Tickled is a documentary on the surreal practice of professional tickling uncovered by David Farrier and Dylan Reeve. Imagine receiving an unsolicited email inviting you to participate in competitive, endurance tickling with the promise of free flights, five-star accommodation, and thousands of dollars. In that same email, this disclosure appears:
“Presently, I’ve been shooting all-male casts. It is important for you to understand from the get-go that this is not a fetish, or adult oriented content endeavor. Also, no nudity or implied nudity work is a part of anything that I ever shoot. This is a completely athletic activity with major competitive and endurance elements involved, including strategy and teamwork. Participants will always be clothed in a provided ADIDAS t-shirt and a pair of gym shorts that we provide.”
Film reviewer Hamish Popplestone had a chat with David Farrier about the strange phenomenon of tickling, and the creation of Tickled.
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Hamish: You’re known for your pop-culture journalism over the last decade: can you tell me how an investigation into a Youtube video of young men, tickling each other in active-wear, turned into a large, publicly fundraised documentary?
David: It was super organic. It started when I was in the newsroom browsing the internet and my friend, who is always trying to out-do me finding weird things, sent me a link for competitive, endurance tickling. Like any story that I would cover, I reached out to the organizers and, when they reacted in such a negative way, I started blogging about it on 3News in a series of three blogs. It was one of the most popular blogs I had done with people commenting and sharing like crazy. It was nice, because then I knew it wasn’t just something interesting in my own head. And then my friend, Dylan, started blogging about it as well, so I said we should start a Kickstarter and see if we could raise some money to go to America and do some filming. We raised the money and then, off the back of that, the Film Commission became interested and it blew up from there.
Hamish: It manifested into one of the most bizarre stories to surface, probably ever—did you imagine your investigation eventuating the way it did?
David: No. I knew it was something special that I had found and Dylan felt the same way. When we started the Kickstarter, we thought it would be a 20 or 30 minute Vimeo sort of documentary, but when the Film Commission gave us more money, we could start thinking about how to make it for the big screen, which is a different way of thinking about cinematography and sound. We never imagined it would get to this point.
Hamish: The production value was great and had a largely talented NZ based crew, however one name stands out. Stephen Fry is an associate producer. How did an English national treasure get on board?
David: That was crazy. It was as simple as him being a Kickstarter backer. We had these different Kickstarter rewards, and one of them was: if you give us a certain amount of money, you will be an associate producer; you’ll get to see some cuts of the film; you can give input; and he was the one that grabbed that reward. I remember being in Auckland and our funds suddenly skyrocketed. I saw whose name it was and it took me a while to realise it was actually him.
Hamish: What sort of feedback did he give?
David: He was great! I assumed he responded because of the bullying and sexuality aspects of the story, and that he’d move on with a million other things to do. But we’d send him cuts, and he’d watch them and give us pages of feedback. That happened over the course of a year as we put the whole thing together.
Hamish: Somewhere out there, there is a community of normal people who happen to enjoy the sexual side of tickling. Do you think Tickled will cause viewers to be less open minded about the fetish?
David: Already I’ve had a couple of people come up to me after a screening, saying they didn’t know this before, but they actually found the tickling stuff really sexy, and didn’t know this about themselves until then. Which is amazing because most people, I think, watch the tickling and feel uncomfortable. We have a gentleman in the film, Richard Ivey, who tickles for a full-time job, and people have been super into it. That was our intent: not to demonize this fetish, because the fetish is fine and people have responded really well to that.
Hamish: All through filming you were bombarded with legal threats and even found out that a personal investigator was following you in your home city. How seriously are you taking the threats and the prospect of facing court action?
David: We are taking the legal fallout very seriously. We had a lawyer look at the film incredibly closely before we had it submitted to Sundance. We have to take these things very seriously. The company has a lot of money—I was served, on the streets in Missouri, a couple of lawsuits, so you don’t want to joke it off. At the same time, we’re confident in what we have in the film and we’re just going through all the legal hoops and we’ll keep doing everything correctly. We’re all feeling pretty good about it.
Hamish: Did you have to edit much out for that purpose?
David: We were pretty careful when we were doing everything. We knew we were up against a company that would jump on anything we did. When it came to the edit, we were pretty good; we made the cuts for the purpose of story and getting to the point. Although, we are living in the age of the internet, and we’ll probably release a few bits and pieces online and on Blu-ray—we’ll see how we go.
Hamish: Do you think Tickled’s popularity will encourage more victims, who were previously unwilling to share their story, to come forward to help build the case?
David: Yeah, totally. We specially put a button on our website (tickledmovie.com) titled “Your Story,” because we’ve had a lot of people contacting us on my personal Facebook, or the “Tickled” page. That’s the great thing about people standing up and speaking out; it encourages other people to get the courage to do it themselves. We hear from people pretty much on a daily basis with different stories, because this is a story that stretches back around 20 years now.
Hamish: You’re now independent after you left Mediaworks. Are you ready to pioneer more documentaries?
David: Yeah we’ll see what happens. I’ve got other ideas about documentaries I’d like to get on the road, but it took two years to make Tickled and it was pretty stressful. It takes a lot of time and it’s not guaranteed that you’re going to find an audience. In short, I’ve got some other ideas. As to how that stuff goes, we’ll just have to see.