How an Intimacy Coordinator Choreographs Sex Scenes

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.

S2: I not only have these conversations with the directors, the producers, the actors, I also look at their written contracts and I also look at the nudity and simulated sex writers. There are definitely actors who come in and they’re like, great. So I don’t like breathing in my ear, do not touch my belly button and no tickling motions on my legs. If you’re grabbing the speaker and other people who are like, I know, you know, we’ll see.

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S1: Welcome back to Working, I’m your host, June Thomas,

S3: and I’m your other host, Isaac Butler.

S1: Isaac, I want to know who we heard from at the top of the show, so please tell me. But it’s been a while since you and I have done a show together. So I also need to know what’s going on in your creative life.

S3: Well, thanks to you. And first of all, to get the the business out of the way, we heard from Marcus Watson, who is an Intimacy coordinator and choreographer. But in terms of my work, I’m in the midst of copy edits for the method right now. I’m actually taking a break from them to record this as we speak. And for people who haven’t been through it, copy editing a manuscript of a book is a very intense, micro, detailed process in which you go through the text. And thanks to suggested changes from a copy editor, you try to figure out which of your mistakes are a hallmark of your signature style and which are genuine screw ups. It’s interesting, and I’ve actually learned an enormous amount about how my writing works and where my taste lies and stuff like that. But it’s also tough in that, you know, the copy editor is great and she’s done a wonderful job. It has nothing to do with her. But it feels like you’re arguing. Yeah. All day. Yeah. Whether it’s with the book or with yourself from the past or the person who suggested the change. It just it doesn’t feel great because you feel like you’re arguing all the time. But there’s no one you’re actually arguing with. The conversation can’t progress. Yeah.

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S1: I just have to, I have to intercede to say I worked as a copy editor. I actually think it might be my true personality job. I love copyediting, but I have to admit that, like, when you are a copy editor, the bits that you feel great about, like, aha, they’re actually kind of asshole things because it’s like, well actually, you know, they’re all well actually and it’s great, it’s great for the book. No one should ever resist copy copyeditors, but it kind of is like at heart a super valuable heroic book. Kind of an asshole job.

S3: Yeah, totally. Although I should say the one the woman I am working with has been very kind to this whole process.

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S1: All copyeditors of the greatest. Yeah.

S3: The other fun thing is that I’m back to freelancing again after taking myself out of rotation for about a year to finish the book. And I just have my first piece back, which was here at Slate Dotcom, which was a assessment of the career and talents of Owen Wilson. I’m very proud of it and I hope people will give it a read. If they haven’t, they should.

S1: And we’ll put that on the show page.

S3: But we should probably talk about this week’s guest, right?

S1: We should, because he is fascinating. So you told me before it’s Marcus Watson. He’s an Intimacy coordinator. But what does an Intimacy coordinator do?

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S3: So what they do is they consult on the filming or staging of physical Intimacy, you know, making out sex scenes, things of that nature for theater, TV and film. His job is to ensure everyone involved is comfortable with everything that’s happening and that everything is consensual for all parties. And sometimes he’s also staging those scenes himself.

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S1: Wow. Is that a new job?

S3: Yeah, as you’ll hear in the interview, it’s very new. I was fascinated to learn exactly how new I mean, it’s only a few years old and how the field evolved and kind of codified just prior to the metoo moment in our culture.

S1: Wow. I cannot wait to learn more. But before we get to the interview, I also want to mention that Slate plus members will hear a little something extra from your conversation with Marcus. What will they hear?

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S3: Yes, we will be talking with Marcus about how working as an Intimacy coordinator has changed the way he views sex scenes when he’s watching, you know, TV and film will also talk about how he personally deals with the psychic fallout of his job and about how the pandemic has affected his work.

S1: That sounds amazing. And listeners, you absolutely do not want to miss this. And why would you when it’s so easy to subscribe to Sleepless, you’ll get exclusive members only content, zero ads on any Slate podcast. You will be able to read every article you want to on Slate Dotcom. You’ll also get bonus episodes of shows like Slow Burn and Danny Liveries. New podcast, Big Mood, Little Mood. And you will also be supporting the work we do here on working. It’s only one dollar for the first month to sign up. Go to sleep. Dotcom slash working plus. All right, let’s hear Isaac’s conversation with Marcus Watson.

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S3: Marcus Watson, thank you for joining us today on working.

S2: Thank you for having me.

S3: Absolutely. So let’s just start with the very basics. Your Intimacy coordinator and choreographer. What is that?

