in its certification course.
“The truth is that there are not enough privacy coordinators right now, and the demand will only increase,” says Carteris.
The pool of coordinators must also be more diversified, support the actors.
“Today, mainly women, we also need more non-binary people and different backgrounds,” says Rodis.
“Sometimes it just isn’t appropriate to have a white privacy coordinator, who may not know how to create a safe set for people of color, and we need to be aware of this.”
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