Mediating Intimacy: The Rise of On-Set Liaisons in Adult

CHATSWORTH, Calif.—Adult performers are in uniquely vulnerable situations every time they go to a set, especially newer performers. There is nothing unusual about an 18-year-old girl, new to the industry, walking up to a San Fernando Valley home that she’s never been to before, to a set where she’s never met anyone, and soon having sex with someone she’s also never met. In that scenario, it’s likely the young lady is not particularly savvy about her options on a set, and there are countless stories of performers feeling pressured or coerced into doing things they didn’t want to do. A few of the recurring themes from victims in the industry are that they didn’t know that they could say no, that they didn’t want to be branded problematic, and that they didn’t want to miss out on the money.   One of the methods Hollywood has enacted to ensure safety on set is to install “intimacy directors” (also often called “intimacy coordinators”) for scenes that demand nudity or physically intimate situations. One of the most notable uses has been on HBO’s series The Deuce, which is set in the pre-Disney Times Square of the 1970s. It dives into that legendary underworld of pimps, prostitutes and porn stars—thus, there is a lot of nudity and a lot of sex. Obviously, there is a difference between Hollywood and Porn Valley, but the point is to create a work environment within the given parameters that ensures everyone’s comfort and safety. Actress Margaret Judson wrote an article for the New York Times two years ago detailing her experience on The Deuce and working with the show’s intimacy director, Alicia Rodis. She wrote that “Rodis watched over the set like a chaperone at prom.” Rodis ensured her co-star sanitized his hands before they started and between takes, she brought the actress mints and water—she “checked in with me constantly. “She also choreographed certain movements, much like a stunt director,” Judson wrote. “Rodis pointed out that in a simulated sex scene, an actor may be touched on a vulnerable part of the body, and therefore deserves the same attention and protections as in a combat sequence. … She gave us direction on how to make certain moments steamier, and when to pull back. My scene partner and I felt comfortable and protected. So much so that after one take in which we got a little too comfortable and went a little too far, she walked over with some notes.” Now something similar is coming to Porn Valley. The Adult Performers Actors Guild (APAG) is a talent union that was created in 2016. It has pushed for health insurance access, fair compensation, and in June announced that it was launching a new “On Set Steward Program” (OSS) with third-party performer advocates on the sets of adult productions in an effort to ensure performers’ safety in the workplace. “The OSS Program will offer trained stewards to be placed on adult sets as an advocate for the performers,” the June APAG announcement read. “All stewards will have to complete an extensive ‘performer safety training program,’ must have previous experience on adult film sets, and will undergo background checks to ensure that our performers are in the best hands possible. Besides first aid training, and CPR certification, we will require all stewards to be QPR certified. QPR, meaning: Question, Persuade, and Refer. QPR is an emergency mental health intervention training designed to help identify when a person may be in crisis.” The concept isn’t entirely new to the industry. In 2018, director Just Dave realized it was time to add some safeguards to how his sets were handled and came up with a set liaison system he’s been using for himself and setting up for other companies ever since. “What I’ve learned is that people remember things differently, they just do,” Dave told AVN.  After considering various options, he decided to add a female liaison to his sets, developing three versions of the system. The “budget option” is setting up a camera in the corner that records everything: video sign-ins with all talent, dos and don’ts with all, then a camera in the corner of the set capturing everything. He said he goes so far as to record the time whenever the camera’s battery needs to be changed. “This is the most important thing: Every time camera is started and stopped, a 10-second shot of any phone screen with time and date!” he said. “Especially when the battery is changed. This shows how many minutes passed during the battery change. If someone makes a claim that something happened during that cut and you have a shot of a phone when the camera was cut and when the camera was turned back on, this can negate any serious allegations. Especially if there is a 2-minute difference between cutting and starting to record again.” After the shoot, talent is paid prior to an outgoing interview, that way “the model can’t claim that she only answered the questions to get paid.” “When female performer leaves to the bathroom or smoke break, anything, all crew gets in eyesight of the camera until female gets back,” he continued. “Very important! It documents where everyone is when female is gone. If there are multiple females on set and they leave in different directions, the whole crew absolutely needs to be on camera.” The “medium option” is Just Dave hiring a liaison who works for the director. When the performer needs something—water, lube, wipes, towels, oil on her body, help with a makeup sponge, tags cut—it’s done by the liaison.  The “hardcore option” has the liaison hired by the company—she reports to the company, gets paid by the company and can overrule the director. She also handles the camera and “follows the talent everywhere.” “The second the liaison says to cut or kill, we cut it or kill it,” Dave said. “If I see anything, I’ll kill it. If the scene is killed before sex, no kill [fee]. After sex, kill fees apply. All of this acts as a deterrent and the performers are more comfortable because they know it’s business. The fact that they know someone is there for them helps a lot.” The crew is not allowed to communicate with the talent other than a simple introduction “with no touching other than a fist bump or handshake.” Just Dave also put the kabosh on anything that might escalate. No politics (“if she’s a Republican, you’re a Republican; if she’s a Democrat, you’re a Democrat”), no jokes, no shit-talking other talent—things that can upset people have no place on his sets, he said.  