explainer

"Am I okay to touch you there?" What really happens behind the scenes of a Hollywood sex scene.

For decades, Hollywood has used stunt coordinators and experts behind the scenes to ensure a battle scene is accurate, believable and safe.

But when it came to sex scenes – actors, actresses and directors just sort of winged it.

Then came the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, which caused major upheaval in Hollywood. Consent, harassment and assault were now mainstream topics, and naturally made their way to set.

Mamamia’s daily news podcast The Quicky speaks to intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien.

Now, the same care that went into battle and fight scenes goes into sex scenes, and it’s all done with the guidance of an intimacy coordinator.

Intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien, who worked on Netflix’s Sex Education, developed the Intimacy on Set Guidelines – which includes not asking for nudity or simulated sex scenes at auditions, having a closed set during filming of intimate scenes, and having robes on hand.

Speaking to Mamamia‘s daily news podcast The Quicky, O’Brien explained the series of steps she takes actors through before a sex scene is filmed.

First, they speak with the director to find out exactly what is expected of them physically.

Then the actors run through an ‘agreement of touch’: “‘Am I okay to touch you here? Am I okay to touch you there?'” O’Brien simulated. “‘Yes you can touch the side of my breast, no you cannot touch over my nipple’. Stuff like that, so it’s absolutely clear.”

The actors then physically run through the scene, with verbal cues such as ”I step forward, I place my hand round your waist, you place your hand on my cheek’. This is repeated so it becomes a physical structure “that you can perform like a dance,” O’Brien explained.

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After all this, the actors are required to reconnect with the director to understand the emotional journey of a scene: The timing, rhythm and duration of acts like a kiss.

Following all this, actors will know exactly what’s going to happen in a scene, meaning they are imperative to creating a comfortable and safe environment for everyone involved.

Without them, there is opportunity for blurred boundaries, which can lead to awkwardness, embarrassment and at its worst, harassment and assault. O’Brien had heard many such stories.

“Some of the abusive stuff as been an actor thinking or feeling that what happened in the intimate content was the actress really fancying him and then the actor turning up at the trailer and exposing themselves because the signals were misread.

“There’s loads of stuff like that were the personal self and the professional self and the character get confused with who you are as a person.”

If a sex scene goes wrong, it has the potential to scar the actor or actress for a long time, O’Brien said. She knew of actresses who had quit acting after a bad experience.

She said clear choreography for sex scenes meant that it’s very obvious if someone veers from what has been agreed.

And if that happened, it meant there were clear paths an actor or actress could take to express their discomfort.

“My sense in the past was because there wasn’t the clear structure to go through, if someone did step over the line it was very hard for an actor or actress to call a halt to it and say ‘this isn’t right’.”

Following the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, film and theatre productions will usually read a code of conduct to the crew, and ensure they all know who they can go to and the process for redress.

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