Karyn Kusama Won’t Direct Without an Intimacy Coordinator on Set: It Makes Onscreen Sex ‘Richer’ and Safer

"I can say to an intimacy coordinator, 'You know, it feels like I’m watching two people peck each other on the cheek, and there’s zero heat here,'" the "Yellowjackets" director said.
Melanie Lynskey and Peter Gadiot in Yellowjackets
Melanie Lynskey and Peter Gadiot in "Yellowjackets"

Karyn Kusama wants audiences to see the “role of sex differently” thanks to intimacy coordinators on set.

The “Yellowjackets” and “Jennifer’s Body” director said that she thinks intimacy coordinators actually add more “heat” to scenes when necessary, despite what she sees the misguided assumption that they could spoil depictions of intimacy.

“It demands that you take responsibility for your story with the actors, that you actually say, ‘Yeah, we’re depicting sex and here’s what it needs to mean’ — i.e. it needs to mean something,” Kusama told The New York Times. “And conversely, I can say to an intimacy coordinator, ‘You know, it feels like I’m watching two people peck each other on the cheek, and there’s zero heat here.'”

Per the article, Kusama added that “it’s hard for her to imagine signing on to a project with intimate scenes without one.”

Kusama said she thinks that intimacy coordinators should become an industry standard and “that it helps us see each other and the role of sex in our lives differently, as something richer and more filled with possibility.”

With intimacy coordinators newly included in SAG-AFTRA union, it seems that goal is one step closer to coming to fruition. However, as intimacy coordinator Jessica Steinrock, who collaborated with director Kusama on the “Yellowjackets” pilot, noted, “Intimacy coordinators are not a panacea for an industry that has historically abused its actors — and, frankly, historically abused most of the people in it.”

Actress Emma Thompson spoke out against the assumption that intimacy coordinators stifle sensuality, saying in August 2022 that the role is “fantastically important” on set.

“No, you can’t just ‘let it flow.’ There’s a camera there and a crew,” Thompson said of choreographed sex scenes and nudity. “You’re not on your own in a hotel room, you’re surrounded by a bunch of blokes, mostly. So it’s not a comfortable situation, full stop.”

IndieWire’s Eric Kohn recently weighed in on the topic, writing that modern films and TV series “need more sex, not less,” especially in a post-#MeToo era.

“Doing sex scenes shouldn’t a prerequisite for anyone’s acting career,” Kohn wrote. “However, it’s too easy to focus on the generalities of whether sex scenes are necessary, rather than the nuance: As sexual identity becomes a more expansive conversation, there’s an even greater need for popular storytelling to define the terms… Storytelling can be sexy and sensual, or illustrate the dark underbelly of those same ingredients, at its own peril. But there’s profound value in embracing that same uncertainty.”

Kohn concluded, “Sex sells, of course, which means that writers and directors who can put it in proper context have greater currency than ever. And if any audiences feel that sex should have less of a role to play in the work they’re willing to watch, they’re revealing more about their own boundaries than the ones of the medium itself.”

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