Blumenthal is training Los Angeles-based intimacy professionals to coordinate sex scenes in film and television.
By Daysia Tolentino
When the #MeToo Movement gained momentum in 2017, Hollywood began to take steps to combat sexual harassment in film and television productions. One step toward that goal included the increased use of intimacy coordinators on sets. There weren’t intimacy coordinators in Los Angeles before Amanda Blumenthal worked her first job two years ago. In fact the profession of “intimacy coordinator” began in 2018. Similar to stunt coordinators, they ensure the scenes that they advise on are performed in a safe and comfortable manner.
The intimacy coordinator’s predecessor is the intimacy director, its theatre industry equivalent mostly found in New York. Intimacy directing in theatre began gaining traction around 2016 when Oklahoma City-based intimacy director Tonia Sina started teaching a workshop called “Intimacy For The Stage.” Since then, a number of intimacy-focused professions have popped up in an effort to create better set environments.
In 2018, the HBO show Euphoria, known now for its controversial depictions of modern teenaged hedonism, was looking for someone to assist in coordinating sex scenes (of which there were quite a few). Previously working as a sex and relationship coach as well as an advocate for survivors of sexual violence, Blumenthal thought that the role was perfect for her qualifications. She applied and got the job, setting her on the career path she’s on today.
As an intimacy coordinator, Blumenthal helps facilitate the process of filming intimate scenes, both behind the scenes and on-camera. Some of her jobs include advocating for actors’ boundaries during shooting, assisting directors with achieving their creative vision, and helping actors understand their nudity riders— a clause in their contracts that lays out what nude, physical or simulated sexual contact they are agreeing to do for a production. While her job often involves being a mediator between directors’ wants and actors’ needs, her priority is making sure actors fully understand what job they’re signing up for and that they are totally comfortable doing so.
“According to guild rules, once something is filmed actors can’t take it back,” Blumenthal said, “It becomes the property of the production and the production can use it or not use it depending on what they want to end up doing in the final cut. It’s really important that actors understand exactly what is going to be shot, and how their likeness is going to be portrayed on screen.”
A lot of her work happens before the cameras start rolling. She coordinates with various departments to make sure that everything is ready for the intimate scenes, whether it is touching base with actors ahead of their performances or checking costumes to make sure that all modesty garments and props are set. It’s not an easy job— some scenes, like those involving a simulated sexual assault, can take a toll on both the cast and crew’s psychological wellbeings. Intimacy coordinators have to be prepared to handle whatever issues may arise during filming.
Blumenthal has taken her expertise and experience and applied it to changing industry standards for intimate scenes. An integral part of the creation of SAG-AFTRA’s protocols for the use of intimacy coordinators, she is leading the movement toward safer sets.
“That finally came out in January of 2020,” Blumenthal said, “I’m really proud of the work that we did in that partnership, and how quickly we were able to move, because obviously with large organizations it often takes a long time to get things done. But SAG-AFTRA really made this a priority and I’m really proud of the document that we were able to create.”
Blumenthal also founded the Intimacy Professionals Association (IPA), the first agency to solely represent intimacy workers. IPA manages a roster of intimacy coordinators, trans and gender consultants, and expert intimacy consultants. Additionally, the organization provides training and certification for fledgling intimacy coordinators.
Marci Liroff, a veteran casting director and intimacy coordinator, was trained by Blumenthal in 2019 and praised her thorough instruction. Every other weekend for six months, Liroff along with nine others would learn about potential issues that would arise on the job.
“One of the things that Amanda likes to say is no surprises,” Liroff said, “When you are fully prepared and you do a lot of preparation and research, when you finally do get on the set, there will hopefully be no surprises because you’ve already had the conversations and everybody’s point of view by that point.”
Liroff got her first intimacy coordination job last December on the set of Virgin of Highland Park, and it didn’t exactly go smoothly. She was supposed to have an hour and a half to rehearse, block, and shoot an intimate scene between two minors. However, the production was delayed and she was given 30 minutes before wrap to do it all— and she did.
“They were both very nervous,” said Liroff, “But the young girl said to me after ‘I was so freaked out about the scene and now that you’re here I feel safe.’ So it was exactly what I needed to hear.”
While the rise of intimacy coordinators has signaled a positive shift in Hollywood culture, it hasn’t been a totally welcome change in the industry. Blumenthal said that the amount of creative input that intimacy coordinators have on intimate scenes varies by director and actor. Some are more resistant to feedback than others.
“Sometimes you get a director, or even an actor, who doesn’t want to work with an intimacy coordinator and that can make it difficult to do the job.” Blumenthal said, “People are taking the topics of consent and safety in the workplace much more seriously than they used to.”
While there is still work to be done in this relatively new field, Blumenthal continues to work towards the changes she wants to see in her industry.
“We’re trying to become members of SAG-AFTRA.” said Blumenthal, “We’re hoping that will happen in the next couple of years so that we have union protections because right now, we’re all non-union and that can put you in difficult positions. My other hope is that at some point, it will be required and industry standard that all scenes that have nudity and simulated sex will be required to have an intimacy coordinator present.”