Tag Archives: Watchmen

Intimate relations

Having worked on series including Sex Education, Gentleman Jack and Normal People, intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien explains why television’s approach to sex scenes has to change.

It’s impossible to imagine a sword fight or a battle scene being filmed without actors spending many hours choreographing and rehearsing the action in detail beforehand. Similarly, a dance routine would also be the subject of meticulous planning before being recorded.

Ita O’Brien

So, why is the way sex scenes are filmed only now coming under greater scrutiny? For the past few years, intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien (pictured top on set) has spearheaded a shift in the industry and led a new approach to intimacy on screen, one that invites greater communication and transparency during filming, puts in place a structure that allows for agreement and consent between actors and directors and that allows time for intimate scenes to be choreographed clearly.

“In the past, there wasn’t a sense of bringing a professional structure to the intimate work,” she explains, speaking during a keynote session at the Berlinale Series Market in February. “If you had a fight, you certainly wouldn’t just say, ‘Okay, we’ll hand you the swords and then just go for it.’ That wouldn’t be reasonable as you’re in severe danger of an injury happening. So you make sure a stunt coordinator or a fight director is there; they teach techniques and they choreograph the fight content. They will have spoken to the director and made sure they’re serving the director’s vision. If there’s a dance, of course, you’re not going to just talk about it and then throw the people on and say, ‘Right, just do the tango.’ You’re going to have a choreographer, who’s going to listen to the director, hear their vision, choreograph clearly and then make sure you create a scene that serves the storytelling.”

It’s that approach that O’Brien is now bringing to intimate content, having worked on series such as Sex Education, Normal People, Gangs of London, Bulletproof, Pennyworth, Gentleman Jack and Watchmen.

From the moment producers identify an intimate scene, as they might for a fight or a dance, she will speak to the director to hear what they want from that particular moment. The director will speak to the actors about degree of nudity or sexual content, and once that’s happened, she will then speak with the actors to discover if they have any concerns.

O’Brien’s work on Sex Education saw her tackle a particularly tricky scene

“I’m making sure I’m listening to those concerns, sharing that with the production and making sure everything’s put in place to make that actor feel autonomous and powered, and really happy to be serving that director’s vision,” she explains. “I’ll then go and connect with the wardrobe department, speaking to them about what genitalia coverings, modesty garments or other coverings need to be put in place. Then, if I haven’t already worked on set, I’ll speak to the first AD [assistant director], making sure that we’re collaborating and running a closed set with the best practice possible.

“When we come to the day on set, we rehearse the scene really clearly. I’ll have spoken to the second AD, making sure there’s time and space for that rehearsal. And that’s a shift in the industry as well. When I started, my first two programmes were Sex Education and Gentleman Jack. People said to me, ‘Oh, you’ll never have time for rehearsal.’ But of course, you’d never say that about a fight or a dance. So it’s the same now for intimate content; you make time to rehearse.”

Providing time for rehearsals means greater efficiency on set as the scenes then become repeatable and the actors are more comfortable with what they’re doing, which means “they can make a way better sex scene because they’re really happy with what the content is going to be, so they can act their socks off,” O’Brien says, adding that she also ensures actors are happy after filming has taken place, offering several points through the process where they can see their work before the rest of the world does.

The BBC’s adaptation of the novel Normal People

“It’s about creating a scene that honours the director’s vision, honours the writing and allows the actors to be empowered and happy with the work that they have done.”

O’Brien’s work, through her company Intimacy on Set, is now spreading across Europe, having shared her guidelines in Germany, Sweden, Norway and France. And across the board, it’s change that is desperately needed.

Asked whether she has worked with an intimacy coordinator before, Swedish star Sofia Helin (The Bridge, Atlantic Crossing) responds: “Never. I can’t think about it. I can’t deal with it. It’s tense every time you have to cross your own borders in order to satisfy the director’s needs. So I haven’t dealt with it. It has been a part of my job that I don’t like, and with Ita’s technique, it could be a part of my job that I like. But the interesting thing is that when I’ve done scenes with a character who is in charge of her sexuality, then it’s never been horrible. But the other way around, it’s always horrible, and that’s more usual.”

