Given the strides they’ve made in just a handful of years, intimacy coordinators don’t want to lose their momentum. So, even without a union representing their work, they’ve continued working during the shutdown, brainstorming ways to sustain their work and help intimate scenes survive social distancing. Blumenthal has been front-loading her training program with lectures and saving the practical component—shadowing established intimacy coordinators and gaining on-set experience—for later in the course. In meetings, coordinators have worked on proposals to pitch productions on revising schedules to save intimate content for later months, “carrying” an intimacy coordinator with the crew for the full run of filming rather than bringing them on as day players, and handling pre-production work—as in interviews with actors, directors, and producers to discuss boundaries—virtually. O’Brien told me she’s been involved in the creative process for one production since the start of the shutdowns, assisting in choreographing ways to reduce touching between the actors ahead of time, without writing intimacy out entirely. What’s hot on-screen, she pointed out, doesn’t need to be hot on set.
Still, none of the intimacy coordinators I spoke with have lined up on-set work just yet. Most productions remain in limbo, mired in working out the complicated logistics around testing, social distancing, travel, insurance, scheduling, and acquiring personal protective equipment. The ones that have resumed production abroad, even soap operas, have been avoiding intimate scenes altogether. Throughout the pages of proposed guidelines that have been released, there’s little about how intimacy coordinators can continue to be integrated physically with the crew.
Plus, actors could be even more vulnerable to sexual harassment and misconduct; after being unemployed for months because of the pandemic, they may be more willing to compromise their personal limits in order to return to work. “Actors are very hardwired to say yes to everything,” the casting director and intimacy coordinator Marci Liroff told me. “They don’t want to ask for what they need, and they don’t want to speak up, because they’re not in control.”
Other intimacy coordinators take a more optimistic view. Alicia Rodis, who helped establish the position even before the #MeToo movement began, doesn’t think the industry will lose sight of the importance of performers’ safety just because productions will be harder to run. “I hate to think that because of the pandemic, we would now stop trying to continue to dismantle the problematic systems of power that we have on sets, that make an intimacy coordinator absolutely necessary,” she told me over Zoom. “Like, ‘Okay, we’ve had intimacy coordinators for a little while; I think we’re good?’ No, no, no … What a shame it would be if we just ignored the good that intimacy coordination has brought, just because something else reared its head.”