TV shows use stunt coordinators for action scenes, but they haven't done the same for sex scenes.
"This is all new," says Deven MacNair, a seasoned stunt coordinator and, now, also an intimacy coordinator. "I would say it's picked up steam in the past year."
MacNair, who's also a former GLOW wrestler, has worked on a wide range of films and shows such as TNT's "Claws," AMC's "The Walking Dead," HBO's "Treme" and Freeform's "Cloak & Dagger."
HBO made headlines in October by announcing that, going forward, all of its shows featuring sexually intimate scenes will have an intimacy coordinator on the set. MacNair says you can expect this practice to become widespread.
"For the liability alone — it is safer and cheaper to have an intimacy coordinator on set than to not," she says. "Not only are you taking care of the actors and actresses and crew, but if you're checking in and making sure everything's going as [smoothly] as possible, you're also protecting the producers and the production. There's going to be no liability or bad press or issues."
MacNair fell into this work almost by accident, simply by being a woman in the stunt world.
"I'm one of very few women who were stunt coordinators," she says. "So producers who could choose who they wanted as stunt coordinator for an intimacy scene, and knowing there's going to be a half-naked vulnerable actress there … they could either get a 6-foot-4 linebacker stunt man or they can call me. And I just found myself over and over getting these positions. It almost seemed like a niche."
So what does this job involve? It's basically the opposite of what director Bernardo Bertolucci infamously did in his 1972 film "The Last Tango in Paris" — in which he filmed a rape scene without actress Maria Schneider's consent, which led to psychological damage.
"They need to have someone there checking in," says MacNair. "The thing people don't seem to understand is that the lighting guy is focused on lighting, the director is focused on the scene, the producers are sitting around on a calculator. Don't get me wrong, we’re all human beings and looking out for each other, but there's no one specifically whose job is to make sure everyone is safe and comfortable.
"With intimacy coordinating, for instance, this summer was a challenging one where we were dealing with a 14-year-old girl getting sexually assaulted by other teenage boys," she says about a forthcoming project whose title or details she could not reveal. "I talked to her and her mom weeks in advance of this scene. We made sure her crotch area was padded — we put a female cup, it's very similar to a male cup — [and] we even talked about where this guy could touch her, where it was padded only."
MacNair also checked in with the actress between takes to make sure she felt OK during filming. MacNair herself even had to violate the actress's wishes (she wanted to stay in character between takes).
"I say, 'If you don't want me to comfort you, I won't, but I am checking in with you after every take, and I don't care if you don't like it,' " she says. " 'Yeah, you'll break character, but oh well.' "
For some jobs, MacNair gets called in at the last minute.
"A stunt coordinator called me up and said, 'I've got a whole male crew here, can you please come and check the actress and go into the dressing room with her, because it's either you or me.' Someone has to do this, and this MeToo movement, which is so appropriate — it's time to have more stunt women there so there's no liability issue."