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S2: It’s a multifaceted position in that we work with actors and productions to advocate for the actors as well as choreograph. So I act as a liaison between the talent and the production so that talent is fully aware of what the production, the producers, the director is wanting from them, and so that the production is fully aware of what the actors are fully consenting to. I gauge their consent level outside of the many power dynamics that exist in TV, film and theater, because directors, producers, they all have so much power in the room in terms of hiring and firing power future gigs, you know, kind of the success of actors in some ways, in some positions. So it’s it’s about gauging that consent for scenes that are that have been written that the actors will be performing and making sure that they fully understand and are fully consenting to everything that we’re doing. And then starting conversations around that and making sure that the production is is getting what they want within the boundaries that the actors have set when needed. I do choreography. I come from a background of mime stage, combat acting, gymnastics, dance, very physical storyteller. I love to utilize movement and specificity of movement and breath work to make sure that we’re telling a very clear and specific story true to the the tone and what story we’re telling.

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S3: And this this job where, you know, you’re choreographing and coordinating and mediating as scenes of Intimacy are being staged. That’s that’s a relatively new profession, right? I feel like. Yes. I didn’t hear about a 20 years ago, but I feel like I hear about it all the time now.

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S2: Yes, exactly. And there I mean, there have been people who have been doing this work not so much as a profession per say, especially not recognized by any industry. I know there are people like Tonia Seina who started Idei with so with some other Intimacy coordinators, the directors. She wrote a thesis about this in the early 2000s and kind of coined the phrase Intimacy direction. So there’s there have been people who have been working at this and doing this for a long time, but it wasn’t until about twenty fifteen that Idei created the first company for Intimacy career coordinators and directors.

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S3: And what is Idei

S2: Intimacy Directors International was a non-profit organization meant to spread the work of Intimacy coordinators and directors, and they have now folded, having accomplish their mission. And so now there are other companies that are also working with coordinators to help productions find and connect with Intimacy directors and Intimacy coordinators. Directors are for theatre coordinators are for film and TV.

S3: Oh, interesting, interesting. You know, 2015 seems like a very fortuitous moment to found an organization like that because of course, we have the Trump election, the women’s march and the Metoo movement or moment that immediately come after that. Do you feel like essentially this profession has become more widely accepted and adopted as a response to those political and cultural currents?

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S2: Definitely. I think they were so lucky to have started this company before. Me, too. I think because the Metoo movement like Rocket launched their their mission and the mission of Idei. And I think it it wasn’t that these stories had not been told or that people didn’t know that this was happening in the industry. It was just after these movements, it was no longer able to ignore it.

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S3: So you mentioned earlier that you have experience and training and mime and stage combat and things like that. How did you get from there to doing Intimacy work?

S2: It was, I mean, a long road. I was choreographing in New York City for stage productions, doing stage combat, choreographing violence, as well as the odd stunt job here and there. And theaters will bring in would bring me in for sometimes scenes of sexual violence to to deal with the violent aspect of the scene. And when working on that, if there were kisses or gropes or anything like that, I would approach those in the same way that I would approach choreograph. If I were, we would talk about it, we would discuss the safeties, we would discuss where hands would be going, where the actors were comfortable being touched and kind of defined boundaries, defined safeties and move from there. And then just because a kiss or a touch might be within that moment, I would discuss breath and who’s initiating this kiss in the same way that I would say who’s initiating this punch or this grab? And directors would see that. And maybe, like, you know, that was that was a really great way that you handled that there was another kiss in the show. And, you know, would you mind looking at that as well? And it has nothing to do with violence, but like, come in and take a look at that. So it kind of was that was happening where there were there was not someone specifically for these scenes of kind of hyper exposure for the actors of these intimate moments. And we had multiple fight choreographers who were kind of noticing this. And that’s kind of what helped to start. Idei and I happened to be working with Alicia ROTAS, who is another cofounding member of Idei. We were teaching at a university out on Long Island doing stage combat whenever she was starting the company. And so we had many hour long drive trips out to Long Island to discuss the whole movement and the company and just kind of what is needed in these situations. And so from then, I started doing all of the the workshops and practice workshops and things that she was doing in the city and just really continued to grow my techniques and skills for Intimacy coordination, using my background in very physical storytelling.

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S3: And is there a certification process, like, if I’m a producer looking for an Intimacy coordinator, is there like a guild that I go to there, like who’s who’s checked out to do this?

S2: Yeah, so there is and there there are things in the works that will probably be coming out in the next year or two that that will help productions even more. So right now there are several companies who do certification. I originally certified with Idei and I am now certified with IDC, which is Intimacy directors and coordinators. And you can see a list of the certifications and what we have to do to become certified. The number of hours we have to train, the kinds of trainings, the mental health first aid training, the bystander intervention training, trauma training. So there’s lots of things that go into the certification process.

