UK entertainment union Equity, which counts more than 40,000 members, has published a comprehensive set of best practice guidelines for the industry in response to the wave of sexual harassment incidents blighting the business. The group, which reps actors, directors and models, notably says it will investigate the different types of non-disclosure agreements used by the industry after having been “alerted to NDAs which include provisions forbidding anything that occurs in the casting or production space to be made public.”

It is also taking aim at inappropriate and unexpected on-screen demands on actors and is “examining the value and role of intimacy direction — where a specialist practitioner advises and protects performers engaged in scenes of simulated sex or nudity to ensure the work is appropriately choreographed, directed and supported.”

Meanwhile, the union says actors should not be asked to undress in auditions unless a mutually agreed observer is present nor should they have to simulate sex acts.

Some UK newspapers had in recent weeks speculated that the guidelines would include a rule calling for an end to the “mixing of saliva” during kissing scenes but this is not mentioned in the text.

The report demands that “the nature of a role is fully explained when contracts are signed and that any intimate scenes in a script or performance are discussed with the performer and agreed in advance”.

It states that at the start of every new rehearsal period, read-through or workshop, hosts must confirm verbally that they have a policy of zero tolerance to bullying, harassment and sexual harassment.

Given that Equity is the main trade union for actors and performers in the UK the report is of note. While it follows on the heels of a BAFTA and BFI set of best practice instructions, these new guidelines raise specific concerns about the limits of NDAs – one of the key elements of the Harvey Weinstein scandal — and specifically call for better practice among agents, casting directors, directors and those closely associated with actors.

Overall, the union calls on the whole industry to do more to provide safer working environments. But it also reveals its own new measures to assist members such as a helpline, a campaign to raise awareness about inappropriate behavior and more training for its own staff to better identify wrongdoing.

The union affirms that “future Equity contracts and industrial agreements will aim to reference engagers’ [such as producers] own policies on dignity and respect at work and that “dignity and respect at work policies should be attached to contracts.”

Other proposals include:

  • Casting directors should refrain from facilitating and actively discourage one-to- one meetings in non-professional environments
  • Equity will lobby to change the law on a number of issues including extending the time limit for lodging a claim of sexual harassment from three months to at least six
  • The union says it “not only expects these policies to be put in place but we will use them to hold engagers to account. They must be the levers of real change.”

Equity’s working group on sexual harassment was formed in November 2017 and was led by actor Maureen Beattie (Midsomer Murders), the Equity Vice President who has herself suffered harassment in the past.

The union asked all members for three suggestions they felt could make a difference. More than 340 members put forward their ideas and the group subsequently held meetings with industry bodies including Directors UK, Stage Directors’ UK, Women in Film and TV, the Casting Directors’ Guild, the British Film Institute and the Old Vic, which was formerly home to Kevin Spacey.

Beattie said, “This report represents an opportunity — an opportunity which may not come our way again for many years — to harness the energy released by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and rethink the way we deal with sexual harassment in the entertainment industry. I’ve suffered sexual harassment in my career, both as a victim and as a bystander, and it is my fervent hope that the work that follows this report will lead to a future where no-one has to suffer harassment of any kind, ever again. If we are to create a workplace truly without fear it is imperative the industry accepts the recommendations in this report.”

Equity is acting in the wake of the string of sexual harassment allegations made against the likes of Weinstein, Spacey, Bryan Singer and Michael Colgan, who was formerly in charge of the Gate Theatre in Dublin. The report comes one day after a 10th woman came forward to UK police with an allegation against Weinstein.