Paloma Garcia Martens • Intimacy coordinator
"The aim is essentially the same as with stunt coordination"
- We sat down with the intimacy coordinator to discuss the finer details and challenges involved in this role, which is still a rare thing on this side of the Atlantic
We met with intimacy coordinator Paloma Garcia Martens whose line of work is still rare on this side of the Atlantic. Having just finished working on the set of Split - the first series by film critic Iris Brey who’s renowned for her analysis of the male and female gaze - she’s soon to start work on the American film shot in Bulgaria Subservience.
Cineuropa: First of all, how would you describe your line of work, which is still largely unknown?
Paloma Garcia Martens: Intimacy coordination looks to bring a clear structure and process to filming nude, intimate or simulated sex scenes. The aim is essentially the same as with stunt coordination: to ensure that scenes look realistic on camera, without people getting hurt. Intimacy wounds are quite different, but a large component of the choreography involved still revolves around safety.
Obviously, intimacy is subjective on a personal level and relative in cultural terms. It can refer to seemingly obvious things, such as nudity or simulated sex, but it can also be about showing one’s hair, giving birth, or being on the receiving end of racist insults as a racialised comedian. The core component of my work is about facilitating communication between actors and the production team, offering a neutral space away from any power dynamics. I try to obtain information on the limits and needs of actors and actresses, and we find solutions with the production team which allow us to tell the story as best we can.
Do you get involved ahead of filming?
The question of representation is also something that interests me in intimacy scenes. Unfortunately, these scenes are often a missed opportunity for exploring something, because we tend to stick to the same old clichés. So I do sometimes consult with them in advance, I try to understand the aim of the scene, how it drives the narrative forwards, what it says about the characters. There are often relationships of domination which aren’t necessarily a conscious thing, but which correspond to the ones we see in wider society, which have invaded our romantic, erotic and sexual imaginations. If you’re going to go with some form of domination, you might as well do so conscientiously, so that it serves a purpose in the story. The idea is to invest as much care and attention into these scenes as you would in stunt scenes, adding an artistic dimension too. I’m not there to impose censorship but to clarify what it is you want to say, so that you have something richer, not slicker.
It raises another question: cinema is an art but it’s also an industry, involving workers who have duties but who also have rights.
Yes, we really do need to remember that we’re at work, which many people have a talent for forgetting, in contexts involving very close proximity. But proximity isn’t the same as intimacy. In any other industry, getting naked in front of colleagues would be totally absurd. But in this one, filters fall down, confusion is a common feature; we don’t appreciate what’s being asked of people, or the impact this work has on the teams involved, whether they’re actors or technicians. It can trigger trauma for everyone. The question of vulnerability is still a huge taboo in the audiovisual world, where there’s a lot of pressure in terms of money, time and egos, where many are called but few are chosen and where you have to fight to forge a path.
How has the sector reacted to this new role? Have you met with much resistance?
I’m lucky enough to meet lots of people who are already asking themselves these types of questions. But there are also those who think it’s over the top, that actors work with their bodies, that it’s their job. We also talk a lot about censorship in France; there’s a hostile reaction to what we’d describe as American Puritanism, which is seen to pose a threat to the French cultural exception.
Change is a complicated thing. It sounds brilliant in theory, but in practice it’s a bit of a pain, even for the people who request it. What people say to me most often is "I’m a caring person, I won’t need it”. But it’s not about the person themselves, it’s about having a safety net. When you’re the boss, you’re inevitably in a position of power. Anything that’s new is scary, but it’s just like wearing new shoes: to begin with they’re uncomfortable, but afterwards you’re pleased you chose boots over flip flops to scale the Himalayas.
(Translated from French)
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