Shondaland, the production company founded by Shonda Rhimes (of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy fame) isn’t the first to hire an intimacy co-ordinator. They were employed on all of the most talked-about shows of the past year: I May Destroy You, Normal People, It’s a Sin. The premise dates from the early 2000s when the American Tonia Sina coined the phrase in her master’s thesis; she went on to create the first protocols for choreographing intimate scenes on stage and screen. Back then, there was little demand for the service — the Me Too movement changed that.
“We would never have an issue working through the violence because there are so many protocols and procedures and techniques that you have to create the violence safely and it’s almost methodical to a point,” says Talbot, who worked first in movement and fight direction after doing a drama degree at the University of East Anglia.
“But then when we got to the intimacy part of it, that’s when everything started to . . . fracture. There weren’t any rules. There were no protocols for this. Everyone was relying on the good graces of their scene partner and the good intentions of their director, but that’s the safety net, and you can see for so many people that just wasn’t enough.”
However, it’s not just a matter of safeguarding. “Obviously, we need health and safety, but this role is so much more than that, in terms of the choreography especially.”
For Bridgerton’s extensive sex scenes Talbot asked for — and was given — the same amount of rehearsal and filming time that a stunt scene would have. “Normally you have to rehearse the same day that we shoot and that didn’t happen for Bridgerton. Because we had the time, we turned up prepared and all the choreography was laid out.”
Talbot meets actors individually to establish what they’re comfortable with and sets it down in writing for complete clarity. Those boundaries inform her physical choreography, which is also a collaboration with actors and director, but means she’s prepared to intervene on an actor’s behalf if a need arises.
“I don’t want to steamroll an actor’s process. It can be quite oppressive to come with an approach and say, ‘This is what we’re doing whether you like it or not.’ That throws consent out the window. It’s really important that we have an overarching vision of where we’re going: what the beginning, the middle and the end is. We need to work out consent boundaries. It might be that we are working with containers, like, ‘You can put your hand from the top of my neck to the top of my lower back or anywhere in between. You’ve got freedom to do what you want in that area, but it doesn’t go anywhere else.’
“So then you can have a little bit of freedom from the paint-by-number approach, but still knowing that everyone is consistent and safe. That’s one approach, and then you can have another one where it’s, like, ‘We know exactly what we’re doing. Your hand will go here and it will travel up the arm on to the shoulder and to the neck.’”
This is interesting, because I have frequently made the comparison between the sex acts in porn, which are real, and a choreographed fight scene in an action film.
Imagine if there was this level of scruteny and accountability on a porn set? It would make most porn production impossible (unless of course, the normal standards of health and safety were thrown out of the window, and instead we had carefully choreographed scenes of real sexual and physical violence, which the porn performers had been obliged to agree to beforehand).