This kind of dramatic change, no matter how well-intended or necessary, will not happen overnight. Producers and agents will need to be convinced that it is necessary and the issue of who pays for the position must be decided in an industry where sets are often bare-bones operations. And, most of all, it needs to work for the performers. “I think the concept is great,” said performer Jane Wilde. “I wonder if it would really be able to come to fruition though due to the many internal and even unconscious biases that people within the industry have toward each other, and bias that outsiders have towards us. It’s tricky.” Best case scenario, these situations aren’t allowed to develop at all, which is the hope for the APAG SSP. At the very least, some recent issues that have come to light have at least made much of the industry reconsider how a set is run. Disputed or not, if performers feel like they are being taken advantage of and/or not being listened to, there is a problem. “I had a meeting with some of the big brands that I work with and people are listening,” director Holly Randall said. “They are all talking about how we can take steps to ensure that girls feel safe on set, that they feel heard, that they don’t feel intimidated to speak up when they’re uncomfortable, that everything is communicated clearly and that it feels fair to them. As a producer, it’s something that I need to look closely at. Was there ever a time that I didn’t hear a girl and she was trying to say that she wasn’t comfortable? Have I ever been dismissive of a girl and how she felt that day? Where have I been inconsiderate of a performer’s feelings? I think it’s something that affects all of us.” APAG president Alana Evans expects the organization’s OSS program to have two dozen liaisons ready when the program launches in mid-August. All will be female former performers who have first aid training, CPR certification, are QPR certified, and have completed APAG’s training program tailored specifically to set issues, privacy, STI training, intimacy training and boundary awareness.  “The liaisons are their peers,” Evans said. “Each OSS has experience on set and within our industry. At the end of the day, performing is a job. We are hired to perform under a basis of reasoning and consent. We are all vulnerable as performers, and we understand how it feels to be in that position. With performers, trust is earned, and I believe the intention of the program automatically helps the performer understand that all involved are putting that performer’s safety first. When you walk onto a set that has a steward there, a performer can automatically feel safe.” Evans envisions a steward showing up on set before the performer to greet her on arrival and walk her through introductions, paperwork and to help her settle in. The steward would then shadow the performer for the day to ensure that everything goes smoothly. “I believe having these steps in the beginning of the day can help build the confidence and trust between the performer and the steward,” Evans said. “The steward will be close at hand, but not uncomfortably so, for the performer as they are filming. The steward will remain on the set until performers have left for that day. In a circumstance with multiple performers, and multiple scenes being shot at once, more than one steward may be necessary.” One of the first questions that arises is simple and obvious: Who will pay? Budgets today are nowhere near what they were a decade or more ago thanks to dwindling income caused by pirating and the proliferation of free content on the internet. “I think that the scene steward concept is potentially a good idea and some companies are already starting to implement the concept or something similar,” agent Mark Spiegler of Spiegler Girls said. “My question is, who will assume the burden of paying the stewards? Many of the smaller- to medium-size companies will not be able to afford them.” “Cost has not been an issue,” Just Dave said. “It gets paid for by the production, it’s just part of the budget. All the companies I work for have budgeted for it and from what I understand all of the companies will want to start doing it.” Evans also said paying for the set liaison would be the responsibility of the production companies. “We already have companies requesting the rates so that they can put it in their future filming budgets,” she said. “The decision of having a steward on site, outside of collective-bargaining agreements, could really be up to anyone involved in the filming. An agent could require that all of his performers have a steward on site. A performer could require that she only have stewards on site when she works for companies, and companies themselves can require all stewards to be on their sets as a safety measure.” While adding another line to the budget will not be welcomed by all, doing so can act as an insurance policy. Just Dave’s system of having a camera running the entire day can give investigators a view of most things that happened on a set, while a liaison should, in theory, be able to act as an independent voice should someone later feel that they weren’t treated fairly. Otherwise, disputes are left to social media, which can be damaging if not fatal to a career no matter what the actual facts of the situation are, or to producers or even law enforcement. The best-case scenario would be diffusion and clarification in real time, before things can escalate. Wilde, for one, believes a liaison could have helped to prevent some of the situations she has found herself in over her career. “I do think that if I had a competent, female liaison, that would have helped with many of my bad experiences on set, but I can’t say for sure,” Wilde said. “There needs to be a proper vetting system to make sure that anyone who makes it onto a set with this as their duty has only one thing on their mind and that’s to protect the performers and make sure conversations about consent happen. “I will no longer shoot for companies or directors or with talent that I do not enjoy working with,” she added. “That eliminates any issues of uncertainty with unfamiliar people on set. I will forever ask my partner for their boundaries and tell them mine. I will not allow my safety to be solely my responsibility. I have to trust everyone on set. Everyone. If I don’t, I can’t and won’t be on that set. It’s just too much.” Image by Pixource from Pixabay

written by: Troy Dean

source: Mediating Intimacy: The Rise of On-Set Liaisons in Adult | AVN

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