So you are at home, self-isolation has begun and for the next few days you are giving your contribution to help stop the spread of Coronavirus, by staying at home.
At the same time, Health specialists strongly suggest to limit physical contacts to a minimum during this period.
Without physical contact, humanity loses a great part of its essence: one of our strongest senses is with no doubt the touch. Touching our loved ones, our partner, our kids, our friends, our family is one of the things that keeps us alive.
But what if this situation would happen in a movie?
How would your character behave in such a weird scenario?
Physical contact has always been as much emotional in a movie, as it is in real life.
Think about it:
Would Titanic be the same without Rose and Jack’s kisses?
Would Rocky be the same without the legendary fight between Rocky and Apollo?
Would Star Wars be the same without Chewbacca and Leila’s hug?
But nothing is lost yet: you can still develop an amazing story even without physical contact between your characters.
Let’s see an example of an independent movie where the main characters never touch, except for the ending: Saw.
In Saw, our two main characters: Dr. Gordon and Adam are chained on opposite sides throughout pretty much the whole film up until the last scene.
They never touch each other, nor anyone else, they just talk: a good dose of dialogue, fear and self-harm, far away from the usual splatter style, where the monster kills everyone.
And yet, even though there is the subplot set outside of the room, following Detective Tapp and Sing trying to solve the case between the many flashbacks of JigSaw’s previous victims; what makes this story so unique is the very long dialogue between characters far from each other. The sharing of fear, lies, background and empathy between Dr Gordon and Adam, while the death clock is ticking.
Let’s take another example: The Silence of the Lambs.
The acclaimed scene between Hannibal Lecter and agent Starling is another example of how you can elevate a movie to its maximum effects, just making your characters talk! The killer and the police officer talk with 4 inches of glass separating them: there is no danger in that moment for Agent Starling, she is safe, but yet the way Hannibal talks and moves makes our legs tingling as if we were standing on the edge of a roof blindfolded.
So what do you need to focus on, in order to create an engaging story with characters not allowed to touch each other?
As Kevin Smith (Clerks, Dogma) always said: making movies about dudes just talking to each other is the most exciting and challenging thing a writer/director could do. You have to fill up all those gaps that in other kind of movies are kept free for sex, fight, gun shots scenes and so on… You just have to find the right subjects which can relate to your characters and with the real world, and just let them talk, like in a podcast. Having good actors able to improvise is also another great advantage in this situation. Think about Vincent Vega and Jules in Pulp Fiction: a chat completely off topic about what they call a quarter pounder in Europe is one of the most acclaimed dialogues in film history.
If people can’t touch each other, that doesn’t mean they can’t touch themselves… Hey hey, don’t jump to cheeky conclusions (we’ll talk about it later). In this case a good thing would be to have a character with strong dancing or singing skills. A character able to play an instrument, or with a passion for homemade work! Generally, it would be great to focus your story on what someone can achieve by him/herself after a long period of isolation and training (Rocky 4 anyone?)
Let your characters find themselves
Not being able to hang out with your friends and family, means that you have to find your inner self. Make your hero fight his/her demons; make the hero rethink all his/her life and plan a new beginning. Ignoring tip 1 in this case, sometimes you can just let the audience “enjoy the silence” while the character finds the right way. Think about A Quiet Place: out of 90 minutes of movie, the characters only talk for 2:47 minutes!
They can’t hug each other, but they can still love each other. Italian Prime Minister recently said in an interview after the Italian lockdown: we won’t see and won’t be able to hug most of our friends and relatives for a while, but this doesn’t mean we cannot think each other stronger than ever. That’s what we need: showing how much we care about our loved ones every single second of our lives, especially during these challenging times. For example imagine a mother that cannot kiss her daughter: we need to show how powerful their connection is, how desperate they are to just hold each other again, even if there is an imaginary barrier dividing them.
Let’s have some fun!
You don’t always need to go to the most crowded pub of the city to have fun right? Let your characters have fun on their own, let them have that kind of contagious fun that could engage the audience with them. Let them dance; sing along their favourite artists; let them jump from a roof straight in the swimming pool like in Project X, or let them just get high and escape from imaginary reptiles like in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas! At the end of the day, if you are isolating, the best thing you can do is to have a laugh about that!
Last but not least: give it that sexy touch
Sex is certainly one of the most important thing in our lives, and it is estimated that people spend at least 20% of their life thinking about it or actually doing it (maybe a bit less okay I agree). But even if you can’t touch your partner, there are other ways to make your movie a bit hot. From a sexy video call to a classic strip tease you have plenty of ways to spice up your story without physical contacts: think about Shame with Michael Fassbender, spending most of his day watching online porn of any kind. Or you can jest let them use the Sex Simulator like in Demolition Man… Nah, didn’t really work out well in this movie!
Anyways, there are hundreds of other ways to create an interesting story without having your characters touch.
At the moment we can obviously still touch and kiss and hug our beloved ones at least in real life, but who knows if this situation will evolve in a way that we’ll have to completely isolate from anyone, even our family? For now, let’s just not worry about tomorrow, but enjoy today instead!