Helin says on shows she has worked on, there has always been a very “concrete and direct” vision about how intimate scenes would be portrayed, leading to the moment where the actors are on set, the clock is ticking and the actor’s voice has been taken away. “What we as actors want to do is to tell the story, and we can almost do anything to tell the story,” she says, “especially when the team is there and the camera is on. You say ‘yes’ to almost anything just to serve the story. So that ‘no’ has to be listened to by someone [like O’Brien] who can step in and say, ‘No, no. We don’t do that.’”

Gentleman Jack was among the first dramas O’Brien was involved in

Likewise, director Soleen Yusef (Skylines, Deutschland 89) has never worked with intimacy guidelines in Germany, having planned her own guidelines up to this point. “I would feel more safe if I could handle it in a way that’s much more professional, because for me, I just improvise,” she says.

“We’re not just talking about intimacy that is very sweet. We’re talking about love and sexuality. I had to do a sexual assault, for example. They weren’t naked. But still, it was very difficult for me to do that. I always meet with the actors before and I ask different questions. How far do you want to go? What do you want to wear? Do you want to be completely naked? You need to be prepared. We also had a completely closed set. You have to just create an atmosphere for everybody who’s doing the scene to feel comfortable. For me as the director, I don’t want to go too far. I don’t want to hurt people.”

O’Brien says her work introduces a process of agreement and consent between actors, directors and others involved in the scene. A key principle is ensuring the actors are present in their mind and body so they can lay down boundaries they feel comfortable with and confident any concerns will be listened to.

“Very often you hear actors go, ‘In order to get through the sex scene I downed a bottle the vodka.’ When I was in Australia and New Zealand, I had several people from different places telling me that another practice is that the production will offer the actors valium in order to get through the sex scene, which is doing the absolute opposite of what we want,” she reveals. “We want them to be ultra present, so they can really be saying yes to what they’re happy with, to be autonomous, to not feel they’re being pushed past their own boundaries.

“That’s a shift in the industry. Before now, an actor who said no might have felt they were going to be considered a troublemaker, a pain in the ass, a diva and possibly wouldn’t get employed again.”

Sky1 action thriller Bulletproof

Often in sex scenes, actors are judged to have no chemistry with each other if the audience can sense a feeling of tension or awkwardness on screen. O’Brien believes audiences are left squirming in their seats when they can feel the actors are uncomfortable with what they are being asked to do. Her work now aims to ensure the actors are happy and in control, meaning audiences will remain engaged with the scene and the storytelling. She refers to an example in season one of Netflix drama Sex Education, where a fight between two male characters ends with them having oral sex and both actors had concerns about being asked to spit on the other person, whether for real or using a substitute substance.

“We’re creative people so it was about, ‘Where are we going to put the camera?’ Very quickly, we had one actor there, a camera there and a substance made up by the make-up department was spat on to a piece of paper by one actor. The other actor was filmed responding to receiving the spit and then you’re away,” she explains. “The director of the first block didn’t even know they hadn’t spat on to each other. So it’s trusting that to know that we can use body parts and we can be creative with where the camera is in order to tell the story while keeping the actors safe.”

Through her company, O’Brien is training up new intimacy coordinators through a series of programmes to ensure preparation for sex scenes is taken as seriously as a fight or a dance sequence. She is also keen to ensure training can be provided by people of all genders, sex and ethnicities.

“My intention is that whoever is acting feels like they’re represented,” she concludes. “If they have a request, I can help to honour that, so the person performing feels as safe and careful as possible.”

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Bingeworthy box sets

As people around the world self-isolate and heed orders to stay at home amid the devastating coronavirus pandemic, DQ offers a selection of series from around the world to enjoy.