S3: And how do you get your work? Is it word of mouth? Do you have an agent or are there specific actors who like to work with you again and again? Like, how do you actually get a job? I would say once you’ve been through all this training, all of

S2: the above it comes, there are some times where actors have heard about Intimacy coordinators and they say, I don’t know how to get one, but hey, production, we need one. And I am asking for this. And sometimes it’s an Internet search which brings people to the IDC page where you can find different certified Intimacy directors or coordinators depending on region and area of the United States or even areas of the world. And then there are some times where it’s word of mouth through productions like I’ve worked with this first lady on this set and now this first lady is working on this totally different set. They’re like, hey, bring this person in. It was really great to work with them. So there’s word of mouth that way. There’s also we’re a very close community. So whenever we’re being reached out to if we’re already on a show, we’re already doing something. We are also giving these productions colleagues names and information so that they can reach out to us.

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S3: And when you start working on a project, what are the early parts of the creative process there you are your first conversations with the director about sort of what they want staging wise. Are they with the actors? Like, you know, you’re on a movie set, you have a screenplay that calls for a sex scene. You know, like what’s what’s the beginning steps of what you’re doing?

S2: Yeah, definitely. I mean, sometimes that the screenplay, the script, it will say they have sex and then, like, that’s what it is. So it’s kind of like in Shakespeare that they fight. So then, OK, well, what is the story we’re telling? And so it’s really talking to the director and the writers sometimes to figure out exactly what the tone is, what they’re looking for, how they’re going to be shooting this, if there’s any, you know, pertinent details that I need to know, and then making sure that those types of things are really actors. And then, you know, we gauge I will gauge consent with the actors and just open up lines of communication between the two. Sometimes the director has a very straightforward vision and the actors are very comfortable and they’ve worked together for seasons or things of that nature. So they’re ready to go. And they they understand the scene. They get the choreography. They it’s it’s a very easy thing. Other times it’s it’s a little bit more of a challenge where you have lots of background or you have lots of things happening, multiple couples who are engaged in simulated sexual activities. So sometimes it can be a little bit more of the the fun choreography, collaboration type of stuff. And other times it’s very straightforward and just working on boundaries and consent.

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S3: Do directors usually have a lot of specific staging ideas for these scenes, or is it often like, I don’t know, I want this to be really joyous? This is a turning point in this character where their life is getting better or whatever for two minutes, or is it like like or is it usually like I need him to move his hand here because the camera’s there and then.

S2: Yeah. So I’ve had directors who have, you know, printed out three pages of these are the the moments and the beats of this non scripted moment. And so here’s how we do this. And it’s very detailed. And then I’ve had directors who are like, what? Whatever the actors want, let’s tell a story of like really great consensual sex, you know, type of thing. And then in the moment I’m watching monitor and making sure that everything we’re seeing is telling the story that the production and the actors have agreed to tell and that they’re wanting to tell. So I you know, there are times where, you know, the director I feel like it’s just it’s not thinking up or it’s not lining up, but there’s something odd. And I’m like, well, actually, I think it’s like, let me try something. So it’s going and saying, I think it’s a little breath work or, you know, they’re off rhythm or there’s something. And it’s like it’s not that they’re off rhythm, it’s just hips need to be adjusted and we need to adjust the positioning a little bit. So it’s coming in and knowing how the body works and how to make quick little tweaks to without having to restage the whole thing or just say do it better, do it better and come in and be like, let’s isolate your chest and breathe out at this moment. So. Right. Right. You know,

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S3: and of course, I mean, you and I are talking about joyful consensual sex scenes within within scripts, but it seems ever more frequently. That’s not actually the kind of sex scenes we’re seeing on TV and movies. Right. They’re awkward and funny or disappointing and bad or they’re not consensual. Right. As we begin to confront more of this stuff as a society, more of our sex scenes focus on moments of sexual violence. And so in those moments, how are you navigating that? Because that is a creative challenge as well, right. About how to do this in a way that is not traumatizing to the actors who have to actually go through with it.

S2: Yes, in those types of situations, it’s even more imperative to have open lines of communication and the ability to say, no, I don’t see no as like shutting the door. I see no as a conversation starter. You tell me no. I’m like, OK, great. So then let’s talk about all these other options beyond a physical storyteller. I don’t think there’s just one way to tell a story. So if you’re not comfortable with this touch, if you’re uncomfortable with this motion of this move, this position, great. Let’s look at all the ways that we can change this, to still stay within your bounds, you know, your your boundaries. But tell the story that we have all agreed to tell. But it is very difficult for actors sometimes to tell these stories for both for for the like in a scene of sexual violence for the aggressor as well. You know, this is someone who’s putting their likeness out there in a very aggressive way and wanting to make sure that they are taking care of their scene partner. And there is a lot of weight that goes into that. So not just looking at the person who is in the in the script, in the action, who is who’s having violence done to them, but also looking at the aggressor and saying, hey, you’re an actor, you’re not this violent person, and what are you having to do? What are the safeties that you’re implementing as well to make sure that you are mentally taking care of your emotional and mental health during these scenes? And that’s a lot of our work, too, is closure and checking in with each other and making sure that we are not just looking out for the physical safety of the actors, but that we are making sure that we are setting things in place to to watch out for mental and emotional health as well.

