The following is from Steven about Alex's new role as Intimacy Coordinator
Steven L. Sears:
There has been a lot of talk lately in the Film/TV industry about a new field, referred to as “Intimacy Coordinators.” My friend Alexandra Tydings has just qualified as one and opened her own practice.
This new field deals specifically with scenes in Film/TV which are sexually themed and, often, emotionally charged. Theses scenes can range from scenes of instant attraction, where two characters fall into each other’s arms to scenes that are explicitly sexual with full nudity. Most of the viewing public assumes this is just another part of acting, done with no more or less effort than any other scene in a movie.
No. It’s a tribute to the actors that the viewing public sees it that way, but… no.
When I was an actor, I dreaded these scenes. Whether in acting classes, on stage, or in front of the camera, there was no more guidance except what was written in the script, which was usually vague or bordered on soft core porn. If it was a good director, he/she would discuss it with the actors, but there was no established protocol. You were just as likely to hear “you know what to do.”
Try to recall the complexity of your own emotional/sexual interaction in life, then imagine that you have to replicate it on command, without confusing it with your own actual emotions and feelings, but still having to dive into those depths to be convincing. You don’t have the usual tentative steps of discovery to precede it; the establishment of boundaries, tentative connections of trust, and (most of all) learning how to respect your partner in a physical and emotional environment that often runs counter to what we are taught. Now imagine struggling with all that while trying to keep track of where the camera is, knowing how the lights cast shadows, and trying to ignore the business (and non-business) commentary among the crew.
Afterwards, you look to the director and ask “how was that?” And (again for me) fearing that it wasn’t; that, again without guidance, we’d have to dive back in. It was like throwing darts in a dark room without the benefit of gravity.
Speaking for myself, as a man, I always felt as if I was violating the woman in the scene with me. And I was terrified thinking about what she felt. I often found myself apologizing, with the two of us trying to shrug it off with a smile and a joke. From the woman’s point of view, well, I just can’t imagine it. Completely different mechanisms, social pressures, emotional approaches, and expectations way beyond what are required for men.
When I became a writer, I hated writing these scenes. Yes, because it brought back the memories I had as an actor, but I also knew that human beings had to enact my words. I tried to keep it simple; hoping that the actors, as professionals, would know what to do and that the director would handle it with a kind voice, as a therapist might. In other words, I tried not to think about the reality of it because I just didn’t know what to do. Adding to it were the times when the producers or network I was working for specifically required details I wasn’t always comfortable with.
As a producer, I hated being on the set when these scenes were being done. Aside from adhering to the SAG nudity agreement, there was nothing solid to go on and I just didn’t want to be there. I once had to direct a short scene which was a comedy scene, where a body double had to be nude for a moment. Just trying to discuss that with the actress had me fumbling all over the place, trying to make sure she understood it wasn’t absolutely required and I’d be happy to make do with what we could get. She told me she didn’t have a problem with it and we shot it quickly. Still, that was a comedy scene and no partner was involved.
Now, it’s true, I can’t speak for the entire Industry and I know that many scenes in film have been handled with delicacy and understanding, where everyone worked together to make sure the rules were understood and boundaries respected. Many actors have learned to compartmentalize the steps and can turn it on and off. But I also remember a time when a production member on a show asked “Do you think we can talk her into taking her clothes off?” I wasn’t in a position of power, but I, recalling my own fears, replied with “I don’t think we should be talking anyone into anything if it wasn’t what they agreed to.” The actress was never approached about it, thankfully, but that gives you an idea of the potential abuse.
Intimacy Coordinators can bridge these areas so that there is complete understanding upfront and prevent abuses. More, from the production standpoint, they can serve on-set to make sure that the mechanics of the scene are maintained and that the final product is within legal guidelines. And most importantly, they can serve as advocates for the actors.
I am a huge supporter of this new field and I encourage the powers-that-be in the industry to embrace it. And as a shout out to Alex, and at the risk of sounding like a commercial, I can’t think of anyone better suited for the role.
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