Babylon Berlin
From: Germany
Original broadcaster: Sky
Starring: Volker Bruch, Liv Lisa Fries, Peter Kurth, Matthias Brandt, Leonie Benesch, Severija Janušauskaitė, Ivan Shvedoff
Seasons: Three
This German noir has become a breakout hit for the country, immersing viewers in a visually intoxicating 1920s Berlin. Based on the crime novels by Volker Kitscher, it follows police inspector Gereon Rath, who is on a secret mission to expose an extortion ring, and Charlotte Ritter, a police clerk who aspires to be an inspector but at night is a flapper and occasional prostitute at the Mika Efti cabaret. The series is also lifted by the dramatic soundtrack, which features standout song Zu Asche, Zu Staub (To Ashes, To Dust), performed on the nightclub stage.

Badehotellet (Seaside Hotel)
From: Denmark
Original broadcaster: TV2
Starring: Amalie Dollerup, Lars Ranthe, Anne Louise Hassing, Merete Mærkedahl, Ulla Vejby, Jens Jacob Tychsen, Anette Støvelbæk, Birthe Neumann
Seasons: Seven
Downton Abbey by the seaside, this long-running Danish drama is one of the country’s most popular series, drawing audiences every year since 2013 to the trials and tribulations of the staff working a lavish hotel and the guests who visit them each summer from Copenhagen. Combining beautiful scenery with comedy drama and the clash of class and cultures that comes naturally from the upstairs/downstairs setting, it’s the perfect example of blue-sky Nordic drama.

Das Boot
From: Germany
Original broadcaster: Sky
Starring: Vicky Krieps, Tom Wlaschiha, August Wittgenstein, Lizzy Caplan, Rick Okon, Vincent Kartheiser
Seasons: Season two launches in Germany on April 24
Following a classic novel and iconic film is no easy feat, and critics were rightly sceptical that the ambition of this series could match what had come before. But from the first glimpse of a U-boat rising out of the Atlantic Ocean, this wartime drama serves up a compelling and technically stunning show. Set nine months after the Wolfgang Petersen film, the action opens in 1942, simultaneously following the crew of the claustrophobic U-612 and the Resistance in La Rochelle, France.

Delhi Crime
From: India
Original broadcaster: Netflix
Starring: Shefali Shah, Rasika Dugal, Aakash Dahiya, Adil Hussain, Rajesh Tailang
Seasons: One
While true crime dramas continue to dominate the broadcast and streaming schedules, buoyed by a similar wave of documentary series in the genre, this is one of the best. Based on the tragic true story of a 2012 gang rape in Delhi, the series follows the aftermath and the police investigation to find those responsible. Shah plays Vartika Chaturvedi, the deputy commissioner of police who drives the series forward and guides viewers through the sights and sounds of the city.

Fauda
From: Israel
Original broadcaster: Yes
Starring: Lior Raz, Itzik Cohen, Neta Garay, Rona-Lee Shim’on, Boaz Konforty, Doron Ben-David
Seasons: Three
Israel has become known as the home of some of the most original drama series in the world, leading to US remakes such as Homeland, Hostages, In Treatment and the upcoming Your Honor. Fauda might be the best of the bunch, drawing on the military experiences of creators Lior Raz (who also stars) and Avi Issacharoff. Set against the backdrop of the Israel-Palestine conflict, it follows the leader of an elite unit as they pursue a Hamas terrorist. Season three switches the action-packed story to the Gaza Strip.

Freud
From: Austria
Original broadcasters: ORF, Netflix
Starring: Robert Finster, Ella Rumpf, Georg Friedrich, Christoph F Krutzler
Seasons: One
Having recently launched in Austria, this dark, gothic period drama from director Marvin Kren (4 Blocks) is set in 1890s Vienna, famous for its decadence and the dark underbelly of high society. Mysterious murders and political intrigue clash as young psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (Finster), who finds strong opposition against his theories, becomes embroiled in a murderous conspiracy alongside a policeman and a notorious medium.

