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Intimacy Coordinators Face New Challenges on Set

HENRIETTA MCFARLANE, HOST: New York’s film industry is undergoing a change. The Screen Actors Guild has released recommended standards for training intimacy coordinators, or IC’s. An IC serves as the point person between actors and the production team. They ensure that actors film their intimate scenes safely and with consent. But as Elizabeth Erb reports, because the job is new, IC’s are facing several challenges of their own on set.

ELIZABETH ERB, BYLINE: In Netflix’s hit romance Bridgeton, lead actress Phoebe Dynevor stands in a dimly lit room. Her powder blue satin dress catches glimpses of light as a fire crackles in the background. She whispers her burning desire to her love interest.


Her lips quiver as she leans in for a kiss.

ERB Actors used to be left up to their own devices when filming intimate scenes as Dynevor tells Glamour UK.

PHOEBE DYNEVOR: I’ve done sex scenes in the past and its all action go just do it. And you feel very out of control. With a coordinator on set we blocked everything, we rehearsed everything like a fight scene. And actually it really frees you up.

ERB: Things changed with the MeToo movement. When Bridgetron was shot, someone like 32 year old Kristina Arjona would be just a few feet away, off camera. Arjona is one of only a handful of intimacy coordinators approved by SAG. She says she wants to make things easier for actors in potentially awkward situations. But she’s finding the industry is still getting comfortable with her.

KRISTINA ARJONA: Because we’re still new, I still go on sets and I’m explaining my job to people. And people are nervous around us; they think we’re the sex police. They think we’re HR. And it’s like no I’m like a stunt coordinator for intimate scenes.

ERB: At least 75 hours of training are required to be on the SAG intimacy coordinator registry. You have to be trained by someone who’s worked 200 days as an intimacy coordinator on set. But even with this new crop of trained professionals, Arjona says use of Intimacy Coordinators is still not standardized.

ARJONA: We don’t have a union yet. We’re still working on that. So part of it is like we’re highly highly recommended on SAG shoots but we’re not required. HBO is the only studio that’s agreed that like we’ll have an intimacy coordinator on anything that needs it and we were like yay! And then nobody followed suit.

ERB: Some new protocols have been implemented by SAG to create what they say are safer sets. Like a rule which mandates that actors have 48 hours notice before they film intimate scenes. But Arjona says the rules aren’t enough on their own.

ERB: Do you find that a lot of actors just don’t know that these protections exist?

ARJONA: Most actors. You know I’m trying to teach actors and young filmmakers and everybody that you have these rights that are here to protect you. But if you don’t know it, you can still get pressured into doing stuff. I don’t know that I’ve worked with an actor who knew all their rights already.

ERB So far seven training programs around the world have received accreditation from SAG. Including one here in New York. But Brooklyn based actor Parnia Ayari is wary of this decision. She’s a member of Intimacy Coordinators of Color and says the program’s cost, which can be upwards of $5,000, leaves marginalized communities out.

PARNIA AYARI: There’s a huge accessibility problem in these certification programs. What we’re going to do to fix it, I’m not sure. Requiring certification when the certification is so inaccessible, I don’t think that’s quite the answer.

ERB: Because the position is so new, Intimacy Coordinators are only credited as “additional crew.” While she waits for the industry to catch up to her, Kristina Arjona is off to her next set: Miller's Girl starring Jenna Ortega and Martin Freeman. The film focuses on a teacher and his student. She hopes the production team will be receptive. Elizabeth Erb, Columbia Radio News.


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