Monday 22 April 2019

Irish 'intimacy director' guides actors through sex scenes

Ita O’Brien offers intimacy coaching in sex scenes, including ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ featuring
Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson
Ita O’Brien offers intimacy coaching in sex scenes, including ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ featuring Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson
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 a bad sex scene war story. Or at the very least, they can recall how uncomfortable they felt on set that day.

Jamie Dornan, who starred as Christian Grey in the 'Fifty 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 is the correct etiquette.

Ita O'Brien, whose family is from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, is one of the UK's leading 'intimacy directors'.

She worked as a movement director before specialising in choreographing sex scenes. She also teaches in some of Britain's premier acting schools. Her job is to ensure everyone on set is safe, protected, and clear of what they can, and cannot, touch.

"You need to safeguard 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 a "sex scene risk assessment" in advance of filming.

"There is an inherent risk in unchoreographed 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 sustaining injury.

"It could be argued that 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," she said.

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 remains fully clothed.

Drawing up terms and conditions, or a "sex scene code of conduct", would ensure actors do not feel violated. According to Ita, these should address how much nudity the actors feel comfortable with, what areas of their bodies they are willing to have touched.

After the filming of the scene, particularly if it is depicting sexual abuse or rape, actors should be given aftercare and a "debrief" session so they can talk through the experience.

Ita said some directors suggest actors simply "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 themselves from the scenes, 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."

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

Irish Independent

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