Irma Pužauskaitė is a filmmaker and the director of the film “The Ninth Step”, which was recently screened in cinemas. Not everyone knows that Irma is also an intimacy coordinator. In other words, she helps to ensure that certain boundaries are not crossed during the shooting of intimate scenes. One of the first intimacy coordinators in the Baltic countries, she is also the founder of the “Baltic Intimacy Professionals” network, which brings together professionals in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. In this interview, Irma tells the Vilnius Film Office about her little-known profession and its peculiarities.
Irma, when did you realize that you were interested not only in directing but also in the profession of intimacy coordinator?
I came to the cinema industry 15 years ago, but even before that, I was very interested in this area of work. Perhaps I liked that momentary escape from reality and the new perspective that movies open up. At the same time, I was very interested in psychology and emotional well-being.
The first time I worked in a similar role was on the “Hilma” project. I had just shot my own film wich contained an intimate scene. I began to wonder what the job of an intimacy coordinator was like. When the shooting ended, I realized that I really liked that kind of work. It is meaningful; it allows you to be constantly close to the directors and actors. Besides, it made me aware of how little we need to make people feel good on the movie set.
In Lithuania, probably not many people have heard about the intimacy coordinator’s profession. Could you tell us why it is needed and what your day looks like?
When I receive a film script, I usually look for moments of nudity, such as, for example, hospital or morgue scenes, as well as scenes that simulate sex, masturbation, or, in certain cases, a kiss, sexualized dance, or childbirth.
The work of the intimacy coordinator is not yet very clearly defined in Europe. First of all, together with the main producers and the director, we try to agree on what a safe environment means. If the team has not yet worked with an intimacy coordinator, I explain my tasks and why I must ask certain questions. Since emotional well-being is fragile and every person may have a different understanding of it, it is important to coordinate the process even before the shooting begins. The director can tell you about each scene’s purpose, motivation, and rhythm.
Then I have personal meetings with the actors, and I ask what is acceptable to them in terms of nudity. If the director wants nudity in one scene or another, I ask the actors if this is acceptable for them. There might be certain emotional things that I must be aware of so that I can create a much safer environment. For example, perhaps actors don’t want to be touched or shown in certain positions. I pass on the information about their requests to the director, and we come to an agreement that respects the established limits. After all, you can bare this in mind to this when creating a choreography.
Who do you collaborate with the most on the movie set?
I try to communicate with make-up and costume artists. because the choice of clothing has a lot of influence on how the scene is directed; for example, it determines how quickly the actor can undress during the shooting. We also talk to a digital video technician so that the footage is only available to a certain number of people. Meanwhile, the first assistant director and I agree on the protocol of the closed location; we decide who will be present and who will watch the shooting through the monitors. Cameramen must also be informed of what we can and cannot see in the footage.
You mentioned that the job of the intimacy coordinator is not yet precisely defined. I wonder what the history of this profession is. How widespread is it in the world?
Although the ranks of this profession are growing, intimacy coordinators are still making their way. Although intimacy coordinators have existed before, perhaps the most questions and reforms have emerged since the wave of Me Too scandals. For example, the Screen Actors Guild of America has issued additional guidelines that require the presence of an intimacy coordinator on set. Therefore, it has become a kind of rule in the US. It often happens that all channels or televisions have their own internal guidelines defining how to work with intimate scenes. Meanwhile, in Britain, an intimacy coordinator is only recommended, and in Europe, they are not mandatory at all.
Our teacher kept repeating that the workplace is not designed to satisfy emotional needs. Working on a film set is hard, and sometimes you have to make sure you will be able to take care of yourself after filming.
What are the biggest challenges in your work?
The task of the intimacy coordinator is to be at the point of power dynamics that allows you to maintain balance and effectively manage emotionally charged situations. It happens that when an actor comes to the set to play in an intimate scene for just one day, he or she does not play the main role, does not know the film crew, and therefore finds himself in a completely different power structure. Whether you like it or not, various conflicts often arise on the film set, usually due to the fact that there is not enough time to prepare. This is part of my job: we were trained to manage conflicts.
When you work with people from various backgrounds, you see how differently people may see the naked body. You can’t try to predict their attitude or beliefs; you have to ask.
Thank you for the conversation.