While many of us continue to be squirrelled away within the four walls of our homes, one saving grace has been the spread of empowering, eye-opening and straight-up horny television on our screens.
Big hitters Normal People, I May Destroy You and Bridgerton picked up substantial praise for their steamy yet nuanced sex scenes – from the raw and realistic, to the polished and satisfyingly theatrical. Not just gratuitous, at the core of all the scenes was the intention to foster increased openness in conversations around sex and power dynamics. Taking into account the vast popularity of Sex Education, the message has been clear for a while now: we want to see sex – different kinds – and talk about it.
The reality is, if you’ve watched a sex scene on any of these shows, you’ve seen the work of an intimacy coordinator. In the wake of the second wave of the #MeToo movement and Hollywood’s ongoing reckoning with widespread sexual misconduct and stories of exploitation during filming, this relatively new group of industry professionals have become a permanent fixture on film and television sets – keeping actors safe by choreographing scenes that include anything from a kiss, to a brief touch, to nudity, simulated sex or sexual content.
London-based Yarit Dor is a leading figure in this area. The first intimacy director in London’s West End, she transferred her skills to the screen in Channel 4's BAFTA-nominated porn industry drama Adult Material, and since then has scooped credits on the likes of The Nevers, Starstruck, Bridgerton, Atlanta, plus upcoming projects on buzzy BBC adaptations such as Life After Life (based on Kate Atkinson’s book and starring Thomasin McKenzie and Sian Clifford) and Superhoe (based on Nicôle Lecky's one-woman show).
Here, Dor tells us how she became an intimacy coordinator, why a kiss can be complicated, and how the #MeToo movement has changed her job.
Refinery29: When we talk about intimacy what do we mean?
Yarit Dor: Each practitioner will have a different explanation, but nudity and simulated sex definitely. I also advocate for any scene that has kissing, making out, or snogging because a kiss is never simulated, it’s the real deal. It’s case to case. If there is penetration of the tongue by mistake, one person can feel like it was harassment for them. So it's navigating those conversations, and then helping to facilitate and sometimes even choreograph what the actual scene is, moment-to-moment. Choreography is dependent on the actors; some actors will want to fully choreograph it, some of them will just want facilitation. To try and avoid sexual harassment and to lower risk factors, part of the job of an intimacy coordinator is to make sure those conversations are being had and that boundaries are clear.
Tell us about the beginning of your journey…
I started as a dancer, and I was always interested in storytelling in bodies – like how do actors move? I went into physical theatre and did directing, then realised I was being pulled towards movement direction and fight direction.
What made you want to go into intimacy?
In my work as a fight director, especially as a woman, I found that a lot of the scenes I was doing were between different genders – scenes that had some sort of romantic connection, or relationship that then turned sour which went into moments of violence. I thought about the emotion of going into these scenes, and sensitivity around how to work with performers and considerations around safety.
What training did you do?
For theatre, I went to train with company now called IDC in Canada. I first started as an intimacy director in 2017, and worked in smaller theatres at first and then the West End. And because of that I got offered to transfer my practice to the screen on Channel 4’s Adult Material.
Channel 4’s Adult Material is about a woman’s life working in the porn industry. What was it like?
I loved it, because there was absolutely no shying away. For me, it was a lot of researching into that world myself, and it’s so intriguing. They choreograph quite a lot of their material, and there are consent forms that adult performers sign, so they should know exactly what each other's boundaries are. Weirdly enough, there is a certain level of consent awareness within that industry, and that is admirable. [Adult film star] Rebecca More was one of the consultants on the show, and she did a session for the performers. She is an amazing artist, like she knows where the camera is and how to position her body.
Take me through the process from when you first accept a new job…
We're essentially like a third-party specialist that comes in, a bit similar to a stunt coordinator. We get the script, read it, break it down, have several meetings including one with the director to understand what their vision is, and how they want to shoot the scene. What are the levels of nudity, and the type of simulated sex they're seeing in their mind? Then we have chats individually with actors to understand and assess how they see the scene and what is their comfort level. So then we navigate the differences between the vision of the director and the vision of the actor.
