SA director has the answer to filming saucy sex scenes in the #MeToo era

03 November 2019 - 00:02 By SUTHENTIRA GOVENDER
Award-winning film producer and director Sara Blecher poses for a picture with actors, Tarryn Wyngaard and Ruan Wessels, on a film set in Heidelberg.
Award-winning film producer and director Sara Blecher poses for a picture with actors, Tarryn Wyngaard and Ruan Wessels, on a film set in Heidelberg.
Image: Alon Skuy

Meet SA’s first intimacy co-ordinator, whose job it is to make sex scenes on screen and stage sizzle — but without any unplanned groping.

Award-winning South African film producer and director Sara Blecher is exploring one of the world’s newest careers — helping create safe and authentic intimate scenes on television and film sets.

Blecher, who won the 2016 Safta best director award for Dis Ek, Anna, has been signed on as an intimacy co-ordinator by South African artist management agency Talent-ETC.

Three years ago Blecher conceived Sisters Working in Film and Television (Swift) — an NGO that addresses issues of concern for women in film and television.

Research conducted by Swift in 2017 showed a culture of sexual harassment was “far more prevalent in our industry than would appear on the surface”.

“It had become apparent to me that safety was a priority for women working in the industry as women were experiencing huge amounts of harassment with no means of recourse,” Blecher said.

When she was introduced to the world of intimacy co-ordination at the Berlin Film Festival in February, it became a game-changer for her.

“I realised for the first time that intimacy scenes should be dealt with as simulated action similar to the way stunt scenes are staged.”

She trained in the UK under intimacy co-ordinator guru Ita O’Brien before returning to SA.

Blecher has no typical working day as every job is determined by the script: the perfect camera angles, confirming contractual agreements involving each intimate scene, adequate wardrobe, working with actors to ensure consent for all touching, and choreographing scenes to ensure they are safe and believable.

In 2012 part-time Johannesburg actor Lushen Naidoo made headlines when movie producer Natalie Raphil took him to court to compel him to complete the film And Now?Naidoo decided to withdraw because the sex scenes were explicit and he was not comfortable with them.

Blecher said the Naidoo case demonstrated why it is so critical to have an intimacy co-ordinator as part of the crew.

“Most of the controversy around sex or intimate scenes in SA has been due to the fact that the scenes break religious and or cultural taboos.

Most of the controversy around sex or intimate scenes in SA has been due to the fact that the scenes break religious and or cultural taboos
Intimacy co-ordinator Sara Blecher

“Years ago the first interracial kiss on Isidingo was a huge deal. “

More recently films like Skoonheid, which depicted a gay orgy scene in a conservative farming town, Inxeba, which told the story of a gay love affair centred around an initiation school, and Of Good Report, about an obsessive affair between an underage student and her teacher, have caused massive debate, being banned and then unbanned.

“It is likely that the reason they are so talked about has more to do with the fact that they are interrogating taboos rather than because the intimate scenes are well done,” Blecher said.

“Intimate scenes really have the potential to help develop both character and story in a film and it’s when they do this that they are most powerful.”

Blecher is co-ordinating on a film called The Peacock, directed by Jaco Minnaar.

“As far as I know, this is the first local South African production that has made use of an intimacy co-ordinator and it’s been a really empowering experience for both myself and the cast,” she said.

Talent-ETC CEO Jennis Williamson said having Blecher on board, “in the age of the #Me Too movement, is not only timely but essential”.

Jack Devnarain, head of the South African Guild of Actors, said the body supported “industry initiatives to protect cast and crew against inappropriate behaviour in the production environment”.

“Scenes that require simulated sex, intimacy or nudity should enhance the scene’s narrative, but must be managed under tightly controlled on-set conditions.

“We believe that the appointment of intimacy co-ordinators is a positive and progressive step towards establishing industry standards that protect the dignity of talent and the integrity of the production process.”

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