So you are at home, self-isolation has started, and in the next few days you will do your part to stop the spread of coronavirus by staying at home.
At the same time, health specialists strongly recommend that physical contacts be kept to a minimum during this period.
Without physical contact, humanity loses a large part of its nature: One of our strongest senses is without a doubt the touch. Touching our loved ones, our partner, our children, our friends and our family is one of the things that keep us alive.
But what if this situation happened in a movie?
How would your character behave in such a strange scenario?
Physical contact has always been just as emotional in a film as in real life.
Think about it:
Would the Titanic be the same without Rose and Jack's kisses?
Would Rocky be the same without the legendary battle between Rocky and Apollo?
Would Star Wars be the same without Chewbacca and Leila's hug?
But nothing is lost yet: you can develop an amazing story without physical contact between your characters.
Let's look at an example of an independent film in which the main characters never touch until the end: Saw.
In Saw are our two main characters: Dr. Gordon and Adam chained on opposite sides to the last scene throughout the film.
They never touch and nobody else, they just talk: a good dose of dialogue, fear and self-harm, far from the usual splatter style in which the monster kills everyone.
Yet, even though the subplot is outside the room, Detective Tapp and Sing try to solve the case between the many flashbacks of the previous victims of JigSaw. What makes this story so unique is the very long dialogue between characters who are far apart. Sharing 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 celebrated scene between Hannibal Lecter and Agent Starling is another example of how you can get a movie to its maximum effect by just getting your characters to talk! The killer and the policeman are talking with 4 inch glass that separates them: At this moment there is no danger for Agent Starling, she is safe, but the way Hannibal speaks and moves makes our legs tingle, as if we were standing on the edge of a blindfolded roof.
So what do you need to focus on to create an engaging story with characters that can't touch?
As Kevin Smith (Clerks, Dogma) always said, making films about guys who only talk to each other is the most exciting and challenging thing a writer / director can do. You have to fill all the gaps that are left free in other films for sex, fighting, shooting, etc. You just have to find the right topics that can relate to your characters and the real world, and just let them talk, like in a podcast. Good actors who can improvise are also a big advantage in this situation. Think of Vincent Vega and Jules in Pulp Fiction: a completely isolated chat about what they call quarter-footers in Europe is one of the most famous dialogues in film history.
If people can't touch each other, it doesn't mean they can't touch each other … Hey hey, don't jump to naughty conclusions (we'll talk about that later). In this case, it would be a good thing to have a character with strong dancing or singing skills. A character who can play an instrument or has a passion for homemade work! In general, it would be great to focus your story on what someone can achieve after a long period of isolation and training (Rocky 4 someone?)
Let your characters find themselves
Not being able to hang out with your friends and family means you have to find your inside. Let your hero fight against his demons. Let the hero rethink his whole life and plan a new beginning. In this case, if you ignore tip 1, you can sometimes just let the audience “enjoy the silence” while the character finds the right way. Think of a quiet place: from 90 minutes of film, the characters speak only 2:47 minutes!
They cannot hug, but they can still love each other. The Italian prime minister recently said in an interview after the Italian ban: We won't be able to see and hug most of our friends and relatives for a while, but that doesn't mean we can't think any more than ever. This is what we need: to show how much we care for our loved ones every second of our life, especially in these challenging times. For example, imagine a mother who cannot kiss her daughter: we have to show how strong their connection is, how desperate they are to just hold on, even if there is an imaginary barrier that separates them.
Let's have some fun!
You don't always have to go to the city's crowded pub to have fun, do you? Let your characters have fun alone, let them have this infectious fun that the audience could engage with. Let them dance; sing with their favorite artists; Let them jump off a roof directly in the pool like in Project X or simply climb high and escape imaginary reptiles like in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas! At the end of the day, when you isolate yourself, the best thing you can do is laugh at it!
Last but not least: give him that sexy touch
Sex is certainly one of the most important things in our lives, and it is estimated that people spend at least 20% of their lives thinking about it or actually doing it (maybe a little less okay, I agree). But even if you can't touch your partner, there are other ways to make your movie a little hot. From a sexy video call to a classic striptease, there are many ways to spice up your story without physical contact: think of Shame with Michael Fassbender and spend most of your day watching online porn of all kinds. Or you can make them joke that they use the sex simulator like in Demolition Man … No, it didn't really work well in this movie!
However, there are hundreds of other ways to create an interesting story without your characters touching.
At the moment we can of course still touch, kiss and hug our loved ones, at least in real life. But who knows whether this situation will develop in such a way that we have to isolate ourselves completely for everyone, even for our family? Let us not worry about tomorrow for now, but instead enjoy today!
About Matteo Valentini
Matteo Valentini is an actor, screenwriter and director. Trained at E. Fabbri Drama Company in Italy, his country in London, where he studied screenwriting and filmmaking for two years and expanded his expertise by attending numerous film and drama workshops at the Raindance Film School and the Reel Scene Academy.
Valentini is primarily an action comedy filmmaker. His work focuses on a mixture of pulp, comedy, crime and action in the Tarantino style.
His previous credits included short films, web series and a feature.
Valentini has just released two comedy short films and is currently working on a new no-budget feature in a dystopian future in which social media rule the world.
Follow his latest work on Instagram @mrvalents