The Intimacy Coordinator has become a vital part of the filmmaking process over the last several years.
Part choreographer and part advocate, they ensure that actors who perform intimate and vulnerable acts have agency, comfort, and protection. Agency to perform – or not perform if they so choose – a requested act. Comfort in being able to rehearse what the act entails before doing it on camera. And the protection of a professional who can intercede and speak up for them when needed.
Marci Liroff has been part of the filmmaking world for more than 40 years. An accomplished casting director, she has cast multiple iconic films such as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Mean Girls (2004).
However, Liroff had been looking for her “next act,” and that next act became intimacy coordination.
Wrapbook spoke with Liroff about her Intimacy Coordinator work, which includes projects such as Bosch: Legacy (2023), Sugar (2022), and Hightown Seasons 2 & 3 (2021-2022). Through her experience and insights, we’re breaking down who an Intimacy Coordinator is and what you can expect when working with one.
When asked what is an Intimacy Coordinator Liroff told us:
“We are there to be an ally for the performers along with being a collaborator with the filmmakers for scenes of intimacy and/or nudity and/or anything where a performer might feel very vulnerable… We like to think of ourselves as stunt coordinators for intimate scenes.”
While scenes of a romantic or sexual nature might be your first thought of intimacy coordination, the need for a professional can extend beyond that. For instance, Liroff notes that scenes of simulated childbirth might also require an Intimacy Coordinator.
Given how frequently scenes of intimacy or physical vulnerability show up in film and television, it might come as a surprise that the position of Intimacy Coordinator is a fairly recent one. Per Liroff, this role became a regular presence on sets only as far back as 2017.
An Intimacy Coordinator takes on multiple roles and holds a diverse set of skills. Liroff notes that her job requires her to be the choreographer, actors’ advocate, and liaison to the filmmakers.
Part of her job is the actual working out of the mechanics and movements – or choreography – of a scene. If it’s a romantic scene between two actors, that means asking many questions, such as “Where is it okay to touch?” and “How is that touch going to happen?”
Her primary responsibility is to the performers and the filmmakers which requires open communication with them. However, Intimacy Coordinators have to effectively communicate with a host of other people on a production as well.
Of course, there’s the director, but each project is different. Generally, the director will be there for every decision of how those scenes will go. In some cases, though, the director may play “hot potato” with the intimate scenes and leave them entirely in Liroff’s hands to coordinate.
Liroff also collaborates with other departments, including costume, hair and makeup, props and prosthetics, and legal. She notes that she also works with the stunt coordinator for scenes that combine sexual acts with violence.
Above all, though, Liroff and other Intimacy Coordinators must be ready to speak up for their actors. She ensures what she calls their “enthusiastic consent” for each scene that involves intimacy or physical vulnerability.
Let’s break it down with an example – a kissing scene between minors. In some cases, this might not just be a kissing scene between young actors. It could be their first on-screen kiss. It might even be their first kiss ever.
What do Intimacy Coordinators do in such a scenario?
Liroff offers a clear delineation of the intimacy coordination she provides. In a scene with minors kissing, she and the actors first have a conversation about boundaries and consent during prep. She notes that she creates:
“A space where they can say no and let them understand that their no is very powerful and that it needs no explanation.”
This initial step is about starting a dialogue between the actors and helping them articulate their needs.
Next, Liroff helps her actors feel comfortable in a close physical space. This is a progression of acts with Liroff directing every motion by suggesting to the actors when to move, how many beats each movement is, and when the movement is closed or done.
The actors might begin by facing each other cross-legged and holding each other’s forearms with a benign touch. They’ll then work up to the shoulders. The actors may next come together with foreheads touching and eyes closed. Liroff might also have the actors do deep breathing for several beats so that their bodies get regulated to another person touching them.
Liroff will then have the actors open their eyes, which can prompt giggling – and that’s okay! She is there to help them go through this stage of the process. The actors might then put their ears together to experience more closeness. Each movement is to get closer and closer and closer to the kiss.
