Intimacy co-ordinator Ita O’Brien details choreographed on-screen intimacy and how much the industry has changed with support for vulnerable positions.
Intimacy co-ordinator Ita O’Brien details choreographed on-screen intimacy and how much the industry has changed with support for vulnerable positions.

Handling on-screen intimacy sensitively

The frequent, extended sex scenes in this year's binge hit Normal People were choreographed in minute detail by intimacy co-ordinator Ita O'Brien.

O'Brien founded an organisation called Intimacy on Set - one of its recent graduates is Australian actor Michala Banas.

Banas is now an intimacy co-ordinator for Australian TV, movie and theatre productions, while still acting, with a role in Channel 9's Halifax reboot in the pipeline.

"It has been a revelation," Banas said.

"As a performer, I had a mixed bag of experiences when dealing with intimate content on screen and stage. Fortunately, nothing too traumatic, but it had not been handled well for the most part.

Australian actor and intimacy co-ordinator Michala Banas. Picture: Supplied
Australian actor and intimacy co-ordinator Michala Banas. Picture: Supplied

"Most are trying their best. Often it's mishandled or left up to the actors. How has it not been a thing until now?

"We have a stunt co-ordinator. You wouldn't do a fight scene without a fight co-ordinator and hopefully that will be the same for intimate content and intimacy co-ordinators. It's really delicate stuff we're dealing with."

As well as negotiating boundaries on scripted sex and nudity, Banas said intimate scenes extended beyond the obvious.

"It's kissing, it's a mother putting a child in a bath, cuddling them, all that requires consent.

"Performing childbirth is intimate content. That's a vulnerable position for a woman to be in.

"We have to work out new and creative ways to deliver stories safely."

As well as working on an Australia-specific intimacy guideline, Banas will hold an online talk about what an intimacy co-ordinator does for the St Kilda Film Festival this Sunday.

"At this point in my life, the age I'm at, the standing I have in the industry, I feel like I can say no to things and stand up for myself, but I know that I didn't when I was younger," she said.

"This role supports actors of all ages, but I wished there was this role around when I was younger trying to navigate this stuff. What we do is an unusual workplace, but it's still a workplace."

Ita O’Brien and Michala Banas. Picture: Supplied
Ita O’Brien and Michala Banas. Picture: Supplied

Last month, McLeod's Daughters, which Banas starred in, was voted Australia's favourite TV show during lockdown, beating the likes of Wentworth and Kath and Kim in a survey of 11,000 viewers by the MEAA.

"It's the show that keeps on giving," Banas said.

"It feels like there's a new generation of viewers whose parents put them on to the show.

"To know the public love and value the arts is delightful, especially as our industry has been obliterated and we've been so disregarded by the Government when it comes to financial support."

The survey suggests the long-mooted reboot could have more ammunition?

"Who bloody knows? Everyone is open to it. The last time it was on the table there were a few factors why it didn't happen, but it wasn't for a lack of the cast being interested.

"I'm feeling a bit old to get back on the horse, but if the Queen can do it …"

Navigating Intimacy for Screen with Michala Banas, Sunday, 2pm. Free but register at stkildafilmfestival.com.au

Originally published as Handling on-screen intimacy sensitively


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