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It’s not every day that a client has a BAFTA award dedicated to them. But that’s precisely what happened to Ita O’Brien, managing director of Intimacy on Set, when Michaela Coel, lead actor in BBC Three hit I May Destroy You, was awarded best actress at the prestigious UK awards ceremony earlier this year.

Actor Michaela Coel said: “Thank you for your existence in our industry, for making the space safe, for creating physical, emotional and professional boundaries so that we can make work about exploitation, loss of respect, about abuse of power without being exploited or abused in the process… Your direction was essential to my show.”

Ita is an intimacy coordinator; a role she pioneered in 2017 and one that is now in huge demand from leading production houses, including HBO, Netflix and the BBC. She lists Sex Education, Normal People, Gentleman Jack, It’s a Sin and Watchmen among the many shows she has worked on.

An advocate for actors involved in intimate, nude or sexual scenes in TV, film and theatre, Ita works between actors and producers to ensure that actors are always comfortable in what is being asked of them and she will negotiate between both parties to reach agreement about what is appropriate helping directors’ visions come alive but with careful consideration for actors’ professional boundaries.

With a professional and person-first approach, Ita develops risk-assessments for actors, helps with scene sculpting, oversees rehearsals, supervises scenes, and provides post-production debriefs so that everyone on set is comfortable and respectful of processes, procedures and parameters.

She explains: “My work touches upon so many areas of life: conflict resolution, health and safety, unconscious bias and mental health for example, but it also enables productions to go ahead so that everyone on set feels safe and able to do their job.

“My services are part of a much bigger discussion around consent, which is really having the spotlight shone on it and rightfully so. I want to free the actor to embody the character whilst delivering repeatable and safe scenes that facilitate the director’s vision. There is nothing worse than an actor worrying about one particular scene when advocacy means that worry can be managed and let the actor carry on with what they do best,” explains Ita.

When McBrides interviews Ita she is in Belfast preparing to start work on a new production. Finishing her previous day at 1.30am, she started her new day at 6am excitedly fully accrediting New Zealand actress and former New Zealand Equity chair Jennifer Ward-Lealand as an intimacy coordinator. “My schedule is crazy right now, but I can’t complain after a year that saw TV and theatre production stop dead in its tracks. There is definitely time to be made up!” she says.

A graduate of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre school, a trained dancer and a movement director, Ita developed draft intimacy on set guidelines in April 2017, and after conducting research and development through a devised piece of work during August 2014/15, and then teaching the guidelines in drama schools, honing the delivery of the work.

Ita subsequently shared her iteration with the industry in June 2017. While the guidelines were of interest to students and more progressive sets and productions, it was the Harvey Weinstein revelations, and his subsequent conviction, along with the impact of the Times Up and #MeToo movements that saw increased interest in the guidelines along with meteoric demand for her services.

Of course, Ita can’t work on every set – there aren’t enough hours in the day! However, she has trained and is training other actors and industry professionals as intimacy coordinators across the globe. Ita’s business also provides consultancy services and advocacy and training, which includes industry best practice, workshops, course design and delivery in leading drama schools.

With her expertise in high demand, Ita is keen that financial administration is lifted from her shoulders – and this is where McBrides is helping her, enabling her to focus on her day job and building her consultancy services.

Find out more about our clients here.

McBrides Chartered Accountants