Scotland’s first on-screen privacy coordinator explains how her role is new but crucial in ensuring the shoot is free of exploitation
The award-winning actors tearfully thanking everyone from their agent to their hairdresser became a delight for the awards night.
But Michaela Coel, who has enjoyed spectacular success at the Baftas, put a spin on the grassroots victory speech when she dedicated one of her two grand prizes for I May Destroy You to the privacy coordinator of the Ita O’Brien series.
It may be a recent addition to the credits, but it’s a job that is quickly becoming one of the most discussed in the entertainment industry, where it should become the norm to make sure sex scenes are. filmed with care and consideration.
Vanessa Coffey is Scotland’s first privacy coordinator and says she has been very busy as the country’s film industry begins to recognize this is the way to go when it comes to protecting actors, ensuring that directors do not abuse their power, unwittingly or not.
Coffey – who has worked in sex scenes on a number of high profile shows including War Of The Worlds Series 2, Billie Piper I Hate Suzie’s comedy, Netflix’s Fate: The Winx Saga, Wolfe on Sky , and most recently new Scottish comedy-drama Float, which airs on BBC iPlayer later this year – says she fell into the role.
Australian, she teaches professional practice at the prestigious Royal Conservatory of Scotland, but has a background in law and converted into an actress thanks to a scholarship from the Conservatory, formerly RSAMD.
When she started teaching at RCS, she noticed that more and more alumni came back for her advice. âMaybe they had a nudity party or a sex scene,â she said. “They were asking me to review their contracts and see if there was anything worth negotiating and if I could negotiate on their behalf.”
Coffey officially became the privacy coordinator, overseeing television, film and theater, in 2018. âBefore that, I didn’t know there was such a thing,â she said. “It didn’t exist at the time.”
Around the same time, the #MeToo movement was gaining momentum, following allegations of sexual abuse against Harvey Weinstein.
In the years that followed, many prominent actresses, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, reported feeling harassed or sexually abused in the course of their work. More recently, Keira Knightley has stated that she will not appear in nude scenes in films featuring a man.
And, last week, Kate Winslet, who starred in one of Titanic’s most famous nude scenes when she was just 21, said she was looking forward to the introduction of coordinators of the Titanic. privacy, something that didn’t exist back then.
Celebrities speaking out are part of the global conversation about boundaries that is central to Coffey’s work. His role is to work with directors and find out what they’re looking for in a scene, then talk to the actors to get their perspective – and find out what levels of nudity they’re happy with and where they’re happy to be. be affected.
âWe literally speak through the scenes and what’s involved, things like nudity levels, types of kissing, and simulated sex, so I’m really clear in conversations about what’s expected and how it can work. “she said.
“We talk about this in detail, so how long will the kissing last, how many pushes in a sex scene, whether or not the characters will have an orgasm.”
“I talk to directors, producers, camera operators, actors, and even costume designers, and then I choreograph the scene in a way that tells the story they want.”
Coffey is on-site during rehearsals and on filming day – usually a closed set with just her, the director, and the cast – to make sure those conversations are revisited and what has been agreed is what happens and appears. on the screen.
âBefore there was an intimacy coordinator, it happened quite often that the actors decided among themselves what was going to happen in the scene.
“Or sometimes actors would be put on set, the cameras would start rolling and it was a ‘go ahead and see what happens’ situation.” Coffey explained.
âWhereas when I enter there is never any space for the actors to ‘go do it’. My role is to ensure that borders are not crossed.
“It would never be considered to think of doing a fight scene without a stunt coordinator to keep the actors safe and make it look realistic and the privacy scenes should be the same.”
Coffey then liaises with the cast to make sure there is no impact on their mental health, which is especially important when a scene involves sexual assault.
Its role is now viewed with increasing importance within the industry.
âI think the industry is realizing that they want to have someone in my role in place for everyone’s safety,â she said, ânot just the cast, but the crew as well.
âBut in addition to being there for safety, we are there to help create. We help create these stories with a lot of sensitivity. It gives him a different perspective.
âBefore, I think people thought there was no need, but a lot of people walked away saying how much better it was. Not just in terms of physical and emotional safety, but also the positive impact on the story and what this scene means for these characters and moving the plot forward. It is now an integral part of the story.
Coffey added, âThe industry is really looking at itself and thinking about how it can make things better for professionals.
âA lot of actresses spoke about their experiences and talked about sex scenes and being asked to do more than they wanted to.
âIt’s very difficult to know when an actor is saying ‘yes’ to something if he says yes or if he says it because he wants to keep his job.
âAnd in some cases it was suggested that maybe there was an abuse of power with the director.
âThere are some very clear examples of bad behavior, but the actors are much more aware of it now. When I got into this position it wasn’t as busy, but calls for a privacy coordinator are certainly on the rise, especially in the last few months.
âIronically, since the lockdown began, I have been busier than ever. “
His role is something that Coffey is keen to educate young actors about. âI talk to RCS students about coordinating privacy in their first year of study,â she said.
“It’s important to get the message across to the next generation of professionals and to make sure they know their limits, whether they can say yes or no – and that they can ask for a privacy coordinator be engaged.
âIt is very important to instill this knowledge in the actors from the start. Hope this becomes the industry standard.
It was amazing for everyone to have that voice in the room
Jessica Hardwick just shot her first scenes requiring advice from a privacy coordinator and says the advice has been invaluable.
The 29-year-old player, from Melrose, who stars in a new BBC Scotland production for iPlayer, Float, which is due to air later this year, said: âThere are scenes of intimacy, including a little nudity, but they were tastefully done. .
âI mostly did theater and it was my first TV job – and my first time working with an intimacy coordinator. And it was amazing for me – and for everyone else on set – to have that voice in the room. “
Hardwick said having someone to coordinate movements and just use the right language made the intimacy scenes smooth and easy.
âIt took the awkwardness out of it all and made it practical. Our coordinator was the mediator, checking in with everyone.
âShe choreographed it so we knew what was expected of us. The best way I can think of to describe it is that it was like dancing. We knew how to hold a kiss no matter how many beats, or exactly when a hand was going down an arm.
“And I knew I was only going to be touched where I felt comfortable being touched.”
Having everything supervised was also helpful when it came to knowing what was being shot and what had been agreed.
âAs an actor on stage you know you’re all on the bill, but on screen you never really know what’s going on,â Hardwick said. âBut our coordinator could monitor the instructor.
“It helped me to know that someone was there to protect me.”
She added, âBeing a young woman in the industry and hearing the horror stories is really scary. But to have this person caring about that is amazing.
âI had never done nudity before but, with the coordinator on board, it was a great first experience. It was actually really empowering.
“I’m so happy as an actor that these roles are starting to be played. It makes him feel safe and respectful.”
Why Queen Bafta hailed the pioneer of the role of intimacy on TV and film sets
Ita O’Brien’s work on I May Destroy You is something Michaela Coel called âessentialâ.
O’Brien was the intimacy coordinator for the 12-part drama, in which Coel plays a woman trying to remember and come to terms with a sexual assault. And his work, according to Coel, allows actors to “do work on exploitation, loss of respect, abuse of power, without being exploited or abused in the process.”
In his acceptance speech from Bafta, Coel said, “I know what it’s like to shoot without an intimacy director – the messy and embarrassing feeling for the crew, the internal devastation for the actor.”
With a background in dance and theater, O’Brien, who worked on shows such as Normal People and Sex Education, became a movement coach in 2007, which then led her to develop a set of guidelines for privacy used by all its customers in the Television and Film Industry.
She pioneered the role of privacy coordinator that is increasingly embraced by major production houses including HBO, Netflix and the BBC.