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S3: Every collaborative relationship has conflict in it. Right. And it seems like a lot of your job is actually mediating conflicts. But I mean, the opening lines of communication that’s inherently going to involve mediating conflicts between actors and directors. How do you approach conflict and trying to get on the other side of it and find the right step forward?

S2: I mean, when there’s conflict, it’s usually because there has been a lack of communication. Rarely is it because someone is just being a jerk. I find and I and I can’t speak for anyone else. I just the situations I’ve been in, that’s what I have noticed, is that it hasn’t been someone coming in to say I’m going to make bad decisions and I’m going to hurt someone today. It is that there is a lack of communication or a misunderstanding and the more work that I can do beforehand is helpful. So that’s why I not only have these conversations with the directors, the producers, the actors, I also look at their written contracts. I also look at the nudity and simulated sex writers that are signed ahead of time. I make sure that the wording and the descriptions of what is happening in the scenes are correct and. What the actors agreeing to so that that way, when we step foot on set, we have a very safe space that we’ve created so that the actors can make dangerous choices and be a little bit more bold in their choices because they know the boundaries and the the things we’ve put into place to keep them safe.

S1: We’ll be back with more of Isaac’s conversation with Marcus Watson. One of the things we’d love to do with the show is help solve your creative problems, whether you have a question about getting down to work or what you can do to improve communication with collaborators, anything at all, please ask us send them to us at working at Slocumb. Or you can also give us a ring at three or four nine three three w o ask. And if you’re enjoying this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to working wherever you get your podcast. Now let’s return to Isaac’s conversation with Marcus Watson.

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S3: What are some examples of boundaries that come up in your work, and how do you let actors know that it’s OK to tell you what those are?

S2: Definitely so, yeah, it’s a it’s a funny thing, as an actor, you were taught to be the clay in a way that you’re moldable and you bend at the the director or, you know, at the whim of the person who is molding you. So in many ways, we have silenced actors, dancers, performers have silenced that little voice inside of you that tells you its boundary. And and because you’ve been told it’s it’s good to be brave and step out of your comfort zone. And that’s where sometimes trauma can happen because you are not listening to your body. So many times I come in and I say, great, so let’s talk about boundaries. Do you have boundaries? And actually. No, no, no, I’m totally fine. I’m totally good. I’m an open book, no boundaries whatsoever. And then when we start getting into the moments of the scene and and I let that I let that sit, I don’t contradict it because there are I mean, who am I to say that you have no boundaries or, you know what it is? And that’s not my position. My position is to listen. And then as we continue to go into the details of the scene and what is appropriate for this scene, let’s say this scene is about kissing and undressing and we’re not doing any simulated acts, but it is undressing, maybe a little bit of groping and kissing. So at that point, I’m like, great. So let’s set some boundaries for the scene, because this scene doesn’t need at this point any touching of groin, right? Oh, yeah. No, no, no, no, no. I don’t want anyone to touch my groin for this scene. It’s like, okay, great. So that’s a that’s a boundary that you had that that you were willing to tell me. And maybe that boundary is not for every single thing you do, but for this scene, for these specific, you know, the context of this scene. That is a boundary. Same thing with great. Are we kissing the tongue? Are we biting lips? Where where are your boundaries with the type of kiss that we’re doing? So yeah, I’m totally fine with the kiss. OK, awesome. What happens if they want to bite your lip or what are what are our bounds or kind of what is the container that we’re setting so that we know exactly what’s OK to do and where we’re stepping back? So I’m breaking down and getting really specific, given the context of the scene that we are shooting. And that helps to open up the conversation about specific boundaries, because you don’t you don’t need your whole body open if we’re just doing a kissing scene. You don’t need your whole body open. If we’re doing a simulated sex scene, there’s no reason for them to touch your feet. There’s no reason for them to, you know, to to do some of the things that might be done in one scene. There’s no reason for it in this scene. So it helps to set those boundaries. But, yeah, there are definitely actors who who come in and they’re like, great. So I don’t like breathing in my ear. Do not touch my belly button and no tickling motions on my legs if you’re gonna grab me and be firm, you know. So I have some people who come in very clear and aware of what their boundaries are and other people who are like, I know, you know, we’ll see.

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S3: And then, yeah, they can discover boundaries when they’re running the scene can actually be like, oh, I thought I was OK with this thing, but I’m not

S2: exactly because it’s not consent if you can’t retract it. So consent is fully retractable and we can always change what’s happening in the sense that, great, you’re consenting to this, but then the role is recast. And this is someone who you don’t know your boundaries can change, given the person given who’s in the room, given, oh, I’m on a sofa, not a bed. That changes how I feel about how we’re shooting the scene. So consent is very specific to the context in the moment. And if anything changes that can change consent level as well as saying nothing in the scene changed. And it turns out that today I’m in a different place than what I was yesterday when we talked about this and I’m updating my boundaries. Awesome. Or I slept on it. And Marcus, you were right. I did have more boundaries and here they are and talking about it that way. Right.