For rehearsal, however, there is no kiss. In addition to the choreography of the scene, the purpose of the rehearsal is to keep it light and friendly so that the actors know it’s a safe space.
Pending what the story is asking for, Liroff will also talk through with the actors what the scene should accomplish. Is it supposed to be an awkward kiss? A passionate kiss? Every part of the scene is thoroughly discussed.
While it makes sense to say that an Intimacy Coordinator acts as an advocate for their actors, as mentioned, this role has only been part of the film and television industries for a fraction of the time that these mediums have been around.
Before, actors were often forced into situations that were at best awkward and at worst traumatic or abusive. So what do Intimacy Coordinators do? They stand as a first line of defense against that happening ever again.
Liroff provides a few examples of why Intimacy Coordinators serve such a vital role. She details the experience of a well-known young actress who had her first kiss – both on and off screen – at the age of 13.
Already nervous about the kiss, this actress had to contend as well with filmmakers who teased her about it, which only contributed to her anxiety. To this day, she speaks negatively about the experience in interviews. This subtle trauma stayed with her for years after it happened.
Liroff states that in general filmmaking has not been overly accommodating to performers engaging in intimate acts. She further explains:
“What used to happen is that two total strangers – two actors – have signed up for a script where it says, ‘they come into the bedroom, and they make love.’ And that’s all that’s said. We have two total strangers… who are holding their robes and saying, ‘nice to meet you’ and the director goes ‘okay, go for it.’ And then they’re meant to lie down on a bed with a total stranger and figure out these moves. And nothing has been discussed: no boundaries, consent, or choreography.”
But that has changed with the presence of Intimacy Coordinators. Actors now have someone in their corner to speak up for them when they may feel pressured to stay silent. Moreover, they can prepare and rehearse to carry out these scenes on their terms.
What if a situation arises where an actor suffers a trigger response that prevents them from performing a particular scene or act? Liroff notes that there are multiple safety nets to protect them.
First, she states that she is “trained to see when a performer is having a meltdown.” For that reason, Liroff sets up a safe word with her actors ahead of time. They can use that word to call for her assistance. Should they wait instead until the take ends to speak with Liroff, she will then ask the assistant director to pause shooting so they can discuss the situation.
Second, Liroff adds that she is “trained to get them back to solid ground.”
Per SAG-AFTRA contracts, if an actor doesn’t want to do a scene, they don’t have to. Liroff will attempt to find a work-around or compromise that they are comfortable with. However, if the actor states that they can’t continue with a scene or act, they will not be forced to.
Production does have the right to use footage already shot, and they will likely hire a body double for the actor. That being said, the body double can’t do anything more than what was asked of the actor in their nudity rider. In other words, the body double cannot misrepresent the actor in any way.
If you think you need an Intimacy Coordinator, don't wait to find one.
Not every project will require an Intimacy Coordinator. If it does, you should prioritize hiring one as early into a project as you would a DP or other central on-set department head.
Liroff strongly advises that the Intimacy Coordinator come on board during pre-production just as you would a fight coordinator. This gives everyone the time necessary to be on the same page regarding the scenes that will require an Intimacy Coordinator.
From the outset of their job, an Intimacy Coordinator will be in communication with multiple people – especially the director. Liroff states that she must discuss with the director what they want from each scene both tonally and logistically during prep and throughout shooting. For instance, are there specific body shots needed for the scene? Will there be nudity? What is the story we want to tell?
With this information, Liroff then goes to her actors to discuss what the director has told her, hear their thoughts and input on the scene, and help determine their consent and boundaries.
As mentioned, she wants to ensure that the actors provide their enthusiastic content for those scenes. If not, how can they come to a compromise between what the director wants and what the actors want that makes both sides happy?
Then there’s the nudity rider.
If you haven’t worked with one yet, a nudity rider is required for more than just nude scenes, despite the name. A nudity rider – sometimes called a simulated sex rider – is for any scene with intimacy, nudity, simulated sex, or simulated sexual assault. It’s a contract between each actor involved in those scenes and production that clearly defines what will take place during them.
