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New professional field “intimacy coordinator”: How to ensure safe sex scenes

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In an interview, Katja Weitzenböck talks about the new job of coordinating intimacy and how it improves sex scenes in films.

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She plays theatre, appeared in international film productions and is well known to German television audiences from successful series such as “Tatort”, “Das Traumschiff” and “Rosamunde Pilcher”. In addition to her acting career, the actress Katja Weitzenböck (55), who lives in Berlin, has also been responsible for love and sex scenes in film productions as a so-called intimacy coordinator for several years. In an interview, Weitzenböck told the news agency spot on news everything about the new profession.

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In the course of the MeToo movement five years ago, there was an outcry in the film industry. How did love and sex scenes come about in film shoots in the past, before MeToo?

Katja Weitzenböck: Love scenes were considered a natural part of the acting work – in contrast to violent or action scenes, for which there was already a stunt coordination back then. That even intimate scenes could represent a dangerous situation was not considered. It was simply assumed that the respective actors would coordinate the scenes with each other internally. Everyone has sex, so you should know how to do it. It was also taken for granted that the mostly young women were always ready to undress. To make matters worse, the male colleagues were mostly older and more experienced and they were able to implement their ideas without any problems. Of course, this also had a decisive impact on viewing habits. Older men dated younger women. Boundaries were crossed unconsciously – and sometimes quite consciously – as a creative part of the work. Crossing borders was considered particularly revolutionary and worth striving for.

So there was no real separation between the private and the representation?

Weitzenböck: Exactly. Personal and role was mixed, and it wasn’t asked: are you ready to do that as an actress? The motto was simply: Do it! In the emergency and the stress that arose as a result, the closest and well-known things were resorted to. And those are the common current clichés that we’ve seen thousands of times in movies. This has been reproduced over and over again.

How did you – apart from your acting career – come to intimacy coordination?

Weitzenböck: I’ve been working in this profession for 30 years, and during this time I’ve repeatedly witnessed tricky scenes. For me personally, I’ve found a pretty good way to deal with it, to draw certain boundaries and to defend myself. At some point I knew where the dangers were and how I could avoid them.

I came to intimacy coordination during the Corona lockdown. I was watching a Netflix series – binge-watching Corona-Times – and I was struck by the particularly powerful intimate scenes. Then I thought: That’s really great, what they express beyond words.

While researching the background, I came across this new profession, intimacy coordination, and I thought: That’s fantastic. I want to do that. A little later, the German actors’ union BFFS offered further training, which I completed. It all happened very quickly in the end, and now I’m working as an intimacy coordinator alongside my acting job.

What does an Intimacy Coordinator do?

Weitzenböck: As an intimacy coordinator, I oversee simulated intimate scenes with sexual content or sexualized violence on behalf of the production. In my work, I am guided by various basic principles. This includes the actors’ approval for any action as well as working within the actors’ professional boundaries and choreographing the physical actions. Also significant is de-sexualized language in the instructions. In principle, it is about asking open questions, communicating, clarifying and offering alternative solutions for storytelling.

How does that work in practice?

Weitzenböck: Most of the work as an intimacy coordinator consists of preparation. Questions to be answered are: Will there be close-ups of body parts? What concerns, questions and uncertainties do the actors have regarding the scene? Together, a list of the performers’ professional boundaries is drawn up. In concrete terms, this means: Which part of the body may be shown? Is upper body nudity okay? The boobs? Yes or no. Questions like that. This then leads to a joint development of the physical actions before the start of shooting.

I use special intimate protection. These are the so-called modesty garments that cover the genitals. The front genital area can be masked, or the entire pelvic area. Contact between the actors’ genitals should always be avoided. To do this, we use so-called anchor techniques. We find contact points through which sexual movements can be transmitted without the genitals touching.

The whole thing is a deliberately de-sexualized, technical framework. A space is created within the professional boundaries of the performers. They can concentrate on their acting work as much as possible. All the stress and worries of the past are a thing of the past.

I then often experience totally enthusiastic and fear-free actors who throw themselves in with a courage and a joy – that’s really great.

On the day of shooting, are you also on the set?

Weitzenböck: Yes, I am. Then we do the so-called boundary practice, also known as a boundary check. The play partners stand in front of each other and show where they allow the other to touch them. You show each other how to do it, every time anew – be it in rehearsal or when shooting – to get permission: I can touch you there and not there. I’ve never seen that happen before. It trains attention.

On the set, as the intimacy coordinator, I am the mediator. In this way, the actress or the actor does not have to draw the line in front of the director himself, which would also mean stress. Because a power imbalance between director and actors comes into play again and again. You can’t avoid that. It just is. By definition, the actresses are bound by instructions, the director gives the instructions. There is often not enough space to draw the line quickly.

You want to create new role models for the audience with your work. What might these look like?

Weitzenböck: A key word here are superfluous nude scenes that are not necessary when telling the story. I often experienced this myself as a young actress. The director comes on the day of shooting and says: “I wrote a shower scene that wasn’t in the script before. It would be good if we shot it today too. Well, you have to be naked, but you won’t get anything see. It’s going to look totally aesthetic.” This is overwhelming and overwhelming.

As the intimacy coordinator, I always try to ask the director in the preliminary talks: Why do you want to tell nudity? What should she tell? And do you really need them? Or is it a voyeuristic element?

Another way of creating new role models is for the game partners to be of equal value. Neither partner should be objectified. If I show the female body naked, I also show the male body naked. This creates a completely different statement, which is actually beneficial to the film and the story. Two people who become consensually intimate with each other.

Of course, one can also try to turn the classic model of “Male Gaze” around and playfully turn the man into an object. There are some examples of this among recent series. In a fairly well-known Netflix series, for example, it is handled like this – the male lead actor then became a sex symbol. In the series, the male body is seen naked more often than the female body.

Are we lagging behind here in Germany when it comes to coordinating intimacy?

Weitzenbock: Yes. Until my group was trained in further training, there was hardly a trained intimacy coordinator in Germany. I can report from my conversations with actors that there really isn’t a single actor or actress who has ever worked with an intimacy coordinator before.

But now that is changing rapidly. I get a lot of requests from production companies and also from students and young filmmakers. They are all open to intimacy coordination and want to integrate that. I also have the impression that the actors and actresses are becoming more self-confident and saying: I want that. The aim of my work is to establish a culture of communication on film sets and in the theater in which people communicate with each other respectfully and on an equal footing.

Source: Stern

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