Thursday 17 October 2019

Meet Ita O'Brien - the world's leading sex scene director

'Actors need to know what they can, and cannot touch'

Ita O'Brien
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

Filming sex scenes in front of a crew of sound technicians, gaffers, and cinematographers has never been easy.

In fact, most actors seem to have numerous bad sex scene war stories. Or at the very least, can recall how uncomfortable they felt on set that day.

Jamie Dornan, who starred as Christian Grey in the 50 Shades franchise, said filming the BDSM scenes could be ‘heinous’.

In the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, directors, actors, and producers are keen to find out what exactly the correct etiquette is when shooting risqué scenes.

Ita O’Brien, whose family are from Clonmel, is one of the UK’s  leading Intimacy Directors.

Ita worked as an movement director before specialising in choreographing sex scenes.

Ita O'Brien
Ita O'Brien

Her job is to ensure everyone on set is safe, protected, and clear of what they can, and cannot, touch.

“You need to safe guard simulated sex. Fight scenes in films are carefully choreographed and rehearsed,” she says. “Sex scenes should be approached the same way.”

Ita thinks it would be beneficial if health and safety authorities conducted risk assessments in advance of filming sex scenes. 

“There is an inherent risk in un-choreographed sex scenes; a risk of trauma, and a risk of sexual harassment....

“Any scenes involving fights or stunts are discussed in advance and mapped out to avoid anyone sustaining injury.

“It could be argued  the emotional and physiological injury sustained in a poorly directed sex scene could have much longer lasting implications, and cause much more hurt, than any physical injury.”

During the filming of a sex scene there is an inherent power imbalance; the actors are often in a state of undress, while the crew remain fully clothed.

Drawing up terms and conditions or a 'Sex Scene Code of Conduct' would ensure  actors do not leave feel violated.

According to Ita, these T&C's should address how much nudity the actors feel comfortable with, what areas of their bodies they are willing to be touched, and an analysis of the physical interrelationship between the characters.

After the filming of the scene, particularly if it is depicting sexual abuse or rape, actors should be allowed to avail of aftercare or take part in a 'debrief' session so they can talk through the experience.

Its says that some directors prefer to stick their head in the sand rather than deal with the mechanics of directing a sex scene. Often times actors will be told to ‘improvise’ sex scenes.

She warns against this as it can leave individuals open to being groped or handled in a way they may not feel comfortable with.

By abdicating professional responsibility, directors are also expecting actors to rely on “their own personal sexual vocabulary and repertoire”.

This can often leave them feeling “extremely exposed afterwards, like they revealed too much of themselves in the process.”

“So many actors have talked about this idea that a director might say: ‘You guys do your own thing and we’ll have a look.’

“A director couldn’t say that about a fight scene and shouldn't be able to treat a sex scene in that manner.”

On Monday, Screen Training Ireland will hold a free course for industry professionals outlining acceptable codes of practice while working on scenes of an intimate nature.

Regarded director Shimmy Marcus chairs a panel discussion on the subject of intimacy on-set.

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