Herrens Veje (Ride Upon the Storm)
From: Denmark
Original broadcaster: DR
Starring: Lars Mikkelsen, Ann Eleonora Jørgensen, Simon Sears, Morten Hee Andersen
Seasons: Two
From the creator of hit Danish political drama Borgen comes this drama about a family of priests and the characters within it, as each follows their own path to a meaningful life. On the face of it, they are the epitome of respectability, but events that leave the family in crisis soon unfold.

La Casa de Papel (Money Heist)
From: Spain
Original broadcasters: Antenna 3, Netflix
Starring: Alvaro Morte, Itziar Ituño, Alba Flores, Esther Acebo, Pedro Alonso
Seasons: Three, with a fourth released on Netflix on April 3
If any series characterises Spain’s assent to global drama powerhouse, it is this thrilling and action-packed story of a mysterious man known only as El Profesor (The Professor), who brings together a band of criminals to carry out the biggest heist ever imagined: taking over the The Royal Mint of Spain and taking home 2.4 billion euros. In season three, they are forced to reunite to execute a more ambitious plan, this time targeting the Bank of Spain.

Line of Duty
From: UK
Original broadcaster: BBC
Starring: Martin Compston, Vicky McClure, Adrian Dunbar
Seasons: Five
With filming on season six interrupted as productions around the world shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, now is the chance to catch up creator Jed Mercurio’s nail-bitingly tense police thriller (also pictured top), which introduces the members of Anti-Corruption Unit 12, tasked with uncovering police wrongdoing. Each season features a host of guest stars, while a long-running conspiracy plays across the series. By the end, you’ll be asking, ‘Who is H?’

Mr Robot
From: US
Original broadcaster: USA Network
Starring: Rami Malek, Carl Chaikin, Portia Doubleday, Martin Wallström, Christian Slater
Seasons: Four
Turn off social media and be sure to pay attention to Mr Robot, a critically acclaimed psychological thriller that follows Elliot Anderson (Malek), a young man living in New York who works for cyber-security company Allsafe and whose struggles with social anxiety and depression mean he struggles with paranoia and delusion. Elliot’s hacking skills lead him to anarchist Mr Robot, who is planning to attack one of the biggest corporations in the world – and Allsafe’s biggest client.

Professor T
From: Belgium
Original broadcaster: Één
Starring: Koen De Bouw, Tanja Oostvogels, Goeie Derick, Carry Goossens, Herwig Ilegems
Seasons: Three
Belgium is certainly among the most ambitiously creative countries in the world when it comes to television drama, thanks in part to a financial system that demands fresh and original ideas. Set in Antwerp, this crime drama introduces the eponymous eccentric professor, who works alongside the police to solve crimes. What makes it stand out is the mixture of genres the series covers, from musical and comedy to tragedy and melodrama. The show has already been remade in France and Germany, and a UK version starring Ben Miller is now in the works for ITV.

Queen Sono
From: South Africa
Original broadcaster: Netflix
Starring: Pearl Thusi, Vuyo Dabula, Lois Maginga
Seasons: One
Recently launched on Netflix, this series marks the streamer’s first foray into original African scripted programming. Mixing thills, actions and character drama, it follows the titular character, a member of the Special Operations Group and daughter of an anti-apartheid leader, who tackles criminal operations while dealing with crises in her personal life.

Sex Education
From: UK
Original broadcaster: Netflix
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Gillian Anderson, Ncuti Gatwa, Emma Mackey, Connor Swindells, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Aimee Lou Wood, Tanya Reynolds, Patricia Allison
Seasons: Two
Ostensibly the story of a teenager who follows in his sex therapist mother’s footsteps by providing advice to his hormone-driven classmates, Sex Education matches an eclectic cast of characters with a visually vibrant take on the traditionally dour British school drama by blending the look of a US high school with a distinctly 80s vibe, all while mixing laugh-out-loud humour with discussions of serious subjects such as sexual assault, sexuality and sexually transmitted infections.

