Safe sets: How intimacy coordinators are changing the Aussie entertainment industry

Intimacy Coordinators like Michala Banas and Eve Morey are making sure all actors feel safe and supported at work
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We can all relate to the distinct discomfort of watching an on-screen sex scene with your family.

Whether it’s your parents, kids or in-laws, it’s hard to avoid blushing or the squirm-in your-seat feeling when the awkwardness permeates the room.

This experience can be mortifying for us, comfortably perched on the couch at home, but for the actors performing these scenes, it’s often a whole lot worse.

Well… that is until intimacy coordinators came onto the scene.

James Stewart and Ada Nicodemou acting out an intimate scene on Home and Away.

(Credit: Channel Seven)

Intimacy coordinators are independent contractors who are brought on set to make sure that any scenes involving kissing, sex or intimate touch are conducted safely and with consent from all parties. It’s a concept that has arisen slowly over the last five years in Australia.

For former McLeod’s Daughters star Michala Banas , before Intimacy coordinators, “there was a huge element of winging it” in intimate scenes.

“That meant for actors just trying to get through the scene and make jokes because that’s often how we operate, especially as Australians. But it shouldn’t be about trying to get through the scene, it should be about asking how can we feel comfortable and do it properly, clearly and safely?” she tells TV WEEK exclusively.

On set, it was up to the director as to whether the actors would receive direction in intimate scenes, or just be left to figure it out as they went along. Michala explains that with no process around consent, and the power dynamics that are present in any workplace, this creates a range of issues.

That’s where intimacy coordinators come in.

In Australia, most qualified coordinators, like Michala and Neighbour’s star Eve Morey, are actors who have experienced the struggles of simulating saucy scenes on screen and stage. Now, they’re determined to facilitate a much-needed change within the industry.

For Michala, learning about the role coordinators can play was ‘a revelation’. She first heard about the idea four years ago and her interests were piqued. Following training with Ita O’Brien, the pioneer of intimacy coordinating, the 42-year-old became one of a handful coordinators in Australia.

With the Me Too movement highlighting cases of misconduct on the set of Aussie productions in theatre, television and film, there’s no better time for intimacy coordination. Especially with too many actors, men and women, struggling to say no.

“It’s very rare that an actor calls ‘cut’. Actors saying ‘sorry I need to stop, this is inappropriate’ just wasn’t happening,” Michala explains.

“I’ve heard all kinds of stories about people actually having sex which to me is not okay. There’s a time and place, and an industry for that and it’s a really important industry. In fact, the adult industry has more rules around consent than we do.”

Eve and Ryan enjoyed a trusting, comfortable working relationship in Neighbours.

(Credit: 10)

On set, Michala says it’s important to ‘take assumption off the table’. She spends her time coordinating with all departments from costume to lighting, working with actors and doing necessary paperwork to make sure the actors are crew are comfortable with any scenes involving intimacy, from holding hands to sex.

While this may sound restrictive to some, Michala asserts that clear boundaries allow for the ultimate freedom of expression for the actors.

“A no is a gift. When an actor says they’re not comfortable with kissing, for example, it means we have to think outside the box,” she says.

“Kissing is a huge part of storytelling but it’s not the actual kiss that is the interesting bit. It’s always the moment leading into it, the moment coming out where we can see the actor’s faces. A boundary allows us to find gold in what a lot of people think is a barrier.”

While Intimacy Coordinating is a job that takes time, for Eve Morey, working as an intimacy Coordinator on the fast-paced set of Neighbours, she’s got to work quickly. But with 11 years of experience on the show playing the beloved Sonya Rebecchi, Eve understands the speedy expectations of the soap.

“Working on the show before, understanding the nuance, and how efficient we need to be, has helped a lot,” Eve, 37, shares.

For Eve, working closely with Ryan Moloney, who played her husband Toadie, creating intimate scenes was easy but it’s not always that way for on-screen couples.

“Ryan and I got along, incredibly well,” she says.

“We had no issues with being comfortable depicting Sonya and Toadie’s intimacy. But when things aren’t right, there are complicated relationships or someone is uncomfortable, the process helps to mitigate any kind of injury, issue or conflict.”

Eve Morey has become a trained intimacy coordinator.

(Credit: Getty)

While there are no laws that enforce a coordinator on productions in Australia, many Australian productions are wholeheartedly leaning into the process. A move which both Eve and Michala thinks is creating a welcome cultural shift within the industry and putting the actor’s rights before the characters.

“It’s an employee’s right to feel safe at work,” Eve says.

“I think in the entertainment industry it’s almost like we don’t think about it in those terms, but the humanity of the actor has to come first.”

Eve believes that if Neighbours can do it, any production can. The fact that a production with such a quick turnaround is able to embrace it, all productions should be embracing it even if it’s not necessarily mandatory,” Eve says.

“If you can master it on Neighbours, you can master the process anywhere.”

Ultimately, every step towards ethical practice within entertainment is a step in a positive direction. And with the rise of streaming services, allowing for more unfiltered, raw and explicit content, safety for actors is of utmost importance.

“For audiences, when you know you’ve watched something that has had an intimacy coordinator and the production has done everything to keep the person safe, you can watch it without feeling like you’re watching someone being violated,” Eve shares.

“You can engage in the work with a clear conscience and enjoy what it has to offer.”

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