How do you work with other teams on set?
There's a lot of production meetings with different departments such as the costume department and makeup department. Sometimes even with a stunt department if it’s a scene that has simulated sexual assault, for example. We’re a point of contact for everyone needing information about that moment within the scene, and navigate issues around nudity riders or consent notices. Will it be a closed set, or a minimal crew with the necessities of that scene?
Even with all the preparation, can things change on the day?
Legally, consent is owned by the person that has that body. So they can withdraw their consent at any point, or change the terms of the consent – which is really important because it empowers actors. But also it kind of makes new artistic choices to happen on the day – so it's not necessarily a bad thing.
How do you think your role has changed since the #MeToo movement?
We're an additional factor that goes into the duty of care. We can't stop sexual harassment from happening, and we are only one person on set. I think raising awareness of harassment, bullying and sexual harassment is something that a lot of production studios are now doing, and that's great. Consent culture can only happen the minute everyone raises their own awareness.
How does the presence of an intimacy coordinator change the power dynamic of a film set?
Before the intimacy coordinator, a lot of people were delegated certain responsibilities that were similar to the role. Sometimes the producer, costumes, the first assistant director. But they're not getting paid for that or are trained for that, and it puts them in an uncomfortable position. We come in as a third-party specialist, so that allows us a certain level of release of power dynamics. If you are a full-time member of the crew that is constantly there, you build power and relationships within the structure, making it very difficult to advocate for someone. With us, there's more clarity and transparency, the actors feel like they're a bit more in control of the knowledge before they go in.
How do you provide special care in a situation where you know someone is acting out trauma like an assault scene, or has personally been through trauma?
That’s a good question. It’s knowing what the boundaries of the role are. We are not certified therapists. Especially because if someone goes into state of being triggered, they need to be pulled out of that environment into a safer environment. What’s important for us is that we are trained in Mental Health First Aid, and we have training that is trauma aware, so then we can help the minute that there's a mental health crisis. In film, actors will volunteer information regarding background, and that kind of information stays with us unless we have their consent to share it. I had an actor say, ‘I can't have a hand on my hair’ or ‘I really need some people out of my eye-line.’ We're trying to mitigate risk as much as possible. Mental health is so different from person to person.
What else is done to protect actors in these sensitive scenes?
One of the things that intimacy coordinators advocate for is to have a certified therapist on set. Some productions are slowly kind of taking that on board. Some productions, they already kind of pay upfront to have counselling sessions available for cast and crew.
What has been your favourite project you’ve worked on?
I think there's two of them. Definitely Adult Material. I loved the balance between comedy and grotesque. Another project that is coming out soon is Cheaters, a comedy with the BBC. I had so much fun with the cast, crew and the director. Once the director would say cut, we would all start laughing. It was very relaxed, even though the scenes were intimate and sensitive, and sometimes very vulnerable. It's really nice to see that people can just have a good laugh between takes. At the end of the day, we're just pretending. Actors, they're literally pretending while having something very bizarre attached to them.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Filmmaking is a very fast process. And first and foremost, the responsibility of an intimacy coordinator is to make sure that levels of safety are high. Which means you have to prioritise safety over creativity. Sometimes you only have 15 minutes to plot the scene, and it is what it is right now. At least they're safe.
What’s a surprising aspect of the job?
I'll be honest, a lot of the role is paperwork. Almost 60% of it is the preparation leading up to the shoot date. Emails, spreadsheets, sometimes we do budgets for modesty garments.
What makes a good intimacy coordinator?
Problem solving. From camera angles to having to be more creative with modesty garments on set. And, being able to find the comfortability of the actor. You also have to be a very good improviser on set in order to solve the problem super fast. Understanding body movement and choreography is helpful too.