Why You Should Always Prepare for Intimate Scenes

Piotr Śliskowski at Camerimage Film Festival 2022
Credit: Piotr Toczyński
The intimacy coordinator role is still new on film sets around the world. Learning about what and how they do is beneficial for any size production.

One of the most popular seminars during this year's CAMERIMAGE Film Festival in Poland was "Scene-setting for Intimacy: A Discussion on Female Perspective."

Hosted by Carmen Vaya Albert, the panel included intimacy coordinator Katarzyna Szustow and cinematographers Ita Zbroniec-Zajt, Piotr Śliskowski, Katja Rivas Pinzon, and Julia Geiss.

They started by discussing what should be obvious to filmmakers these days—the fact that intimate scenes require extra attention and a careful approach. There's no place for the unexpected here. Everything should be discussed and everyone needs to be on the same page before filming.

Everything should be rehearsed before calling action. It’s a choreography, and even a camera operator is part of it. 

Intimacy Coordinators at CAMERIMAGE Film Festival
Credit: Piotr Toczyński

Cinematographer Ita Zbroniec-Zajt mentioned that intimate scenes are very often written loosely in the script. It’s not uncommon to see that the scene in the script ends just with this one line, "They have sex"

Without any specifics, it can be very intimidating to an actor who will have no idea what they are signing up for. Will the scene be 10 seconds long? Or will it be five minutes long? What kind of nudity will it include?

Now, while this may be tricky and enigmatic for an actor, it can be a good thing. Katarzyna Szustow says that if the director is open to discussion, this lack of description actually leaves it in the hands of the actors, intimacy coordinator, and director. It's the best-case scenario because the level of intimacy can be tailored to the boundaries of the involved actors. 

Having so many cinematographers both on the stage and in the audience, they also discussed technical aspects. 

Scene-setting for Intimacy at CAMERIMAGE Film Festival
Credit: Piotr Toczyński

For example, they addressed the question of who should be in the room.

While obviously it depends, and it should be a topic of discussion in every case, you generally want everyone who doesn't have to be there out. 

Sometimes it’s enough to have involved actors and a camera operator. Sometimes a boom operator will be needed as well. Sometimes a director will replace the boom operator if the actors feel more comfortable this way. It’s great that remote monitors and focus-pulling devices allow clearing the room as much as possible.

Discussion Panel about Intimacy at CAMERIMAGE Film Festival
Credit: Piotr Toczyński

Julia Geiss also has documentary experience. She stressed the fact that in documentaries you sometimes can't plan everything. Rehearsal is not always possible and sometimes would alter the reality you’re trying to observe.

Because of that, filmmakers also have a huge responsibility during the editing process. Being sensitive and empathetic toward people in the film is mandatory.

What do you think? Is this scene-setting for intimacy important? Are we building awareness with such discussion panels? Let us know in the comments!     

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