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I Coordinated Sex Scenes for ‘Blonde,’ the NC-17 Marilyn Monroe Biopic

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Jean Franzblau, an intimacy coordinator based in Los Angeles, CA. It has been edited for length and clarity.

  • Jean Franzblau is a certified intimacy coordinator who has worked on big-budget film and TV shows.
  • Her first job as an intimacy professional was on “Blonde” — Netflix’s first original NC-17 movie.
  • Franzblau details the most important skills for supporting an intimate scene on set.

I’m a certified intimacy coordinator for film, TV, and theater, which means I help facilitate the performance of intimate scenes for productions.

I had been trying to get an opportunity on a major film for some time. I thought that contacting production companies and showing them my website and qualifications was all that I needed to do, but that was very naive of me (as people who have been deep into the entertainment industry already know).

I’m a noted consent expert in a different field, and a sex educator — I’ve taught sex ed classes for universities. I’ve also been a voice in the sex-positive movement. But the only way I was able to get my first job on a major production was through a recommendation.

My first intimacy coordinator job was ‘Blonde,’ Netflix’s new NC-17 film

The original intimacy coordinator who worked on “Blonde,” the new Marilyn Monroe biopic, recommended that I replace her when she had to leave the production. This was a huge first gig because “Blonde” is Netflix’s first NC-17 original film. It will be extremely controversial because of the sexuality that’s depicted.

Suddenly, there I was as a covering intimacy coordinator on a giant production with high stakes, working with big-name actors.

There were so many ways the job could have gone sideways, and to work on a film as big as this one for my first job felt like trial by fire. Luckily, it worked out well  — and once recommended, getting my first intimacy coordinator job on a big production was smooth.

I talk with actors about their experiences or triggers before they work on a scene that includes sexual violence

Generally, when I work on films where sexual violence is being depicted, the first thing I do is check in with the actors about how they’re feeling about that scene. I keep my questions general and leave space to discuss anything that makes them uncomfortable.

I also ask if there’s anything they want to tell me, confidentially, that will help me best serve them while they’re doing the scene. Sometimes I will be specific and ask if there’s any trauma, triggers, or signs of distress that we should watch out for to make sure they stay well and don’t go into a traumatic state or a state of dissociation. 

I’ve had an actor once tell me, “I’ll start to sweat” — I’ve had another one say, “I’ll look away.” I can then use that information to intervene on their behalf when I see those signs. I’ve had an actor who just wanted a hug following a difficult monologue scene about abuse.

For an intimacy coordinator, preparation is key

When I get hired to a production, the first thing I do is try to find out who the actors are and who the director is — I want to get a sense of their personalities, so I’ll watch interviews they’ve done.

I like it best when I can have the whole script for the film, and I’ll usually have to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement). It’s much easier to do my job when I have the full context of the intimate scene and how the part fits into the whole, but unfortunately that’s a luxury. Most times I’m only given the specific scene(s) I’m working on. That makes things a bit harder, but I can work with it.

The majority of my work happens before the day of shooting. I might be arriving to set on day 32 of a huge production with a lot of moving parts — but my job is to get the necessary conversations to happen in time to keep things moving.

I try to have a meeting with the director to ask specific questions about what they’re hoping for with the scene, and then I have individual one-on-one conversations with each performer. 

In those conversations, I might find out that the performers are just finding out who their scene partner is — and they don’t get along with that scene partner. Or maybe I find out that they might have been comfortable with a certain kind of kissing when they read the script, but now in-person, they’re not comfortable with it anymore.

Hopefully nothing is coming as a surprise to the actor. A good casting process will let the actor and the actor’s representatives know what kind of nudity or sexuality is hoped for in the story. But it has happened many times in the course of filmmaking that an actor is surprised by something they’re asked to do on set.

Intimacy work can pay well if you’re able to get hired on a big-budget set

Intimacy coordinators should make around $1,100 to $1,450 per day. In addition to workdays on set, you also get that full rate for prep days or rehearsal days, along with a daily kit fee.

A kit is the equipment that intimacy professionals bring in a big bag to sets. It has modesty garments, barriers, adhesives, scissors, mints, Listerine, a Pilates ball — all kinds of crafty things that we bring to help performers be comfortable and make things run smoothly.

We purchase these items ahead of time, and the production pays for that in what is called a “kit fee.” 

Intimacy Coordinator Jean Franzblau's bag of supplies to use on production sets.

This is my ‘kit’ — the bag every intimacy coordinator brings to set. I have everything from gum and mints to boob tape and tuck kits.

Courtesy of Jean Franzblau

Ideally I’m also having conversations with the costume or props departments when I first arrive to set. For props, I might work with them on something like a prosthetic of someone’s genitals — but I work most closely with the costume departments.

The people who work in costuming have been doing intimacy work all along — navigating challenging conversations about adhesives, modesty garments, and the like without necessarily having the training or desire to enter into intimacy conversations with actors and production. They deserve some gratitude for that.

Conversations between directors and intimacy coordinators can get heated

“Blonde” was filmed in 2019, and there weren’t a ton of intimacy professionals working on sets yet. In the years prior to the #MeToo movement, consultants were sometimes brought in for difficult scenes, but it was only after #MeToo that a full-time “intimacy coordinator” job was created (HBO was the first big network to start using intimacy coordinators in 2018).

The reason intimacy coordinators exist is because there’s potential for harm — and there has been documented harm. The best intimacy coordinators don’t want to act like traffic cops or human resources. We want to be creative collaborators, but we do have a responsibility to decrease harm — and sometimes that means interrupting takes and calling out what’s happening in the moment.

I once worked on a production where the director gathered everyone together — two actors, one or two producers, and me, all in one room. And he says, “What is the very least you’d be willing to wear in this film?” In other words, he was asking how much the actors were willing to undress. 

That’s not the recommended way to conduct that conversation, because the director and producers are in a position of power, overseeing this intimate conversation.

I interrupted and said to the director, “Let’s go outside of the rehearsal room and have a conversation so I can understand in specific detail what you need. And then I’m going to need to have individual conversations with the performers separately.”

The director wasn’t happy — but I was adamant. It got heated.

When I talked with the actors, the first thing they said was, “Thank you so much for doing that. That was terribly awkward.” And I found out that they had boundaries that we could easily work around.

Ultimately, I was able to get the specifics of what the director wanted, while keeping everyone protected.

You don’t have to look far to find traumatic things that have happened on set surrounding nudity or simulated sex — not only to actors, but to crew members who’ve witnessed bad behavior. Take Deborah Messing’s story, for example. She has horror stories from the beginning of her career that she speaks candidly and publicly about. 

One of the things she talks about is a time she came on set and was told to get naked — which is completely inappropriate. An intimacy professional’s presence is often an environmental deterrent from things like this.

Sometimes, perhaps because of the pressures of the moment, a director will push boundaries — most often it’s just the artistic desire to get the scene done and quickly. And sometimes it’s just absolute abuse of power. I’ve never worked with a director who I believe was trying to harm an actor, and I’m grateful for that.

Just like any production job, work can be sporadic

Sometimes I’m working as an intimacy coordinator, and sometimes I’m not. I want to emphasize that because people sometimes think that if they’re sex positive, or if they simply find the work fascinating, that they can just jump into it — but it’s a bit of a challenge to get started with paid work on larger productions.

The best way to get started as an intimacy coordinator is to start with student films and short films. It’s an easier entry, but you have to be prepared to be paid a lot less. 

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