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Normal People

Time’s Up is calling for mandatory intimacy coordinators on all UK sets

The charity wants measure put in place to tackle the industry’s historical problem with sexual misconduct as well as harassment, abuse, and bullying

The film and television industry has a historical problem with sexual misconduct. From a deep-rooted casting couch culture to widespread unacceptable behaviour from industry big dogs like Harvey Weinstein and Noel Clarke, it has been and continues to be an unsafe environment for many of the people that work within it. It’s clear something has to change which is why Time’s Up UK, a charity established in the wake of the Weinstein scandal, is calling on the industry to put processes in place to make sets a safer place for everyone. 

Time’s Up UK is asking for an independent authority for dealing with sexual misconduct allegations to be established. Working with law firm Fieldfisher, it has drawn up plans for a complaints body which would offer a safe space for victims to report complaints and receive advice. It would also mediate these complaints and have the power to conduct confidential investigations in particular where a pattern of behavior emerges through reporting. 

“We have all recognised in recent weeks that we need to make a step change in the work of tackling harassment, abuse, and bullying,” Time’s Up UK chair Dame Heather Rabbatts said in a statement. “The proposal for a new standards organisation will not only reinforce all the current guidance, it will be able to address many of these gaps in provision and bring together the whole sector with a unified and coherent response.”

Alongside the complaints body, Time’s Up UK is calling for intimacy coordinators to become mandatory on UK shoots. An intimacy coordinator is someone who brings structure onto set when it comes to sex scenes, ensuring that everything being asked from an actor is fully consented to while also helping to choreograph the scenes. 

This role has become increasingly common on sets including those of Normal People and I May Destroy You, both of which worked with Ita O’Brien. In her BAFTA acceptance speech earlier this week, Michaela Coel dedicated her win to O’Brien. “Thank you for your existence in our industry, for making the space safe, for creating physical, emotional, and professional boundaries so that we can make work about exploitation, loss of respect, about abuse of power without being exploited or abused in the process,” she said. 

She continued: “I know what it’s like to shoot without an intimacy director. The messy, embarrassing feeling for the crew. The internal devastation for the actor. Your direction was essential to my show, and I believe essential for every production company that wants to make work exploring themes of consent.”

Many actors, particularly young female actors, have shared traumatising experiences of filming sex scenes where they were left unprotected and vulnerable. Last month Skins stars April Pearson and Laya Lewis opened up about their discomfort while filming for the show. “At the time you’re young and you don’t know any better,” Pearson said. “You don’t really know what to say, to speak out, is this okay…” Lewis said she and other teenage cast members had to line up in bikinis before shooting and were told “if (they) looked good enough to film in Morocco”.

Another Skins actress, Kaya Scodelario, recently posted on Twitter about being asked to take all her clothes off for a first audition with a big-name director. She said it was only her agent’s refusal to let this happen that saved her from the exploitative situation. 

Speaking to Dazed last year, O’Brien said of her role: “As an intimacy coordinator, we’re bringing to the industry… a skill and a structure that allows everyone to work professionally, which wasn’t there before. In that, we’re inviting clear communication from the get-go, right through the whole process, so everything’s understood, everything’s out in the open, and that the invitation is to speak openly, in a professional way, with adult language about intimate content.” Read the whole interview here.