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HBO Intimacy Coordinator Alicia Rodis on Importance of Consent Beginning in Casting

Intimacy coordinator Alicia Rodis (“The Deuce,” “Crashing”) was working on a short film as a stunt coordinator when she first noticed the need to create protocols for physically intimate scenes, as the industry had for physically violent ones. Joining forces with Tonia Sina and Siobhan Richardson, Rodis co-founded Intimacy Directors International (IDI) in 2015. Since #MeToo went viral in 2017, she has seen the business expand exponentially and is now training the next wave of this new profession.

How did you first get into stunts, let alone intimacy coordinating?

I started acting professionally when I was a teenager, and I came from a dance and martial arts background, so I became very interested in movement, and I started to do fight work; I was a fight director for theater, and I started to get involved in stunt work. Something I love about physical work like that is I don’t think I understood the power of now until I started working with someone physically, where you have to take your cue off your partner and you have to respond to them in the moment. I started to feel very empowered.

When did you first make the transition into coordinating scenes that were more sexual than violent?

I was working on a student film and there was a slap and there was a kiss, and I came in for the slap, just to make sure the actors were safe and we were telling it right. And it was fine. But then we watched them go into the kiss, and it was just a mess. The director looked at me and went, “Do you have anything?” So I came over and said, “Why don’t we talk about this moment the way we did for the slap? What is the story of this moment?” And we started to create the story of it, and you just saw everyone relax. “Oh right, you’re not looking for how I kiss; you’re looking for what the story of this kiss is.”

Did you have anything to aid you in guiding that scene?

I looked at our protocols, and there were no real protocols, so I said, “Let’s create [some].” Tonia Sina, who created something called intimacy choreography, wrote her thesis on it in 2004. I reached out to her and we met up in an apartment in Brooklyn and I told her all about what I was doing. She said, “I think we should start a company,” and so me, her and Siobhan Richardson started Intimacy Directors International in 2015. This was a few years before [#MeToo]. We got some attention, but then #MeToo happened, and as we all know, #MeToo was mostly a realization than anything else, so people before #MeToo were like, “This is so smart; I’ve had such awful experiences,” but productions weren’t hearing it; they weren’t bringing us on.

How did you get brought onto “The Deuce,” then?

It was post-#MeToo and they said, “We have a very sexual show and we want to make sure everyone is taken care of. This has been a big awakening for all of us.” So they brought me in and sat me down and said, “How does this work?” And I said, “I’ve never done this for an episodic TV series, I don’t think anyone has, so we’re going to figure this out together.”

How different do you find the work on a show such as “The Deuce,” where sexual scenes can be the center of the story, versus a comedy like “Crashing”?

I think sometimes it’s less about the content and more about the people working on it. When we get into it, the toughest scenes to work on are the ones where we have either no decisions or no communication. Coming into something like “Crashing” can be even more difficult than “The Deuce” because on “The Deuce” they accepted systematically that we were going to alter the system here. So I came in at the beginning of the season and I was introduced to the full cast and they said, “This is how we’re going to work,” so we worked as a team. And that’s really the only way that this works. No intimacy coordinator can be put in as a watchdog; they’re not security dogs; they are important, integral parts of the system that requires everyone to collaborate with each other — which includes trust from the actors and the directors and the ADs and costumes.

How important is it to get an intimacy coordinator involved at the casting level?

Different sets are going to work [in] different ways, so we find the ways that this will work for everyone, but consent is one of the pillars of the work that I do, and consent begins in casting. We need to know what people are signing on for — at least the general idea — and so do they: How can you consent if you’re not informed?

What kind of personality traits and general production knowledge makes the best intimacy coordinator?

We need people who are storytellers and understand the choreography and can help with that but also someone who understands boundaries, can set boundaries, and can give movement coaching in the moment without degrading, pressuring or coercing someone. For who fits the bill it’s something who understands how sets work, someone who is confident but humble, who can be a steward of trauma because we are a traumatized industry right now. We have a lot of actors and directors and crew who have been in some really unsafe positions. It doesn’t mean everyone has had bad intentions, but without a system and without proper language, we have had a lot go wrong. So the people who do this, especially in these first few years, have to understand trauma and be able to hold that for people. And they also have to understand conflict and know how to be problem solvers. It’s probably why a lot of us come from stunts: We know how to cheat angles to make something look like something it’s not. But also people who understand mental health first aid.

How do you find people to bring in and what is the focus of training?

We’re usually getting people who have been in the industry — so they’re either actors, ADs, directors, some people from costumes who also understand specific movement stylings, a lot of stunt people as well. And then IDI is training people, and I am training people for HBO, specifically. Sensitivity and diversity training is a huge part of it, anti-harassment training; we have a hell of a syllabus!

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