Two years after a sexual harassment scandal roiled Hollywood, one of the fastest growing jobs in the entertainment industry is that of the intimacy director.
Fueled by the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, demand is soaring for intimacy directors or coordinators who help choreograph TV and movie scenes involving sex or nudity and ensure that actors are not exploited or made to feel uncomfortable.
Interest in the specialized job is high, but training can take months.
“We have stunt coordinators. We really take care of people in those kind of scenes. But scenes of intimacy have kind of been left a little too alone,” said Jessica Steinrock, managing director of the non-profit Intimacy Directors International (IDI).
HBO now has an intimacy coordinator on all its shows involving intimate scenes, while Showtime uses one on “The Affair” and other series.
Elsewhere, IDI and groups like Theatrical Intimacy Education and Intimacy on Set run multiple workshops in the United States and the UK that empower actors to speak up.
IDI, founded in 2016, says the number of its intimacy instructors has mushroomed to 29, from just four two years ago. More than 70 people applied for 10 places with IDI earlier this year to train for the role.
“It is absolutely growing at a rapid pace,” said Gabrielle Carteris, president of the U.S. actors union SAG-AFTRA. “There are a plethora of shows and not enough intimacy coordinators right now.”
Intimacy directors act as a liaison on movie and TV sets between producers or directors and actors to ensure that actors are treated with respect, whether the script calls for a first kiss or a rape scene.
Before sexual misconduct allegations involving multiple actors, directors and producers swept Hollywood in 2017, actors were often left to fend for themselves in establishing boundaries at work.
Steinrock, who has also worked as an actor, recalled feeling vulnerable one time, when the hand of a fellow actor slipped lower than usual during a scene.
“I found myself thinking, ‘is it because he likes me? Is it because he is more in the moment today?’ Even though my character might be ok with that, me - the actor - was not. But I found it really difficult to have that conversation,” she said.
Steinrock and Carteris said there has been some resistance from directors who fear shooting of some scenes may be slowed down. But those who have tried it have mostly embraced the practice.
David Simon, co-creator of HBO’s porn industry drama “The Deuce,” told Rolling Stone magazine in an interview last year that he would never work without an intimacy co-ordinator again.
Finding the right people for the work takes care.
“We’re looking for people that have an interest in sensitivity, consent and mental health but also people that have movement experience,” said Steinrock.
SAG-AFTRA is currently working with several groups to establish common protocols for the work of intimacy coordinators and the training they undergo.
“There are actors who are older now and who want to pay back, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they are qualified. There are dancers who have been talking to us about aging out of their careers and they want to be able to come into the next thing,” said Carteris.
“We do have to create a bigger pool and then we have to create that training ground so that there is a standardized way of working that we all understand what is expected,” she added.
Independent actor, writer and educator Heather Maria Acs decided she wants to train as an instructor after taking part in a recent intimacy workshop in Los Angeles with some 20 other people.
It’s a career she never could have envisaged three years ago despite her 20 years in show business. “I had no idea and yet it makes so much sense. I’m excited to share it with other people,” she said.
Acs said the skills she had learned in just one afternoon workshop were “not only skills for performers but they are life skills.”
“The one thing I will take away . . . is how powerful a yes can be when there is an option to say no. And how powerful a no can be when we know it’s safe to say yes,” she said.