The idea for Touch comes from a melding of my family/work life.
Growing up, I was one in a family of 13. I was also one of the youngest. Our family never had a lot but we were never in need. Through my parents example, we stood by each other and managed to make ends meet.
When we were kids one of the things my parents and older sisters and brothers always did for the smaller Harris kids was scratch our back, literally – especially when tired, grumpy, sick, and especially during those times when we were worried about something. The soft back scratch always seemed to make the worries go away. Getting a tender back scratch, to this day, remains one of the most connective humanistic moments in my life. It is a tradition that continues to this day in the Harris family with our young nephews and nieces. When my niece Robyn was 5-6 years old and visiting the Harris homestead, she would, without a word, go get the nail clippers, hand them to me and lay on my lap. Robyn loved the gentle back scratch of just clipped nails. As I softly scratched her back she would always fall asleep. My sister would jokingly get frustrated when she wanted to leave and little Robyn was out solid.
In my job with the Locations department for the TV show Republic of Doyle, I have scouted inside some of the most expensive beautiful homes in St. John’s. Homes that the average person living in this province would never see. Truly, the beauty of these magnificent edifices is stunning. I also found the children of the homeowners to be very courteous, well mannered, and really, just like kids from middle-class homes.
On the other end, I have scouted homes where generational poverty is the norm. As I mentioned, I had been in homes that the average person living in this province would never see. Only, this is the polar opposite.
There was one place in particular which stood out. A single mother and her three children, all under the age of six were living in a trailer. Inside, I witnessed abject poverty. It was obvious this mother truly did love her children and vice versa. Though it was my job, I could not bring myself to take reference pictures. I said the windows did not match what was written in the script. I left, drove up the road out of sight and pulled over. For the longest time just sat in my car, shocked.
When we began shooting at a nearby location, every morning the mother would come out of her trailer, wearing her convenience store work uniform, and head to the bus stop with her three children in tow. She and I would say hello and from afar I always observed the care and tenderness she showed her children. I thought to myself, these kids did not know the difference and to them their living conditions are normal. Over the ensuing days, other family members such as aunts and uncles would visit and the kids were genuinely happy to see them. The kids seemed to me to be just like the kids from homes I had scouted of the well-off families, who were like the kids from the middle-class families.
I began thinking about ways I could bring a viewer into the world of a single parent family living in abject poverty, yet, doing the things a “normal” family would do. Would we view the family who live in poverty the same way? We often do not think of people living in poverty showing love and affection to their children. I admit I saw the stereotype of people who live in poverty as prone to abuse. After witnessing this family, I wanted to, in story, totally reverse this stereotype, turn this negative stereotype belief on its head and bring the viewer into the world where a family, despite being under the colossal weight of poverty can indeed show the human spirit prevailing. The end result was the short script Touch.
I am a believer that the audience enjoys a film more when they are allowed to inject their own sensibilities into the story. This can be achieved through a story told visually with limited dialogue. Touch provides a rich environment for audience investment. They will worry about the safety of the kids but their worry will be richly rewarded in the end. I am hoping for discussion – What if Connie was living in an upper middle-class home and Uncle Paul was clean cut with a suave smart-casual dress ensemble? Yeah, and he had just arrived to babysit, arriving in his shiny black Lexus LS, grabbed a beer, peeked in and saw Benjamin was okay and then helped Emilie fall asleep by scratching her back. The audience would say, yeah that’s pretty normal. Any family would do the same. Put them in a different environment and you have a film that may generate discussion. And I truly want the audience to have a visceral feeling for the world of people who live in poverty. That is why Paul tosses the empty beer bottle onto the lawn. That’s what people who live in poverty sometimes do with their empties. Same with Connie going to work and leaving the front door unlocked. That’s what people who live in poverty sometimes do when the sitter is arriving late. In the end, I want the viewer to be moved. Nothing moves me more than seeing a child in need or in danger. I feel most people are the same.
I want the audience to worry about the safety of Emilie and Benjamin and in the end, be rewarded for their investment of worry. If it sparks some greater debate on why kids, in reality, do indeed have to live like this, bonus!
I have thought much on what look would best suit Touch. Having looked at many films in my life, I feel that the gritty world in which our characters inhabit can be best brought to life, thus giving Touch it’s own unique feel, through a process called bleach bypass – the process involves putting a black and white image over a colour image and tuning the levels to what best suits the story. A sample picture is included.
Where Touch is a story told mostly through visuals, I feel the soundscape has to be minimalist, a single musical instrument, the piano. The piano would underscore the visuals to support the intense dramatic undertone. This would be further supported with a soundscape of the neighbourhood.
Noel Harris, Writer/Director