If you have stunts in your film, you bring in a stunt coordinator. It’s just what you do. What about choreography involving lovers, assault, or emotional vulnerability? Are fight directors necessarily equipped to assist the emotional fallout that comes with scenes of that nature? Are directors? That’s where intimacy directors come into the picture.
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Alicia Rodis about what intimacy directors do and the need for advocates. Alicia is a SAG-Aftra stunt performer, coordinator, and actress with over 20 years of experience in the industry. She is also an intimacy director and a co-founder of Intimacy Directors International (IDI).
Intimacy directors are brought in for scenes involving intimacy (physical contact and chemistry). Intimate scenes aren’t necessarily romantic, however. Some intimate scenes focus on chemistry in familial relationships (father-son, sisters, etc) or friendships (Samwise and Frodo). Intimate scenes don’t always involve complex choreography and can be as simple as a hug. Others are more involved. Therefore, intimacy directors are well-versed in choreography, advocacy, and collaborating. They study movement pedagogy, acting theory, Title IX, mental health, and first aid. They study national and local laws, and are well-versed in riders and waivers. They are advocates of actors and find solutions to show the gist of a scene safely, without pushing actors’ personal boundaries and comfort zones.
IDI has 5 pillars, or the 5 C’s they work under:
- Context (does this actually help further the story?)
- Communication (what are boundaries, is every department on the same page, what are existing relationships?)
- Consent (Binary=enthusiastic yes. All other answers=no. If the answer is no, pivot and find a solution that both tells the story and respects boundaries).
- Choreography (Prepare as with stunts, make sure everyone is safe and capable)
- Closure (“The situation was bogus, but the moment was real.” Thank each other for the performance, tap out, go home).
Intimacy directors work in 3 parts:
- Acting and movement technique (choreography)
- Procedures and Protocols (legal and rights)
- Advocacy (humanity)
We all know how November 7th, 2017 (The Weinstein Scandal) rocked the industry. IDI runs background checks on all of their intimacy directors. Additionally, IDI intimacy directors undergo a long apprenticeship program as well as diversity and anti-harrassment training.
Actors in emotionally intense scenes, be they romantic or father-son/mother-daughter or Bucky-Cap, reveal their true self. It’s vulnerable and terrifying, and not something they just switch on. Intimacy directors help prepare actors and give them space. Intimacy training is empathy training. One of the core principles of advocacy is treating people as people and collaborators, not as props being controlled by one person’s vision. Treat people like human beings.
If you chuckled when you began this article, I hope you leave with a new understanding of just how much goes and should go into the intimacy audiences consume on the screen. Hopefully we can make conditions and industry better for future generations as well as tell better stories.
We can start today by being an advocate of intimacy directors, and if there isn’t one on production, being advocates of humanity. Ask if people on set are ok. Want to learn more about how to be an advocate? Want to learn the difference between choreographing intimate scenes for theatre vs film? Want to learn how intimacy directors prep and train for scenes? Consider attending one of IDI’s upcoming workshops.
As Alicia summed advocacy up succinctly, “You can get authority from anyone in the room, but consent only comes from the person involved.” Know your boundaries and know that others have boundaries too – both physical and emotional.
Until next time, cheers! Happy filmmaking!