Intimacy coordination can cover a wide variety of intimacy between actors from something as small as a hug shared between a grandmother and her grandchild, to kisses between lovers, to any sexual situation that may take place. The main role of an intimacy coordinator is to work as a liaison between production and the talent. They want to ensure that actors are aware of what the director wants to see in the scene while fostering consent.
We recently spoke with intimacy coordinator Marcus Watson about his role, and why it is so vital in the entertainment industry. Marcus previously worked in acting, gymnastics, stage combat and fight choreography which has not only led him to his career as an intimacy coordinator, but has given him a strong background in the power of physical storytelling. He has also previously worked as an intimacy coordinator on shows such as Netflix’s Halston and Hulu’s Monsterland and Wu-Tang: An American Saga.
PH: Hi, Marcus! How did you first get into the industry?
Marcus Watson: I have been an actor, fighter, and choreographer in NYC since 2008. As a fight choreographer, I am sometimes called in for scenes of sexual violence. This is when I first started choreographing intimate moments in the same way I would approach a fight. Things that I take into consideration when I’m choreographing are what story we are telling, what is the agreed upon action, where is it ok to touch, what safeties are being used, and in the case of theater, how will we make sure there are check-ins along the way to ensure everyone’s safety. I was assisting Alicia Rodis in a combat class for a university when she, Tonia Sina, and Siobhan Richardson were starting Intimacy Directors International (IDI). I started taking as many workshops as I could and apprenticed under Alicia. I have now worked with productions under HBO, Miramax, STARZ, Netflix, Hulu and several others.
PH: What’s an intimacy coordinator? And why is it vital to a production?
Marcus Watson: There are several elements to the position. We are a liaison between production and talent to make sure that there is clear communication regarding all aspects of the moment of intimacy. We also gauge the consent of the actors outside of the many power dynamics that exist in film and on set. We are an advocate for the actors on the day. We are there to ensure that everything discussed up to that point is upheld, help with barriers and modesty garments, and to help adjust moments of physical storytelling if needed. We can also help with the creation of the movement and choreography of the intimate scene.
PH: What are some of the first things you do on set?
Marcus Watson: I definitely check in with all the departments, and actors, involved in the moment of intimacy. But much of my work is done long before I get to set. This allows the day to be smooth and organized, which is a necessity when working with sensitive material.
PH: How do you work with the actors and production? Are you the middleman in most cases?
Marcus Watson: I have been in situations where I was the middle man. I can tell you, it is better when there is open communication between production and talent, and I am utilized to ensure that everyone is on the same page and all the pertinent questions and topics are discussed. I am not there to take away the ability of the director to discuss the scenes with the actors. I am there to ensure everything is consensual and that the actors have agency over their own bodies.
PH: What were your experiences like on projects such as Hulu’s Monsterland and Wu-Tang: An American Saga?
Marcus Watson: Very positive! Many episodic productions bring in many different directors for the season meaning I need to be able to adjust and work with all different types of personalities and directing styles. The AD team on these productions was crucial as well as the costumes department. We created a great working relationship that created consistency.
PH: What are some of the challenges an intimacy coordinator faces on set?
Marcus Watson: Most directors have not worked with an intimacy coordinator before which means I am their introduction to the position. I have to very quickly discern how they work and how I can do my job without unnecessarily stepping on their toes in the process. Another challenge is, I am a department of one. I have to be able to make quick decisions in situations where the wrong decisions could open a path for harm. It is an incredible amount of pressure and that is why it is so important to hire an intimacy coordinator with proper training and experience.
PH: How do you hope this role in production continues to grow?
Marcus Watson: I hope we are brought in sooner into the process. So many times I am brought in at the last minute and it makes everyone’s job significantly harder. I believe that by bringing us in early we are setting everyone up for success. We have time for the needed open communication and planning that is essential for a smooth shoot. We also have a great deal of knowledge and can help to craft a moment that is clear and tells the story as it is intended to be told.
PH: In your perfect world, what does the future look like in the industry?
Marcus Watson: I hope that the position is fully embraced and recognized by the industry and that we are seen as collaborators and experts in our field. I believe we should be automatically brought on to any set that has moments of intimacy, nudity, or hyper-exposed situations. Eventually, I hope we are fully utilized for the talents and knowledge we possess.