The Expanse
From: US
Original broadcaster: Syfy (now Amazon Prime Video)
Starring: Steven Strait, Cas Anvar, Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Frankie Adams
Seasons: Four, with a fifth already ordered
For a sci-fi drama that’s out of this world, look no further than The Expanse. Based on the books by James SA Corey, the show’s future was in doubt when it was cancelled by Syfy after three seasons, before Amazon stepped in to save the series and order two further seasons. It opens hundreds of years in the future in a colonised Solar System, when the case of a missing girl brings together a hardened police detective, an Earth-based politician and a rogue ship captain, leading them to expose the greatest conspiracy in human history.

The Mandalorian
From: US
Original broadcaster: Disney+
Starring: Pedro Pascal, Gina Carano, Carl Weathers, Werner Herzog, Nick Nolte, Emily Swallow, Taika Waititi, Giancarlo Esposito, Omid Abtahi
Seasons: One
Those lucky enough to be in the US, Canada or the Netherlands may have already check out this Star Wars series, the flagship original drama on the new Disney+ streaming platform. But as the service reaches most of Europe tomorrow, millions of subscribers will no doubt be eagerly awaiting the opportunity to see this acclaimed show, which is set after the fall of the Empire and before the emergence of the First Order, as seen in the most recent trilogy of Star Wars films. It’s here we meet a lone gunfighter in the outer reaches of the galaxy, far from the authority of the New Republic.

The Marvellous Mrs Maisel
From: US
Original broadcaster: Amazon Prime Video
Starring: Rachel Brosnahan, Alex Borstein, Michael Zegen, Marin Hinkle, Tony Shalhoub
Seasons: Three, with a fourth on the way
A comedy-drama that has plenty of both, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel sees Rachel Brosnahah turn in an Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning performance as the titular character, a housewife in 1950s New York who discovers a knack for stand-up after an impromptu set at a comedy club.

This Is Us
From: US
Original broadcaster: NBC
Starring: Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Sterling K Brown, Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley
Seasons: Four
For heartwarming comedy and emotional family drama, this smash hit US drama ticks all the boxes. It follows the members of the Pearson family – mum Rebecca, dad Jack and siblings Kevin, Kate and Randall – mostly in the present day but flashing back to the past and into the future, focusing on their individual relationships and how their lives and experiences have been experienced by their childhood. Last year, following its third season, the show received the rare honour of being renewed for an additional three seasons.

Top Boy
From: UK
Original broadcasters: Channel 4, Netflix
Starring: Ashley Walters, Kane Robinson, Shane Romulus, Malcolm Kamulete, Sharon Duncan Brewster
Seasons: Three
British crime drama Top Boy first aired in 2011, with a second season running in 2013 on Channel 4. But thanks to the support of rapper Drake, Netflix revived the series this year. Set in East London, it introduces a group of friends and gang members fighting for survival on fictional crime-riddled estate Summerhouse. The series has been praised for its tough characters and its realistic portray of the world the story is set in.

Watchmen
From: US
Original broadcaster: HBO
Starring: Regina King, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Tim Mison, Sara Vickers, Jeremy Irons, Andrew Howard, Louis Gossett Jr
Seasons: One
This might be described as a superhero drama, but it can’t be compared to anything produced by Marvel (The Avengers) or DC (Batman) in recent years. From Lost creator Damon Lindelof and described as a “remix” of the iconic graphic novel created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, this alternate-history series takes place 34 years after the original story and follows a detective (Regina King) as she investigates a murder, in a world where police officers are forced to conceal their identities in an ongoing battle against a white-supremacist group. King’s standout performance and stunning filmmaking ally with topical themes and a powerful soundtrack created by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from Nine Inch Nails.

Westworld
From: US
Original broadcaster: HBO
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Ed Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Tessa Thompson, Aaron Paul, Vincent Cassel, Lena Waithe
Seasons: Season three is now airing
As visually striking and imaginative as ever, this science-fiction series continues to be one of the most ambitious and complex stories on television. Based on Michael Crichton’s 1973 film, it introduces the eponymous Wild West-themed resort where guests can entertain their wildest – and often most villainous – fantasies alongside the android ‘hosts’ that populate the park. Naturally, things don’t go as expected when some hosts begin to gain sentience and search for a way to leave the park and join the real world.

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