Boundaries, consent, and conversation are all it takes to navigate an intimate scene in the #MeToo era.
Hollywood is still changing because of the many people who spoke about their sexual assault during #MeToo. The movement showed a power imbalance in the film industry and also a lack of talk of consent and boundaries when coordinating sex scenes.
Many actors who suffered from lack of conversation prior to filming an intimate scene have experienced some trauma from being afraid to listen to what their bodies are comfortable with. Actors have been taught to be clay from which what the director wants can be formed. This lack of appreciation of a person’s level of safety and comfort leaves many actors feeling unsafe on the set.
This idea of having a conversation about on-screen intimacy is what intimacy coordinators like Marcus Watson are trying to change to make television, film, and theater sets more comfortable and safe for everyone.
In this week’s episode of Work, Isaac Butler spoke to Watson about how he approaches kissing and sex conversations with actors and directors in the context of the #MeToo movement.
How to get started
At the beginning of an intimate scene, Watson takes his time and asks the actors about their limits. Actors often say that they have no limits and are open to anything. Although you may say this, it is not always true. Watson states that he does not contradict such statements because he does not believe that it is his position to say what one’s limits are; His position is to listen to what the actors think is right.
It’s not until they start the scene and go through the details of what is and isn’t appropriate for the level of intimacy they are displaying.
When the actors undress each other, at what point does a particular act or touch feel inappropriate? Then Watson steps in and asks if certain touches feel right, giving the actors space to express themselves and say if they’re uncomfortable. Not every scene needs a conversation about boundaries, but it depends on the context of the scene. An open conversation about what is happening and the actors’ boundaries will help the intimacy coordinator break down the context of the scene.
Some boundaries may not be present during one rehearsal that emerges during another. If an actor disagrees with something, that’s fine and something can be changed.
That’s the nice thing about consent. It’s completely retractable and very specific to the context and the moment. Boundaries can be changed depending on who is in the room or where the scene is taking place.
Reformulating an idea is necessary for every creative profession. It is important from the point of view of the limits. When a boundary emerges, it is the director and intimacy coordinator’s job to change the little things so that the actors are comfortable enough to continue shooting.
Big changes rarely happen as there is clear communication before the camera even arrives. What usually happens is that a modest piece of clothing doesn’t allow an actor to perform any particular movement and the choreography needs to be changed slightly.
When major changes arise, it is up to the intimacy coordinator to have a plan A, B, C, and D.
Watson says: “I often come and have ideas … I think Okay great, we can do it this way, we can change it this way, we can easily change the angles and do that.”
It is also important that the intimacy coordinator has clear communication with the director. Letting everyone on the set know what the limits are and what challenges to face while filming will help you move the process forward quickly and respect each other.
It is important to show respect to others, especially those who help bring your vision to life. Some people have a wider range of boundaries, some don’t, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on anyone’s boundaries.
Let us know in the comments below for your thoughts on navigating an intimate scene during #MeToo!