- Sex scenes take a lot of preparation before filming even begins, according to intimacy coordinators.
- Collaboration with the director, actors, and other departments is essential.
- Intimacy coordinators will often help actors get into the right emotional headspace before shooting.
Sex scenes require a lot of preparation and meticulous attention to detail to translate them from script to screen.
Intimacy coordinators — crew members who specifically make sure sex scenes are filmed safely and efficiently — work directly with actors, directors, and other departments to create these complex on-screen moments.
Insider spoke to some of the industry’s top intimacy coordinators to find out what actually needs to happens before filming a sex scene.
Actors are informed about what kind of nudity and simulated sex the job entails ahead of time — and they can still get the part if they’re not OK with some of it
David Thackeray — an intimacy coordinator who’s worked on shows like
‘s “Sex Education” and Channel 4’s “It’s a Sin” — told Insider that he’s noticed “lots of jobs” that are very specific about whether they include nudity or simulated sex.
But an actor can still get the part, even if they aren’t OK with some of the intimate content, according to Ita O’Brien, a pioneer of intimacy coordination who’s worked on shows like HBO’s “I May Destroy You” and Hulu’s “Normal People.”
O’Brien said that although actors used to feel like they might not get a role if they weren’t comfortable with nudity or simulated sex, that has started to change, due largely in part to the emergence of intimacy coordinators and Hollywood’s prioritization of consent amid the MeToo and Time’s Up movements.
“We want to have a process that allows that conversation to happen without that actor feeling that they have to promise something more that overrides their boundaries in order to get this role,” O’Brien told Insider.
The actors’ contracts are then drafted, using their communicated boundaries as a guide
Once an actor is offered a role, their contracts are drafted based on their boundaries for nudity and simulated sex.
These contracts, referred to as “nudity riders,” are a list of stipulations that must be met in order for a performer to take on a role.
Alicia Rodis — another pioneer of intimacy coordination who works for HBO studios — told Insider, “We consult on the nudity riders and simulated-sex riders to make sure that those are all in place and are up to the guidelines through SAG-AFTRA,” the union representing film, TV, and radio artists.
It’s important that the nudity riders are completed before cameras start rolling, as they are used as a guide throughout the filming process to ensure the actor’s boundaries are respected.
The coordinator will work with the director to establish a vision for the intimate content, then confirm those details with the actors
According to Thackeray, collaboration between the intimacy coordinator and the director, actors, and other relevant departments — like wardrobe and props — is key to creating a successful scene.
Although every director has their own approach to filming sex scenes, Rodis said, there is a basic process that most intimacy coordinators follow.
“There is a conversation that happens with the director to find out what their vision is so that we can best support that and also understand explicitly what it is they are asking from the actors,” she said.
The director will then speak with the actors to communicate those thoughts.
From there, the intimacy coordinator will check in with the cast to find out what exactly it is that they are comfortable with and make sure everyone is on the same page.
The wardrobe and props departments are then brought in to discuss what the actors will be wearing and using as barriers
Thackeray said the teams will discuss what kind of modesty garments the actors have worn before and what they’re comfortable in, then confirm with the wardrobe department that those pieces are available in the right skin tone.
Props departments can also be brought in to create what Thackeray called “intimacy barriers” — which are like “little pillows that you can put in between the artists” during sex scenes.
Sex scenes are choreographed and rehearsed like a dance or fight would be
In most sex scenes, every move is carefully choreographed.
Thackeray told Insider that he prefers to go over choreography at least a week before shooting, but sometimes it occurs the day of.
It’s “very much like a fight or a dance, because if you were to just go straight into a fight, someone’s going to get hurt. Maybe even a dance, as well,” Thackeray explained.
He added that once the choreo is set, they “put in the story and the emotion on top of that like an extra layer” so that it becomes “a seamless scene that just flows.”
As a dancer, O’Brien said she often works in counts of eight when choreographing sex scenes, but the way each moment is arranged ultimately depends on the director.
Sex or nude scenes are always shot on ‘closed sets,’ so only the necessary cast and crew are present
Thackeray told Insider that a very important aspect of shooting is making sure the cast and crew know that all sex and nude scenes are “closed sets.”
“It’s bare-minimum people,” Thackeray said. “Once everyone’s left the room, robes come off, the action begins. They call ‘cut,’ robes come back on, and no one is allowed in the room until the artists feel comfortable.”
Before filming, actors are encouraged to emotionally get into character
All of the preparation that goes into the pre-filming aspect of sex scenes helps intimacy coordinators make sure the actors engage with the content in a healthy way, but an important portion of the process is left up to the performers.
Thackeray said that he invites actors to go into their “professional body” before filming — through warm-ups or their method of choice — to help them ease into their character and the content of the scene.
Rodis echoed that sentiment, saying that she often guides actors through self-care exercises and techniques to help them do their best work.