Content warning: This article discusses sexual assault and abuse.
We had the good fortune of connecting with Allison Bibicoff and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Allison, can you talk to us a bit about the social impact of your business?
Content warning: This article discusses sexual assault and abuse.
I’m an Intimacy Coordinator for theatre, film and television. This is a relatively new field, so before I answer your question, I think it would be helpful for me to first give a brief description of what exacting an Intimacy Coordinator (IC) does: An IC is a professional trained to oversee scenes involving physical intimacy, nudity and sexual content. The goal is to create realistic-looking scenes that realize the director’s vision while keeping it safe for the actors and other participants. We work with the director to achieve their desired results, while respecting the actors’ boundaries. We facilitate situations which can range from awkward to flat out harmful – both physically and mentally.
When a scene involves any sort of violence or extreme physicality, it’s a no-brainer that a fight or stunt coordinator will be hired. Yet when there’s physical intimacy involved, for far too often actors have been expected to wing it. Or worse, told to “go figure it out” on their own. This is a terrible approach for a myriad of reasons. Just a few include:
– The lines between the personal and professional can get blurred. For example, if an intimate scene isn’t discussed in detail, an actor may wonder if the kiss last longer than expected because of a character choice, or perhaps their scene partner has a crush on them, or is taking advantage of the situation for personal reasons.
– An actor may feel violated or assaulted if their scene partner takes things further than expected, and touches them in unexpected or unwelcome places.
– Many actors don’t have real life experience with all the intimate things they may be asked to do, so they can’t “just go for it.”
– While actors often have a contractual agreement which clearly defines what they will and will not do in scenes with nudity and other intimate content, unfortunately it’s not uncommon for actors to be pressured to work beyond these boundaries when they’re actually on set, working. When in these situations, it’s extremely difficult for an actor to say “no.” They want to liked, they want to be easy-to-work with so they will be hired again, and they want to be a team player. Often, this leads actors to reluctantly agree to do things they have already said, in writing, that they do not want to do. Because the power dynamics often leave actors reluctant to stand up for themselves, the actors end up feeling anything ranging from discomfort, to abuse, to outright assault.
This is a very brief overview of why the field of Intimacy Coordination is so important. There’s always a way to realize the director’s vison – to tell the story they want to tell – within the actors’ boundaries.
I passionately believe that my business helps people – individuals and communities. I’ve never felt as appreciated as I’ve felt when working an IC. People are so grateful to have me there. Even those who aren’t directly involved with the intimate work can be affected. Boom operators and camera operators are exposed to scenarios they might not be comfortable with. And those who aren’t directly involved with the intimacy are often comforted that their producers and director were respectful enough of those who are directly involved, to hire an IC. The cast and crew feel respected, so there is a generally higher feeling of goodwill on set. I’m so proud to be a part of this new group of professionals who are serving the film, TV, and theatre communities so well. One comment that I hear over and over is, “I can’t believe this position didn’t exist sooner.” Another comment I often hear when in pre-production meetings with producers and directors is, “Wow. I never would have thought of that.”
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m a director, choreographer and intimacy director. As an intimacy coordinator, many things set me apart: First, I was a performer. I used to both act and dance, and I’ve acted in intimate scenes, and scenes with nudity. I know how it feels. This makes me more sensitive to how I interact with those in front of the camera. Second, my dancing – my performing as well as my choreography and teaching experience – is extremely helpful and relevant to my work as an IC. It greatly informs my ability to tell a story through movement. Also, my teaching experience allows me to coach people who aren’t comfortable with a movement, and to quickly gauge how much they’ll be able to achieve, physically. In addition, I am proud to have extensively trained with three of the major training organizations in three different countries! I’m mental health first aid certified, and have taken many ongoing education classes, including those covering Equality and Diversity, Unconscious Bias Awareness, Safeguarding Children, and more.
When I first learned about this new position, I immediately knew I had to learn more. Not too much later, I was on a plane on my quest to become equipped to facilitate these scenes. It was quite challenging to track down training opportunities. There weren’t (and still aren’t) many people who are truly qualified to do this work – let alone teach it! I flew to Baltimore. Then Toronto. Then North Carolina. And then across the pond, to London to attend Ita O’Brien’s first ever, higher level, training intensive. I wanted to be incredibly well equipped, before I put myself out in the world as an IC. People are trusting you with very personal things, including their mental well-being. I take that responsibility very seriously – while always trying to have fun and keep things light on set, whenever possible and appropriate!
I have to add that I’m also quite proud of how my people skills have evolved, over the years. I think that, years ago, it was a particularly weak area of mine. However, since life forced me to work on that area, I’m now quite a lot stronger than I would have been otherwise. As an IC, people skills are an incredibly important skills to have.
