Power of Story: On Intimacy–Barry Jenkins on Shooting Moonlight (Sundance Fest 2023 Panel)

Barry Jenkins Recalls Directing Intimate Scenes in ‘Moonlight’

Dakota Johnson dropped out of the panel, Power of Story: On Intimacy, citing a “family emergency,” with Oscar-winning filmmaker Jenkins, intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien, author Lisa Taddeo and ‘Couples Therapy’ star Dr. Orna Guralnik.

Oscar-winning filmmaker Barry Jenkins took the stage at the Park City’s Egyptian Theatre on Sunday afternoon to share the spotlight with author Lisa Taddeo, intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien and Couples Therapy star Dr. Orna Guralnik to talk about intimacy at the official Sundance Fest panel, Power of Story: On Intimacy.

Jenkins’ partner, award-winning filmmaker Lulu Wang, is fan of Couples Therapy, and she’s seen all 3 seasons (more than once), and she’s “slowly” been getting him to watch the Showtime series. Once he arrived at Sunday’s panel, he realized the moderator was the same therapist from the series, so he immediately texted Wang.

“To me, intimacy in my current relationship is, I know what I want to be saying, I know what I think I should be saying,” he said, “but in here, I know what I’m feeling and the most direct way is to watching your damn show multiple times.”

Jenkins shared a story from the set of his 2016 Oscar winning film, Moonlight, where he was directing the first kiss between actors Ashton Sanders and Jharrel Jerome. The pivotal scene on the beach marks the first exploration of Sanders’ character Chiron’s sexuality. “Neither one of these kids have been in a movie or kissed anyone in a movie,” said the director, who had to ask as the pseudo intimacy-coordinator. “They have to make out in front of all of these people and all of these gruff dudes in the grip department.”

“Moonlight”

Jenkins recalled Jerome having some difficulties understanding the scenes and talked him through it by explaining that it was Chiron’s first sexual experience, but it wasn’t for Jerome’s Kevin. “He trusts you, help him with that,” Jenkins recalls of what he told Jerome, and from there, the actor understood. “The frame was set and the scene directed itself from there.”

“It can be dangerous when one actor’s presence is here and another actor’s presence is over here. It is really wonderful to have these guidelines.”

It was announced that planned panelist Dakota Johnson had to drop out, citing a “family emergency,” per Sundance Institute’s Joana Vicente.

The panel also had other “technical issue” that delayed the start more than an hour.

The foursome contributed to an insightful conversation about changing protocols on set, their approach to intimacy, consent and the mechanics of how things work these days in the wake of major changes as a result of the #MeToo movement.

“It’s really important that the actors have the autonomy to stop the action,” said O’Brien, who has worked on such projects as Watchmen, Normal People, The Great, I May Destroy You, Industry, It’s a Sin, Sex Education, The Last Duel and the upcoming Magic Mike’s Last Dance.

She shared an example of recent work with an unnamed actor who, after having conversations with his partner, said that he would not be touching anyone’s breasts or nipples and he didn’t want any other actors touching his chest or nipples. “Any inspiration you think you might go to is checked out, and so they don’t have to worry about that. There’s freedom [in that].”