S3: One thing we talk about on the show quite a bit is the revision process. And I’m very curious, what does revision look like in your line of work?

S2: Yeah, so so if something needs to be revised, if if a change needs to happen, I feel it’s very important that there’s no questioning of that. A boundary is put in place because the person says it’s a boundary and there’s no need to justify that or explain it. I feel it’s very important that that it is a boundary because you say it as a boundary. And if that if something becomes a boundary that is not on you to fix, it is on us to come up with a way to continue to move forward and get if we can continue to move forward and get the shot unless. It is something that is going to stop and change the scene, which in that case, we can stop and change the scene and we can discuss that with the writers and the director. I will say rarely that happens because so much energy is put into communicating things beforehand and setting up a safe space. Usually what happens, a boundary changes or something is happening or this is really uncomfortable or my, you know, my my modesty garment or whatever is not allowing me to do this move or whatever it is. We need to change something great. I come in, I say, what is the exact thing that’s happening? Awesome. So we can still get this story. We can still sell what’s happening in this way. We you know, and then it’s discussing with the actors what it is that they are comfortable with clarifying the new boundaries and then going to the director and saying, this is what we have. These are some options. I have several options. Many times I’ll come and I’ll already have ideas. The second something like that happens, I’m thinking, OK, great, we can do it this way. We can change it this way. We can change angles slightly and do this. I’m coming up with like plan A, plan B, plan C and D, and then I’ll go to the director and be like, great. So this is the boundary, these are the new boundaries. And sometimes the director has an idea right away. And I’m like, OK, yep, that fits. And it’s actually my plan D so awesome. Sometimes the director is like, well then what are we to do. And like, well here’s some options. Would you like to hear them. Great. You do. OK, awesome. Here’s here’s my fixes and let’s do it this way. So it is, it is about, you know, thinking on the fly sometimes and coming up with things and also not questioning the change or the boundary that the actors getting.

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S3: It seems like so much of your job is reliant on the actors feeling comfortable with you, trusting you, you know, knowing you have their interests at heart. Hmm. When you’re working with actors you haven’t worked with before, what are you doing? And you’re sort of, you know, performance in those first meetings to make it clear, like, hey, I’ve got your back. I really am here for you.

S2: Yeah, I mean, it’s it’s a lot of listening and and making sure that I give them space to tell me exactly what it is that they need and what they expect, as well as, you know, letting them know that, you know, a little bit of my background, where I’m coming from, I’m coming from this place. And I’m here to make sure that you understand exactly what it is you’re consenting to, to make sure that you have your boundaries set, to make sure that you feel, you know, safe in these situations. This work in its nature is uncomfortable. How many times do you have to go to work and take your clothes off in front of your coworkers? So it’s it’s an uncomfortable situation. So I can’t make some of these things comfortable, but I can make sure that they’re safe and that we are we feel emboldened and empowered to make decisions about our own body.

S3: Do you feel like it gets complicated by or there’s a there’s a hump you need to get over because you’re a man? Like, I imagine that given which gender is often the one pressuring people or committing these acts or whatever, like, I imagine there would be an inherent like, oh, it’s a guy kind of thing that might happen sometimes.

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S2: Yes, I am very aware of that. I mean. It’s something that, you know, I have to be aware of when I step on the set, that I am a white male with really dark facial hair and I’m coming into this set and I make sure I wear my sweaters and my cardigans and my Mr. Rogers best, you know, and I try to come in and luckily I’m short and small in stature, which I think also is unimposing. But there’s not much that I can do if someone is very uncomfortable with a man. And that’s some of the stuff that we have. We have conversations beforehand. What I have noticed, it’s when people have not worked with an Intimacy coordinator, especially producers, where they’re there wanting to make the best decisions for their actors. And in in doing that, they’re like, well, this this is an actor. You know, this is a scene between a man and a woman. I want to make sure the woman is taken care of. I’m not sure a man is the best to to bring in. And I, I would say an advocate is an advocate no matter their gender. I am there to to make sure that boundaries are upheld and that the story we’re all agreeing to tell is told and that doesn’t matter gender. Now I understand that there are going to be people who will not want to work in these moments with a man. I understand that and I accept that. And if that’s the case, then that’s not the right job for me. There are many other Intimacy coordinators and directors.

S3: You’ve choreographed the scene, right? It’s now time to do a take. The director signed off on it. So now what’s your what’s your job at this point when the actual cameras are rolling?