Liroff collaborates with production’s legal team who will draw up the riders that must be provided to the actors no later than 48 hours before the scenes are shot. Should the actors agree to it, great. But Liroff adds that no changes can be made to the rider on the shooting day – meaning, production cannot add any new requests for nudity or simulated sex. They can certainly perform less of what is on the rider, but not anything additional. This again protects the actors from feeling like they must agree to unexpected additional requests from the director or anyone else on set.
When hiring an Intimacy Coordinator, it helps the filmmakers to tell the IC what they would like from the collaboration. Liroff appreciates the opportunity to explain her work process so that the director and other crew are aware of what to expect during her time on a project so that they can work out a good work flow before filming begins.
If the director wants her to make adjustments to that process, she’s happy to do so if it doesn’t diminish her ability to advocate for the actors. After all, she’s there to ensure a successful and safe shoot. Liroff states,
“We’re there just like every other department head to make these scenes look authentic and tell the story and make sure everyone stays safe along the way.”
As mentioned, there should be an expectation of allowing Liroff to have the time to work out what the intimate scenes will look like and rehearse them before shoot day. That said, sometimes there simply isn’t the time (or money) to formally rehearse beforehand, so the scene gets rehearsed during the blocking rehearsal on set.
“What’s great about this job now is that there’s a tremendous amount of prep. We look at this scene more like it’s a stunt, and you would never do a stunt without rehearsing it, blocking it, talking about it, and prepping it.”
For filmmakers who have yet to work with Intimacy Coordinators or want a deeper dive into what is an Intimacy Coordinator we highly recommend reading through SAG-AFTRA’s Standards and Protocols for the Use of Intimacy Coordinators.
As of this writing, there is no standard training program for Intimacy Coordinators.
Liroff notes that this has resulted in some individuals presenting themselves as intimacy consultants without having the proper experience and expertise.
However, SAG-AFTRA has put together a registry of recommended intimacy coordinators, which it determined based on the number of days those individuals worked and the type of projects for which they were hired.
SAG-AFTRA also provides a list of qualifications that intimacy coordination training programs must have to be considered reputable. Some may provide actual certificates upon completion of their programs; others do not.
Liroff learned intimacy coordination under Amanda Blumenthal, the first Intimacy Coordinator in Los Angeles. She notes that Blumenthal provided her with the best possible training experience through Intimacy Professionals Association.
The qualifications for this new job are still being determined. However, these three resources are excellent places to start finding an Intimacy Coordinator you can trust.
Plus, that SAG directory isn’t just for union projects! Nonunion filmmakers can absolutely reach out to Intimacy Coordinators on the list. But what about the cost for a nonunion production where budgets are typically smaller?
“My rate is according to the budget of the project.”
But even if a project doesn’t align rate-wise with Liroff, she notes that there are newer Intimacy Coordinators with enough experience whom she would be happy to recommend.
Because the marketplace is oversaturated with many ICs (and some individuals who may not qualify to be an Intimacy Coordinator), it makes it easy for those people to undercut more reputable professionals with lower rates. However,
“It can be dangerous to hire someone who doesn’t fully understand how to carry out this role. Get references. Talk to people who worked with them on the last job. Talk about what they brought to the set. Did the scenes look authentic? Was it healthy? Did people feel safe?” Liroff states.
All to say, do your homework before hiring an Intimacy Coordinator on rate alone.
What is an Intimacy Coordinator? First and foremost, an advocate for those who historically have been put in vulnerable, powerless, and sometimes even traumatic situations on set along with collaborating with the creative team. But that advocacy for the actors can make the set a safer place for all to channel their creativity and talents with greater security and confidence, which is a win-win for everyone.
A big thank you to Marci Liroff for her time and invaluable contributions to this article.
Scouting production locations? We’re breaking down 10 states with considerable film tax breaks so you can get the most bang for your budget buck.
Wrapbook's newest resource is our podcast, "On Production," which features experts in the field and tips on how to navigate the production world. Check it out!