When Amani Lyle became a writer’s assistant on “Friends,” she was told the job might involve listening to and writing down jokes of a sexual nature. Still, after her four-month stint came to an end, Lyle believed what she endured during her time there had crossed the line. She filed a suit for sexual harassment against the television show’s production company and some of the show’s writers. The suit alleged that male writers would regularly talk about their sexual exploits, discuss sexual acts they’d like to perform with actresses on the show, and more.
But could the discussions in the writers room be written off as a way to simply get those creative juices flowing? According to the 2006 California Supreme Court, yes. The court ruled that given the adult nature and themes of the show, all of the evidence in question could be viewed as “creative necessity” – part of the writer’s process.
“There’s a little friction between creative context and sexual harassment,” Ilene Berman, a partner at Atlanta’s Taylor English law firm who does sexual harrassment training for Warner Brothers, told Oz. “Because when the creative context has to do with sex, where do you cross a line into the unlawful, sexual harassment world?”
The same year the California Supreme Court ruled on Lyle v. Warner Brothers Television Productions, activist Tarana Burke began using the phrase “me too” to raise awareness for women who had been abused. Eleven years later, actress Alyssa Milano used the phrase in a tweet, popularizing Burke’s movement.
Since then, Hollywood has been forced to reckon with sexual misconduct in a huge way, peaking with the Harvey Weinstein verdict this February. But while so many speaking out in support of the #MeToo movement were working on a public stage, a much quieter advancement was slowly becoming an integral part of mitigating sexual harassment on set: the intimacy coordinator.
Alicia Rodis, Co-Founder of Intimacy Directors International and later Intimacy Directors and Coordinators, credits the #MeToo movement with helping the industry begin to understand the need for a position like an intimacy coordinator. “The way I look at the #MeToo movement is that it was a realization for everyone,” Rodis said in an interview with Oz. “It wasn’t a realization of, ‘There are a few predators out here.’ It was a realization that the ways that we had been doing a lot of things have not been the best we can do.”
Intimacy coordinators work on movie and television sets to ensure that best practices are met while filming and help to cement the line between creative pursuit and misconduct. While it’s still a fairly new industry, intimacy coordinators have been used to wonderful effect on shows such as “The Deuce” and “Normal People,” and the Georgia-lensed shows “Watchmen” and “Lovecraft Country.”
Intimacy coordination is just now gaining traction in the mainstream film and television world, but it still isn’t quite as normalized in Atlanta as it might be elsewhere.
“Quite honestly, in the conversations that I have had with several professionals, the recognition of the role is not as accepted or understood [in Georgia],” said L.P. Watts, Intimacy Coordinator for film and television in Atlanta.
Intimacy coordination as an industry is meant to provide accountability on set. The presence of a coordinator can create a safe space and make sure the lines between work and reality are clear ㅡ not just for actors, but for everyone involved in the production. If those lines had been more clearly drawn in the 2000s, would Amani Lyle’s case have had the same outcome? Would there have been a reason for her to sue in the first place?
Those questions can’t be answered, but in the wake of movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp, lawyers like Ilene Berman and the few intimacy coordinators who have begun working in Georgia are optimistic about the profession’s ability to mitigate harm in the future.
“I don’t think [intimacy coordinators] would ever have been allowed or even a concept five years ago,” Berman said. “No way. And now it’s mandated on most major productions; which is great.”
The HerStory of Intimacy on Set
Before the #MeToo movement, intimacy coordination for episodic television or film wasn’t on many people’s mind. But Emily Meade, star of HBO’s “The Deuce,” decided she had enough.
According to Meade, she filmed her first sex scene when she was a teenager and is no stranger to playing sexualized characters, but “The Deuce,” a show that centers around the New York porn industry in the 1970s, presented her with unique challenges.
“There was no specific incident or anything outside of what I’ve been used to for the past 13 years,” she said in an interview with HBO. “The only thing that makes ‘The Deuce’ different is the story itself is about sex, and sex scenes are an integral part of the story.”
Looking back at her career, Meade remembered some instances on set where she said “yes” in the moment, but retroactively, felt uneasy about that decision, and Meade isn’t the only one.
Stars like Emilia Clarke, Maria Schneider, Rosie Perez, and countless others have expressed varying levels of discomfort while filming intimate scenes. For Meade, it finally got to be too much.
Meade went to the show’s creators, David Simon and George Pelecanos, and asked for someone to advocate not just for her, but for everyone on set who may be involved with a sexual scene. Soon after, Alicia Rodis was hired, and the intimacy coordinator revolution was born.
Before beginning work on “The Deuce,” Rodis had already been an important figure in the world of intimacy coordination. The first film she served as an intimacy coordinator on was in 2015. In 2016, she helped found Intimacy Directors International with Intimacy Director Tonia Sina, who has been credited with starting the groundwork for the profession back in 2006. The day Rodis got the call to come in for “The Deuce,” the line producer on the phone fumbled over words, unwittingly proving just how important the intimacy coordinator position would become. Rodis said it sounded like he was requesting services from a sex worker.
“He couldn’t even say the word intimacy,” she said. “He said, ‘I’m working on a show and we need … something. I see that you provide … services on this website.’”
After the awkwardness of that initial phone call, Rodis came in for an interview and met with the showrunners, HBO’s legal team and production executives. She said she was struck by their vulnerability and willingness to admit that they didn’t know what they were doing.
“I truly think it was courageous of them to say, ‘We need something and we don’t know what it is.’ Let’s work on this together,” she said. “And we did.”
Just a few years later, Rodis is now the in-house Intimacy Coordinator for HBO. The network declared in 2018 that all of their television shows that featured intimate scenes would require intimacy coordinators.
Just this year, SAG-AFTRA mandated the hiring of intimacy coordinators for sex scenes. This mandate happened within weeks of media mogul Harvey Weinstein being found guilty of rape.
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