by Shelly Schoeneshoefer
It was an audience of young actresses, directors and producers who greeted Dr. Julia Effertz onstage. This self-confident woman is clearly multi-talented: an actress, an author – and an “intimacy coordinator” for theater, film and television productions, which is a relatively new career opportunity in Germany. So: what is an intimacy coordinator? This is a staff member who monitors the behind-the-scenes well-being of actors and crew members and is responsible for a safe working environment during the storytelling. This might include scenarios such as stunt scenes, sex scenes, fight scenes, or dance scenes, where accidents and/or misunderstandings can easily happen; thus, employing an intimacy coordinator is always in the best interest of the company. The coordinator makes background checks and provides a clear set of rules for everyone’s protection. Of course, this depends on the production company’s budget, and therefore a position is not always covered.
Effertz related the history of this career potential: Tonia Sina began her intimacy stunt work choreography in 2004; Michael Arnold initiated intimacy choreography for dance in 2013; and Alicia Rodis came in strong in 2015 as a pioneer and co-founder of Intimacy Directors International for HBO. Yet it took a while; but with the #MeToo movement in conjunction with Harvey Weinstein igniting, this career became the fastest growing job in Hollywood. Also well-known is Siobhan Richardson, a Canadian who does extensive work in theater productions with dance, fighting, and stunt scenes. Effertz emphasized that the most important item on the table is the contract, which needs clear definition as to what the company expects from the actor, and, once signed, these expectations must be fulfilled. If not clearly stipulated from the beginning, the actor might be forced to do uncomfortable tasks. In the past, mostly men were in charge, which led to a power struggle right from the beginning, where directors could manipulate the actors with phrases like: “There are plenty of actresses out there who will get the job done if you won’t,” or “I want it to look as real as possible.”
The industry is now changing rapidly and becoming more responsible. Scenes are first reviewed while the size of the crew is minimized on the set. Scenes are organized in a form of chorography of movement so that everyone feels safe and comfortable, especially when they are filming a violent scene. Effertz also showed us several nude-effect costumes in various skin tones to illustrate an illusion that looks real on camera. She also gave several examples of exploitation, e.g., the Bernardo Bertolucci (1972) film LAST TANGO IN PARIS, the GAME OF THRONES series (2011-2019), STRANGE THINGS (2013), and FRIDA (2002), to name a few. Finally, she stressed the importance of safe practices, since these not only affect the actors mentally, emotionally, and physically on that particular day, but for years to come. It seems to me that for anyone interested in films and psychology, this would be a perfect career pursuit. We just need the pandemic to dissipate; otherwise, with social distancing we won’t see such intimate scenes anytime in the near future.