Australia now has its first ever set of intimacy guidelines for stage and screen, a result of 18 months of industry consultation by a dedicated committee of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA).
The guidelines, freely available on the MEAA website, aim to establish new processes for work involving nudity, intimacy, simulated sexual activity and sexual violence, so that actors are best prepared and supported.
They cover off on best practice for situations spanning the entire filmmaking process from casting and auditions through to post-production and marketing.
Screen Producers Australia (SPA), the Australian Directors’ Guild (ADG), the Casting Guild of Australia (CGA) and the MEAA National Stunt Committee have each endorsed the document. All were part of the consultation process, alongside individual actors, fight directors, theatre directors, stunt co-ordinators, intimacy co-ordinators, intimacy directors and the Australian Writers’ Guild (AWG).
The guidelines follow on from a series of workshops and seminars with leading intimacy co-ordinator Ita O’Brien (Normal People) hosted by the MEAA in 2018. At the time, she urged Australia to adopt formal guidelines surrounding intimate scenes.
Many of the MEAA’s recommendations are drawn on best practice from overseas including O’Brien’s Intimacy On-Set Guidelines (UK), the Equity New Zealand Intimacy Guidelines, Guidance Notes for Screen Directors (Directors UK), Intimacy Co-ordinator Standards & Protocols (SAG-AFTRA) and ‘The Pillars’ created by Intimacy Directors International (US).
“I’m very proud our union has led the way on the development of these guidelines because they have been needed for a long time,” says Australia actor, director, producer and MEAA Equity president Jason Klarwein.
“The expectation is that these guidelines are used on every production in the country.”
At the heart of the MEAA’s guidelines is the idea of open communication and the “informed consent” of performers.
They note that what an actor considers ‘intimate’ will vary, shaped by cultural background, abilities or disabilities, gender identification, age and sexuality. As such it discusses intimate scenes as “defined broadly by the performers themselves to cover any activity, interaction or exposure occurring within their close personal space”.
Intimate scenes can include, for instance, romantic caresses, handling an infant, or bathing a frail aged character. They may also not involve other actors, such as intimate interaction of the performer with themselves in a sexual or exposing manner (such as masturbation, a striptease, or using a breast pump), or any scene where an actor appears nude, semi-nude, scantily clad or in underwear.
According to the guidelines, actors must be informed of, and consent to, every intimate scene and its specific requirements in advance.
Specifically, they outline how actors be provided opportunity to participate in discussions with the director, producer and HODs, as well as an intimacy co-ordinator/director if engaged.
These conversations should cover the director’s vision, including a shot-by-shot description in consultation with the DOP; the extent of any nudity required and what wardrobe (such as modesty barriers) will be used; the type of contact and emotion required by the scene, and what the rehearsal process will be.
The document strongly encourages production companies to hire both stunt co-ordinator/fight directors and intimacy co-ordinators if a scene is to depict nudity or semi-nudity, sexual activity or contains other sensitive or exposing factors.
It also argues there be adequate budget and scheduling provided to ensure intimate scenes are created in a manner consistent with best practice, involving the casting director, director and costume department.
The guidelines stipulate that all intimate scenes be shot on closed sets, and that when shooting semi-nudity outside of a sex-stimulated scene, the set be closed at the stipulation of the performer.
“The producer might also consider whether the gender composition of crew on the closed set makes for an inclusive environment,” the guidelines state.
When it comes to auditioning, the document is clear that there are no circumstances where nudity or semi-nudity (less than underwear or swimsuit) should ever be required, proposed or agreed to.
“The wearing of revealing clothing in an audition is appropriate only if it is intrinsic to the role (eg. a burlesque dancer, swimwear commercial) and this will be noted in the audition brief,” the guidelines say.
Also included are the contractual obligations when engaging performers to appear nude, semi-nude or in sex simulated scenes under MEAA Equity Agreements.
Actor and intimacy co-ordinator Michala Banas, who studied under O’Brien, believes the industry has been in desperate need of boundaries and processes for the creation of intimate work.
“Finally, with the intimacy guidelines, we have an essential tool to support the navigation of intimate content in our industry,” she says.
“Creatives across the board are relieved to know that now there is a pathway to make our sets safer for everyone. I look forward to seeing them put into practice.”