I’m excited for this opportunity to share that ICs are there to support the whole production team, and to help directors to make their films (and theatre projects) even better. We’re not there to pass judgment or to sensor anyone, but rather to help realize visions in creative and safe ways. We are not the sex police. Actually, ICs often make sexual scenes even sexier. You see, if an actor feels safe, they’re more likely to be open to trying things they might otherwise not feel comfortable exploring. So, while one might think that having an IC on set would encourage an actor to say “no” more quickly, it’s actually the opposite. (To be clear, we’re not there to encourage or discourage anything, besides ya know, that negative stuff mentioned earlier.) Thus, these scenes often are even more exciting because the actors know they’re in a safe environment.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’m so glad you asked! I take great pride in my LA tour guiding skills! For quickie visits, I take friends on a 5-6 hour tour from Sherman Oaks, East on Mulholland, through a Laurel Canyon, along Sunset & Hollywood Boulevards, then cutting down to Santa Monica Blvd, driving through West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, by UCLA (and grabbing some mind-blowing cookies from Diddy Reese) to the Santa Monica Pier. We have lunch on the pier, before heading up PCH to Sunset Boulevard via Temescal, and then back over the hill on the 405 past The Getty…That may have been more detail than you expected, but it’s a good plan, right? I think it’s a PRIMO tour of LA, which is made even better if the weather allows me to put my convertible’s top down. For the rest of the week, I’d recommend amazing Cuban food and great salsa dancing to a live band at El Floridita, fabulous cocktails at Black Market in Studio City, and arriving hungry for “American comfort food & inventive cocktails” at Messhall. For fancy schmancy, I’d recommend Crustacean in Beverly Hills. If time allows a lazy afternoon of beer & wine sampling, locally, we’d relax at Brewport Tap House in El Segundo, where you get a wristband with a sensor that allows you to pour your own beer-by-the-ounce (and some wines, too), with 60 taps to choose from. At some point, we’d pop across the street for a fantastic meal on the patio at Sausal. For other daytime activities, a hike is oh-so-LA. Go to The Hollywood Sign, or The Observatory, or even just walk up Runyon for the people-watching. For a different type of people watching, there’s always walking on Venice Beach or shopping on Melrose Boulevard. I’d love to take the train to Santa Barbara for an afternoon of wine tasting. (If it’s summertime, we could then catch a PCPA musical in Ojai.)
For the nightlife, I hope they’d be in town when Mara and the Big Rockstars are performing – often in Hermosa Beach – so they can dance all night to this fantastic 80’s cover band! I’d direct them to a few of the great, live theatres in LA. Sure, The Ahmanson and The Pantages are fantastic, but LA also has quite a lot of quality, smaller theatres all over; from Pacific Repertory Theater and Rogue Machine in Venice, to Sacred Fools and Celebration Theatre in Hollywood. If they love the classics, we’d see what’s playing at the top-notch Antaeus Theatre Company in Glendale. I don’t want to miss anything that Deaf West produces. There are two great cabaret venues, and each offers great showcases of songs from new musical performed live by LA’s top talent, so hopefully either A Little New Music would be on at Catalina Jazz Club, or we could catch Musi-CAL at Rockwell. (Update: Rockwell has sadly been a victim of Covid, and is now closed.) Maybe we’d squeeze in a night at The Magic Castle. (I used to be a magician’s assistant, but I won’t give away any secrets!) If we made it there, we’d be sure to learn more about how Irma, the ghost piano player, died, by asking her questions that she answers with a song. For example, as Irma how she died, and she might respond by playing “Sailing, sailing, over the ocean, blue….”
After a show, I loooooove a good cocktail lounge, and I have an impressive list of them. My self-curated list spans several typed pages, and is organized alphabetically, and categorized geographically! We’d make it to Birds & Bees if we head downtown. If we’re in Hollywood and don’t have to deal with parking, I love the intimacy of The Spare Room. But you can’t go wrong with Black Market, in Studio City – get their dill potato chips, short rib, brussel sprouts, a deep-fried fluffernutter, and tell the bartender what kind of drink you like, and let them concoct something just for you.
I’ve really missed all of the above, during Covid.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
It’s cliché, but true, that first and foremost, I must credit my folks and family. I realize how fortunate I am to have a family that supports me, and is proud of the work I do. Beyond that, I want to recognize every producer and director who has realized the need for this work, and who has welcomed ICs onto their sets and into their rehearsal rooms. These are the producers and directors who respect their co-workers.
Cinematographer: Enrico Silva; Director: Gia-Rayne Harris Cinematographer: Yuchan Deng; Director: Naomi Christie Trantu Cinematographer: Yuchan Deng; Director: Naomi Christie Trantu Harvey Marks Courtney Clark Jaime Becker Ketut Subiyanto JD Mason