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By Amanda Liz Cutting, as told to Alyssa Hirose.
An intimacy coordinator is an actor’s advocate and a go-between. My job is to help increase clear communication between the performers and the production—and to make sure that there is consent in scenes of vulnerability, including scenes with emotional intimacy, simulated sex, sexual violence or childbirth.
Actors are often worried about getting hired for their next job, so they don’t want to seem difficult on set. And that can manifest in many ways: it might prevent them from asking a question of clarity, or actually advocating for themselves and saying something like “I don’t feel safe showing this side of my buttocks” or “I don’t feel comfortable in this type of simulated sexual position.”
I started as an actor, and I’ve been an agent and worked in casting and directing. When I was an agent, often my clients would be cast in vulnerable scenes where they were looking for more support. So I started working as an actor’s advocate, making sure that the performers were safe and being respected on set. After completing the Intimacy Director International (IDI) training program, I became IDI’s first certified intimacy coordinator in Western Canada. I was also the first intimacy coordinator to work in Bollywood, and I’m currently helping set industry standards there.
As an intimacy coordinator, I’ll have one-on-one meetings with the performers, so they feel safer to tell me the truth without worrying about whether their job is at risk. From there, we work with the director to understand the vision. Some actors want to set consent boundaries, and some don’t want to have to improvise anything. In the same way that we would choreograph a stunt or a dance, we walk through and have every single beat of the scene clearly defined.
Sometimes, the director will give a note, like “It’s not zinging” or “It needs to be hotter,” and I help clarify that to the performers: “If you bring your breath up into your chest, it will read this way to camera”—that sort of thing. We can use essential oils to help bring people in and out of character, if they need that, and also work with wardrobe to make sure we have the right modesty garments.
In this industry, we ask actors to be vulnerable, to be exposed, and we don’t often give them the support they need. Crew members are just doing their jobs, and are so desensitized to the go-go-go atmosphere—for example, they won’t give the performer an opportunity to put on a bathrobe before they run in and make a lighting change. I remind production that these are people we are dealing with, human beings, and we cannot treat them like machines.
It is an absolutely essential job, and I often wonder if the reason we have such high alcohol, drug use and suicide in the arts industry is because we ask performers to go to these depths of vulnerability, we film it over and over and then we pack them up and send them home to deal with the emotional bleed-off.
An intimacy coordinator will touch base with the performers afterward, help de-role them, and bring awareness to where they might be feeling residual emotions in their body. When I’m there, there are noticeable differences in the set dynamics as well as in the actual performances of the actors. They know there is someone there whose whole job is to make sure that they are comfortable and confident. They can really delve deeper into the performance, and ultimately, that makes for better art.
To learn more about Amanda Liz Cutting’s work, visit her website at principalintimacy.com.