Intimacy coordinators: Hollywood’s safety coaches of intimate and nude scenes

#GMA By Lesley Messer

As Hollywood aims to curb sexual harassment in the entertainment industry, SAG-AFTRA, the guild that protects actors, issued new guidelines this week on the hiring of intimacy coordinators.

On its website, SAG-AFTRA explains that an intimacy coordinator acts as “an advocate, a liaison between actors and production, and a movement coach and/or choreographer in regards to nudity and simulated sex and other intimate and hyper-exposed scenes,” on set.

By employing an intimacy coordinator, SAG-AFTRA argued, production is guaranteed “the safety of personnel,” as well as insurance against production delays that could arise from conflict, while actors are given “an important safety net.”

SAG-AFTRA now officially recommends that an intimacy coordinator should be involved in pre-production, on-set and in post-production.

“SAG-AFTRA has taken a huge step toward normalizing and encouraging the use of these professionals in productions large and small,” SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris and National Executive Director David White wrote in a letter. “This is an opportunity to truly change the culture while helping to ensure the safety and security of our members while they work. It’s the latest development in our ongoing effort to eliminate sexual harassment in the entertainment industry through strategic partnerships, raising awareness and expanding contract and legislative protections.

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Amanda Blumenthal, the founder of Intimacy Professionals Association, explained to “Good Morning America” that the field is a relatively new one, and really took off in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Blumenthal, who has worked as an intimacy coordinator for Freeform, FX, and Netflix, among other studios, likened the role to that of a stunt coordinator: Just as a stunt coordinator protects the physical safety of actors who perform stunts, an intimacy coordinator ensures the physical and emotional safety of an actor performing an intimate scene, she said.

“On occasion I’ve been on sets where an actor changes their mind about the level of nudity they want to show the day of filming. In these sorts of situations the actors are able to come to me and say that they’ve changed their minds, and I take this information to the director and production and I help to facilitate a new plan for the shoot that works with the actor’s boundaries but still tells the story,” she explained to “Good Morning America.” “Many actors, especially younger ones or those who are new to the industry, don’t feel comfortable speaking up in these sorts of situations without an IC present because of the power dynamic that exists between actors, directors, and producers.”

Blumenthal said that in addition to studios pushing to bring on intimacy coordinators, actors have begun demanding them in their contracts. Blumenthal said that having someone dedicated to ensuring their safety allows everyone to feel protected.

“So many actors have been traumatized while doing these sorts of scenes because there often isn’t a plan in place and actors get told to just ‘go for it’ and see what happens. This is a recipe for disaster as boundaries can easily get crossed and actors can feel violated,” she said. “Additionally, having an IC can help to mitigate instances of sexual harassment; I’ve heard from a number of actors who have been harassed or assaulted on set that they feel like the things that happened to them wouldn’t have happened if an IC had been present.”