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S2: I am at that point, I am there looking at monitor to to make sure that we are seeing what we’re supposed to be seeing, to make sure that that the choreography stays within the boundaries that the actors have set and that if things are changing or if I see that, you know, the more takes we get, the more comfortable the actors are getting. And things are evolving a little bit to make sure that I’m stepping in after take and saying, great, how are these boundaries still going? How are you feeling? Do we need to reset anything just so that they feel like they have the ability to continue to work and be in that movement, but stay within the boundaries that that the actors have set themselves?

S3: What to you is the hardest part of your job?

S2: The hardest part is. There are times where I come onto a set and I’m only there for one day, and so I’m not there for weeks on end meeting everyone, understanding how the culture of this set works as opposed to the culture of this other set. So I’m stepping in and having to to really understand the best way to work within this group and within this dynamic of people, which can be very challenging, especially with all the different personalities of directors and producers and the team and costumers and wardrobe and hair, makeup. And if there’s prosthetics and how we’re dealing with that and visual effects, there are many different different areas that I have to step in and work with, depending on what kind of a scene it is. So I would say one of the most difficult things is coming in and knowing exactly how each production needs me to work, but at the same time being able to do my job and and step in when needed, because it’s a fine line and it’s a fine balance of not wanting to come in and and change the dynamic and or the feel of the set. You know, people are worried that we’re coming in and we’re like the the sex police or like H.R. in a way. And that’s not what we are like. I’m not there to, you know, to, like, lessen the kink or whatever it is. I’m there to make sure that it’s just consensual and that everyone knows what’s happening.

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S3: Right. Yeah. I imagine there’s some directors who like at the moment when you’re entering in the process, are a little bit like, are you going to try to, you know, control my my ideas too much or you know what exactly

S2: I mean, many of these directors have been in this industry for a very long time, working on these scenes, these types of scenes. And now here’s a new position that’s coming in. And many directors have not worked with Intimacy coordinators before. Very, very rarely do I step onto a set where a director has already worked with an Intimacy coordinator. So not only is it me working with a new production, but it’s a lot of times a director working with a position that they’ve never worked with or engaged with before. So there is a little bit of hesitancy sometimes of what is your position? How are you going to step in? Are you going to override me or are you going to try to override me? Or I can do this. There’s no need to do this. I can choreograph. I’ve been choreographing sex scenes for a very long time. Let’s do this. And it’s about stepping in and being like, great. So now let’s talk about, you know, what are the pitfalls of doing this and not checking in on consent and you being the one who’s checking in on consent, given that you have a lot of power in the room and that will actors be comfortable telling, you know, will actors be comfortable saying, I’m not comfortable with that? So there’s that aspect of it. But then there’s also the aspect of you can totally choreograph, you can totally do what you want to do, given that it’s within those boundaries and everything the actors have set up. And as long as all that communication happens beforehand, the director already knows all that. The actors already know of that. And the director can do exactly what the director does. And I’m just there to help and to assist in the same way that a stunt coordinator is there to to make it safe and to help the productions vision come to fruition. I am there to make sure that the director and the productions vision comes to fruition while still keeping everyone safe and making it look good. I come from a background of movement. I can I can say this looks really awkward. And the reason specifically is because his knees are bent and we need to step in and we need to straighten these knees in this moment and do it this way because that looks awkward and you might not know why it looks awkward, just like it looks awkward, like, oh, OK, straighten his knees and get the course hips closer together and then we’re good to go because I am a specialist in in movement and telling a physical story.

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S3: Well, Marcus Watson, thank you so much for joining us and talking about your work and your creative process. Yes.

S2: Thank you. Thank you very much for having me.

S1: Wow, Isaac, that was really interesting, I realize, of course, that there are surely many paths to getting into this field, but it is fascinating to think about Marcus path from fight choreography to sexual violence, choreography to Intimacy choreography. And it’s really clear what the path is there. It’s all about making things look a certain way to the audience while making sure that safety and consent are absolutely paramount for the actors involved.

S3: Yes, absolutely. You know, the more physical contact there is between actors on stage or screen, the more carefully it has to be worked out. And usually these moments, whether they’re physical combat or sex or whatever, they should feel absolutely real to the viewer. But there’s something else kind of artificial and almost mechanical to the participants in fight choreography. Most of the time, the people involved in the combat make little to no physical contact with one another. And it’s different with Intimacy, of course, particularly on camera. When you kiss, you’re really kissing, but you also want it to be controlled and worked out so you can feel comfortable with what you’re doing. It’s kind of an old adage like if you look up old articles about staging sex scenes, you know, the reporters have written about the almost all open with some version of the least sexy day in a film is when they’re filming the sex scene. It is actually the least sexy, least improvised, most mechanical, most robotic for the participants part of the process, even if it looks very different when we see it at home.

