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Culture > Entertainment

Poor Things: How Do The Sex Scenes Show Us The Importance Of An Intimacy Coordinator On Set? 

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

Weird is not the word to describe Poor Things (2024). Surprising, maybe, but also incredibly good. The movie directed by Yorgos Lanthimos won the public’s hearts even before its official release on February 1st. Some factors might have influenced that, such as the critic’s reviews and, of course, Emma Stone as the main character, Bella Baxter.

Poor Things revolves around the protagonist, a young woman brought back to life by Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe). She, however, has to learn how to live by the rules in society, so Bella decides she wants to see the world with her partner Duncan Wedderburn, played by Mark Ruffalo. As the movie goes on, Emma Stone’s character is often seen in sex scenes; later, to our surprise, she also turns that into a job.

Intimate scenes are no strangers to filmmakers, so that didn’t scare the Oscar-winning actress, nor did the director Yorgos. But having an intimacy coordinator on set almost didn’t happen because of this major security of both of them.

When Elle McAlpine met Yorgos, he wasn’t sure he needed her help. Why would he? Yorgos had already worked in movies with bold sex scenes, like The Favourite (2018), also with Emma Stone. To Vanity Fair, Elle said: “I think he had the mindset that it would hinder the process.”

Even though he had agreed on working with the coordinator, Stone thought the same thing and shared, in the same piece, that, since she had already a trusting relationship with Lanthimos, wasn’t sure of McAlpine’s expertise. Going against what she previously believed, they ended up working closely, saying to VF that she felt completely in a safe space.

To make the actors feel safe is a very important part of an intimacy coordinator’s job, but its role is still very unknown among filmmakers and, other times, ignored.

What is an intimacy coordinator?

Casting prep for the upcoming TV series Beleza Fatal on MAX, Pietro Alonso shares with Her Campus his experience as an intimacy coordinator in training. “They call you whenever there’s a sex scene on the script”, he said. Pietro also explains that its duty is to make sure both actors participating in the scene are at ease during the process of prep and filming.

“The work consists of one-on-one conversations with the actors to point out what is and isn’t allowed, and also a talk with the director to align the scene expectations. In addition to choreographing the scene respecting the director’s wishes and the individuality of each actor involved, the coordinator needs to create a safe environment within the film set”, in the words of Pietro.

It is, however, a recent career to pursue and emerged with the intention to stop abuse and harassment on film sets, especially in the actor-director relationship, where the former finds himself in a vulnerable position in relation to the latter. “I recently recorded on HBO, currently MAX, and from what I know, it was mandatory to hire a qualified professional for the sex scenes”, tells the professional.

HBO was the first big platform to hire intimacy coordinators and demand its presence in every sex scene and, according to Pietro, “streaming services are already changing internal regulations to make the presence of these professionals in intimate scenes mandatory.”

What is the importance of an intimacy coordinator?

The relationship between an actor and a director is unquestionably important, such as the one Emma Stone and Yorgos Lanthimos have. The communication must be clear and direct at all times, but it’s not common to find a cineast familiar with intimacy coordination techniques to the point of making the actors on stage comfortable.

“It’s really cool to see that Emma Stone trusts Yorgos’ work and that she feels comfortable leaving this task of coordinating intimacy in his hands. Despite this, I think that this relationship of trust can bring certain insecurities when inserted in other contexts”, says our next professional, Isabela Arruda.

Working directly with an intimacy coordinator in her final project before graduation, Aphrodite (2023), the production assistant believes that the absence of a professional exclusively to choreograph the movement of scenes can cause unnecessary exposure, uncertainty in what is expected of each actor and abuses of power.

“In the sense that if you don’t do it this way, there is someone who will’ and even putting them [actors] at risk at the time of recording due to some lack of preparation or communication failure”, completes Arruda.

Intimacy coordinators, therefore, are the solution to guarantee security on set, but they are still not welcomed by everyone and what almost happened to Poor Things is actually very common. Isabela claims that the film industry has a complicated relationship with new movements and ideas: “I realize that it is guided by innovation, but at the same time, it values ​​hierarchy and tradition. I believe that there is still a stigma surrounding the hiring of these professionals because people do not understand that their role is complementary to the role of the director and not exclusive.”

There are also the ones who believe that choreographic movements are negative to the performance. “As if it would take away the truth and spontaneity of the scene, when in fact it is exactly the opposite”, she states. According to her, actors need to be safe and comfortable with each other, as well as with the rest of the team, so that they can deliver their best. “When the industry understands this, we will have better results and more dignified processes”, asserts.

The cineast Luisa Valverde, who worked alongside Isabela on their miniseries, agrees and complements: “It is very clear when there is or is not an intimacy coordinator behind a scene. It’s possible to notice the presence when the characters flow in the scene and everything seems more ‘real’”.

Leaving the preconception of an intimacy coordinator behind, she also compares intimate scenes with fights: “The presence of an intimacy coordinator on set also concerns the safety of the entire team present at the shoot. The situation even goes beyond trust. If it were a fight scene, there would undoubtedly be a choreographer there.”

Since the rise of the #MeToo movement, they have gradually ensured a safer working environment for women. “It is clear that we still have a long way to go, but we are already seeing greater mobilization around the issue”, evaluates Arruda.

Although women have been protesting against abuse on the film set (and other places) for years, this will have a positive impact on the struggle of audiovisual professionals. “Intimacy coordination is not exclusively for women. It is a milestone for actors who, for many years, did not have this support and comfort when recording intimate scenes. I also think it’s a milestone for cinema in general, considering how much better the scenes are when choreographed”, concludes Luisa.

Finally, as Pietro Alonso realizes: “everything is a matter of adaptability. Directors and producers should see the presence of this professional on the film set as benefiting the production, making filming a more pleasant experience for everyone involved.”


The article below was edited by Fernanda de Andrade Silva.

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Beatriz Cyrino

Casper Libero '25

Journalism student at Cásper Líbero, Sagittarius and December girl. Writing to have a better understanding about me and the world.