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TV, film producers are hiring 'intimacy coordinators' for sex scenes

New York

AGED 29, the idea of shooting a sex scene was nothing new to actress Emily Meade. But before filming began last year on HBO's The Deuce, she decided she wanted things done differently. So, she approached the show's creators and requested the presence of an external observer. That led HBO to hire Alicia Rodis - television's first "intimacy coordinator".

Spurred to action by the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault, more and more studios and television channels are following suit. It isn't a completely new idea: such coordinators have been used in theatres since at least the early 2000s. And after the experiment on The Deuce was a success, HBO decided at the end of October to hire one for all series featuring sex scenes to ensure that cast members won't be exploited during filming.

"Now that there is a very tangible solution available, maybe it's a little easier to face the problem," says Claire Warden, coordinator at Intimacy Directors International, the first specialised agency of its kind. On set, the coordinator - who is usually a woman - starts by listening. She learns the actors' and actresses' boundaries, says Amanda Blumenthal, intimacy coordinator on HBO's Euphoria, set for release this year.

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"If an actor told me I don't want my breast to be showing I make sure that the way it's choreographed, it doesn't happen," she explained. "When you're working with men, we've done scenes where an actor will be wearing a prosthetic penis that'll be shown on screen. So I've been working with actors on designing the prosthetic," she added. Another aspect of the job is to have discussions with the director and the "showrunner" - who holds overall creative and managerial authority - to get their visions for a scene. Then, the coordinator will relay that to actor, going backward and forward between the two parties until everybody is comfortable.

"One of the most important roles that we have is communication in that a lot of the damage that has been done just comes from people not wanting to talk about these things," said Ms Warden, who believes being open about the issues actually improves results on the screen. She adds that coordinators' presence on set is usually welcome.

"The resistance that we get often comes from people who don't quite understand why I'm there and think that I'm there to censor people or to take over the director's role or stop them from telling the story that they want to tell," she said. However, she added, "we have a very specific expertise and craft and we're there to support the director."

"I'm always thinking about how to make sure that we're honouring the actor's wishes and boundaries and still getting the shot and telling the story," said Ms Blumenthal, adding that through choreographing, she helps make sure that a sex scene is "believable and looks real."

Those leading the field bring a unique mix of expertise in both the arts and psychology. And more jobs are coming up, albeit slowly. Behind HBO, other producers such as Showtime and Netflix have also hired coordinators - the latter for its teen drama series "Sex Education.

"It takes time for the people in a position of power to learn about it and then also to understand why it's important," Ms Warden said. Ms Blumenthal believes it will be another five or 10 years before it becomes the norm. AFP