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S1: This is also one of those new roles that when you hear what’s involved in the job, your first reaction, or at least my first reaction is, well, what were they doing before this job was invented? Like, as Marcus pointed out, the power dynamics between, like the director or the production team and the actor mean that it feels absolutely essential to have a third party come in, to have the conversation, to ensure that everyone feels comfortable with what’s being asked of them or with making a request. So you’ve been a theater director. What were people doing before this role came along?

S3: I mean, I think what they were doing is kind of muddling through, you know, I mean, actors, particularly at a higher level, particularly in TV and film, a lot of what they are willing to do about nudity and physical contact would be in their contracts. So in some ways, the agent is actually the person working out some of that. But you hear tons and tons of stories of directors or producers trying to get actors to agree to do stuff that they said they wouldn’t do in their contract, particularly around women and nudity. I mean, there’s there’s hundreds and hundreds of stories about it. And sex scenes are traditionally staged by directors, sometimes by photographers or other kinds of choreographers, but traditionally by not by someone who is called an Intimacy coordinator. And some directors, we should say, very good at that. They’re very good at sensitively navigating those issues, making sure everyone is on board, kind of moving through what those power dynamics are like. Like there are people who are like that, but there are enough people who aren’t like that or who just kind of don’t care enough to make the job in this new field really necessary. But we should say it’s not only about Intimacy. Fans of Ted LASO may have seen this article about Hannah Waddingham, who’s an actor on Ted LASO, who was also on Game of Thrones. And there’s a scene in Game of Thrones in which she was waterboarded and she was essentially waterboarded for 10 hours while they filmed the scene on set. And she was not well taken care of during that process and it left her with lasting trauma. So, you know, this is something that there’s still a lot of work to be done on.

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S1: Yeah, that sounds awful. I was really interested to hear how actors often discover boundaries as they’re making a play or a movie. Like they’ll go in saying, oh, no, I’m fine with whatever. But then as the thing is being made, their body will respond a certain way and they’ll suddenly realize, well, actually touching me there is bringing stuff up. I didn’t expect. I need another option. I realized that every production is different. But I’m curious if that kind of physical response requiring a change of plans is something that occurs in other parts of putting on a play or making a movie.

S3: Oh, yeah, I don’t think that’s limited to physical Intimacy at all. But a lot of actors, particularly young, particularly early career actors, they want to be game for anything that is a value that’s kind of been inculcated in them as they grow up and go through theatre school. You know, the show must go on. You are there to serve the material and the director, et cetera, et cetera and so forth. And they may agree to something genuinely and try it genuinely and then just discover it doesn’t work for them or it doesn’t feel safe. And sometimes it might really not be safe. Like there’s a prop knife that hasn’t been. Sufficiently dulled and they could cut themselves, I was once directing a show where there was a prop knife and the crew handled it sufficiently and the lead actor was like, hey, this, I could actually hurt myself with this. You know, that’s that’s that sort of thing has to be addressed. There are some times when an actor actually has a barrier that needs to be negotiated and not physically. I’m talking psychically here and that actually does need to be negotiated so that they can move through it because it’s essential to the part. You know, maybe they have they might discover that the story of a play brings up a personal issue with them. And, you know, you have to help them navigate that. But particularly if it’s a matter of physical safety or comfort, you have to try to accommodate them to the extent that you can or change what you’re doing. And I think part of being the skill of being a director, the part of it that’s a lot of management is about when am I kind of helping this person get over this thing and when am I actually saying, no, no, no, no, no, we’re just going to rearrange this to accommodate this, because this is is something that you shouldn’t have to get over.

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S1: Yeah, it’s tricky. You’ve mentioned in the past that you have worked as an actor and you’ve also done a lot of work as a theatre director, which is more awkward directing Intimacy or playing it.

S3: Well, I was not a professional actor for very long, you know, I was a child professional actor, so luckily there was no Intimacy there. And then I did a little a couple of times after college and stuff like that. So most of the physical Intimacy work that I did was in high school and college, an acting class. And I can say, though, just based on that, without a doubt it is acting and actually having to do it is much, much worse than the awkwardness of talking to people about doing it and and describing it. You know, and I think that’s because you are to a certain extent really experiencing it. You know, you really are kissing that you might not be using tongue. You might be faking that there’s tongue involved, but you are really kissing that person. It’s weird not to have you can’t do that and have no associations stirred up whatsoever, do you know what I mean? And I would often find, you know, you’re you’re snuggling with someone on stage or whatever, and there’s this little voice in the back of your head that’s like your girlfriend’s going to see this. You know that, right? What is she going to think about what’s going on right now? And I would just completely draw me out of the scene. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. So it’s just a challenge to your kind of technique as much as anything else.

S3: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, one of the things that I do think is really odd about on screen Intimacy is like so like does your partner watch these movies or you know, like it is all part of the actor’s job that I find really, really strange.

