Intimacy on set – choreographing sex scenes

I had an opportunity to attend Ita O’Brien’s Intimacy on Set training in association with Screen Skills Ireland at the beginning of this year and I have to say I felt relieved. Let me explain..

When it comes to performing stunts- there is a stunt coordinator, who makes sure no one gets physically hurt. What about the mental damage? Imagine filming a rape scene?

Well, as a matter of fact, I did just that, last year. I directed a short film called “Hear a No” last year, that had a rough intimate scene in it. When I was preparing for rehearsals, I was researching how it must be done, in order to make it as comfortable as possible for everyone involved. I wanted to make sure I do right by both cast and crew. At the time, unfortunately, I haven’t come across Ita O’Brien’s technique. Most I got, was that it was meant to be a closed set. OK, but how do I approach rehearsals? And the shoot?

Luckily, at the time, I was participating in an acting class led by Terry McMahon, who is an amazing actor-writer-director himself. I turned to Terry for advise, as I knew he had nailed great intimate scenes in his films. Terry was very kind to help me out and shared how he approached rehearsing and filming intimate scenes. With his advice, I was able to make actors as comfortable with the scene as I could and the shoot went smoothly.

Back to Ita.. It’s absolutely amazing to see the extent of work Ita has put into creating the guidelines that everyone in the industry can follow on set while filming intimate scenes. Ita has developed a very thorough process and technique that she teaches. She also works as an intimacy coordinator and movement director. Ita has coordinated such major productions like Netflix’es “Sex Education” and BBC’s “Gentleman Jack” to name a few. HERE IS a short video of Ita talking a little bit about choreographing sex scenes.

Few takeaways from both Terry’s and Ita’s advice:

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  • Agree on level of nudity, discuss and rehearse the scene prior to shoot. Sign those forms.
  • Speak with each actor in private first, to establish their boundaries. Check past trauma to make sure it doesn’t get triggered. Know that consent can change from yes to no and another way around at the rehearsals or on set.
  • No objectifying. Use proper language to describe body parts, movements etc.
  • Agree physical touch. At rehearsals make sure each body part that is being touched/kissed is discussed and agreed upon.
  • Have a timeout sign which actors can use to stop the scene if at any time they feel uncomfortable.
  • Ask actors not to involve any emotions at the rehearsals stage. Use it purely for blocking. This will ensure that actors don’t give “their all” to a performance before camera can capture it.
  • As mentioned before- it’s a closed set for the whole duration of the shoot for the intimate scene (and not just for the takes). Phones and monitors are to be switched off, only those who absolutely need to be there present.
  • Schedule intimate scenes for the morning and discuss hygiene, make sure actors come in showered.
  • Get actors to try on bits of intimate wardrobe (like genital covers) before the shoot to make sure they fit.
  • Nudity is only from “action” to “cut” – get actors covered straight away after the “cut” and keep them covered until just before “action”.
  • And finally, have actors do some movement routine to get out of the character and back into their own selves after the shoot.

Ok, here it is, I hope you find it useful. I would strongly recommend attending Ita’s workshop. Also, having an intimacy coordinator on set for them scenes, if the budget allows. Take these scenes seriously and prepare appropriately. I believe we really need to take care of our emotions as much as we take care of ourselves physically.

I will leave Ita’s website here, it’s www.itaobrien.com you can find a lot of useful information about intimacy guidelines and upcoming workshops there.

Picture in this article was captured by Jaro Waldeck @jarucube www.jarowaldeck.com

 


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