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S1: It’s a very strange jobless admitted. So, listeners, we hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. If you have remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, then you’ll never miss an episode. And yes, I’m going to give you a sleepless pitch slate. Plus, members get benefits like zero odds on any slate podcasts, bonus episodes of shows like Slow Burn and Danny Leveraged, new show, Big Mood, Little Mood. You’ll be able to read everything you want on Slate dot com and you’ll be helping to support the work we do here at working. It’s only a dollar for the first month. To learn more, go to sleep. Dotcom’s working.

S3: Thank you to Marcus Watson for being our guest this week and as always, enormous thanks to our fantabulous producer Cameron Drus. This week we also got some production help from Shayna Roths. Sachedina, thanks so much for helping us out. We’ll be back next week for June’s conversation with journalist Jose Antonio Vargas. He is one of the most interesting writers about immigration and citizenship around. You are not going to want to miss this special July 4th episode and until then, get back to work. Hazlet plus listeners, thank you so much, as always, for supporting everything we do here and working. We have a couple of extra questions for Marcus. I think you’ll really enjoy them. Check them out. One thing we talk about a lot on this podcast, because it’s about creativity is influence, you know, a singer songwriter might listen to a song and then break it apart and be like, oh, well, what if I do this chord progression? You know, how do I add into that? Or, you know, cinematographers talk about looking at the lighting of movies they’re watching and stuff like that. Like if you’re watching a TV show or a movie and there’s a there’s an Intimacy scene, is there a part of your brain that clicks in and is studying it and taking it apart and figuring out, oh, how did they get this tone? Like, why is this funny or why is it, you know, or whatever? Or do you do that when you’re when you’re watching TV and movies?

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S2: Definitely. Definitely. I no longer am looking at simulated sex scenes in movies and TV and in the moment are like, oh, this is so great for these characters. I’m like, OK, great. So let’s look at the breath. Let’s look at this. OK, great. So there’s no moment of penetration. What’s happening there? I don’t even know. It’s such a there’s not a clear story what’s happening or. Oh wow. That was really great. And I saw it and they filled that with this breath or they did it with this. I’m definitely looking at those moments in these scenes from a new lens.

S3: One thing we’ve talked about a bit is the sort of trauma aspect of this, right? That that sometimes you’re working on material, that it’s about trauma and you want them not traumatize the people who are who are doing it. And you’ve had a lot of training in that. And it sounds like a lot of your job is is helping to take care of other people’s emotions. But what about your own how how do you handle the emotional parts of this job?

S2: Definitely our position, because we we deal with people in such a personal level. In some ways we get a lot of stories and we are told a lot of things of of things that have happened in the past and things that that have wrongs that have been done. And and so not only am I dealing with the choreography that I’m putting out and helping to work with in these specific moments, but I’m also receiving all of these stories of trauma and hurt that are coming. And I have to find a way myself to deal with that and to have closure and to keep myself mentally and emotionally healthy. So it’s helpful for me to have my own practices of closure in that I have some alone time, quiet in the dark, a little bit of meditation. Water to me is very calming and soothing. And I feel like I get to wash away my my feelings in some ways and things that I’ve received. So showers are super, super helpful. So I have come up with my own ways to to find closure and, you know, emotional well-being.

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S3: So what’s your year been like? You imagine you couldn’t work for a while and then are you back on set now? Are you are you working again or how did you stay creative and replenished during this very strange year when I imagine some of the time you couldn’t even do your job?

S2: It was tricky. I was working for a mini series last March when New York City shut down. I was supposed to go into work on that 13th March, the Friday the 13th, and there was a big scene of simulated sex that was coming up and we canceled that morning. And so then all spring, all summer off without any work was a lot of looking at what kind of online trainings can I do, what kind of things are offered, what kind of things have been pretaped and pre film that I can watch what what Ted talks on, on trauma, what books could I do and read, as well as working and connecting with my colleagues in the industry and working on online trainings and online discussions and and just staying in touch with each other was really helpful. I went back to work in September, I believe is whenever that series did start back up and worked with them. And then since then, that series finished in December and I’ve been on several sets since working. And so it’s definitely very different going in. You know, we all have PPE and masks and different zones. And you can only be in this zone if you’ve had this many tests and testing before you get to set and weeks before days,

S3: it doesn’t sound like it enables Intimacy.

S2: Exactly it it’s very tricky. And now there’s an added component for actors of, wow, I’m I’m kissing someone. I am you know, this is very different in a world, you know, of covid, where you’re very worried about respiratory droplets and and. That sort of stuff, so so, you know, it’s there’s a whole nother level now of of thinking about what you’re consenting to and the boundaries that you’re setting because there’s an added risk.

S3: All right, that’s it for this week. Hope to catch you next time. Thanks again. So.