Earlier this week, we published a rave review of the bizarre documentary Tickled, which can be read here.
Recently, Tickled director and New Zealand journalist David Farrier was kind enough to sit down with us and talk about some of the film’s aftereffects, the filming process, the bizarre nature of the subject, and the difference between alligators and crocodiles.
Tickled is playing in select theaters. For screenings, click here.
*************************Warning: Major Spoilers for Tickled ahead.********************************
Martin Schneider: I don’t mind telling you, I have had a hell of a time trying to figure out what I want to ask you.
David Farrier: A reasonable position to be in, I think.
MS: I have a lot of questions about the filmmaking and the process, but also part of me wants to just scream “DUDE, IS THIS SHIT FOR REAL??” at you for twenty minutes.
DF: Yes it is for real, that is one thing I can tell you straight up, but yeah that’s something we keep hearing.
MS: And, part of the reason for this is because this story is not over. There is still stuff happening as recently as a week ago. [Ed. note – referring to this event, where Tickled’s main subject confronted co-directer Dylan Reeve at the Los Angeles premiere.]
DF: Yeah, on Saturday, in Los Angeles, we had some of the key players turn up, fairly unexpectedly actually. Dylan and I talked about what we could expect, either in New York or LA, and we hadn’t dreamed up that scenario.
MS: Can you take me through your response there? What happened in your head as you learned that this was happening?
DF: It was interesting for me because Dylan and I had split up. So I was at the New York screening and Dylan was at the LA screening. And we were kind of thinking that if anything was going to happen it would be in New York, because that’s where most of these people are. But, I got a call from Dylan, who said that Kevin had turned up, and then he said David D’Amato was here as well. And so, the thing we immediately did was scramble some cameras, because we want to document what is happening post the film’s release.
Also, we had this idea to set up a livestream so that people could watch things unfold. We didn’t know if we were going to talk to these people or not, but they ended up engaging with us before the Q and A, sort of as Dylan walked into the theater. And so Dylan said [to the audience], “I’d like to introduce…” and he named some of the people in the film that were there, and so the audience was suddenly aware that all the people they’d watched on the big screen were suddenly there in the theater with them, which was just like this really surreal kind of immersive experience for the audience. [laughs]
MS: I watched a little bit of the video, there was like an hour worth of footage.
DF: It goes on for a while. And then right at the very end of the Q and A, Dylan handed the mic over to the main focus of the film, David D’Amato, and David D’Amato proceeded to threaten us with more lawsuits, he said we need to lawyer up further than we already are, and to get criminal counsel. It was a really surreal night and I was watching this with about six friends all gathered around our phones streaming it from Los Angeles, so it was very surreal for me as well.
MS: Let’s talk about those threats, actually, because in the film there’s kind of an arc for you. At first you’re kind of laughing in the face of danger, you think that this is still a little bit silly and strange, but you start to take things more seriously as they progress. Do you still take these things seriously at all after three years of hearing the same things over and over again?
DF: I mean, I’ve gotten more used to it, but I still take it seriously because you have to. There’s already been two defamation suits filed a couple of months ago, which I understand are being dismissed now, and according to D’Amato they’re going to be refiled in New York. But you have to take it seriously, because it’s money, right? It does cost money to defend yourself, it doesn’t matter if the allegations are based in fact or not.
So yeah, you have to take it seriously but at the same time it’s also so extreme, I mean if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry, right? So you’ve got to kind of have a sense of humor about it on some level.
MS: Do you think David D’Amato is ever going to figure out that the more he pokes at you, the more interested in this you become?
DF: I don’t know. We were all very surprised to see everyone in that theater in such a public way, because they saw that there were cameras everywhere, you know? And so, I don’t know. This whole journey has been incredibly unpredictable, right from when it started a couple of years ago, so I’ve given up trying to predict behavior or what will happen.
MS: Are you getting enough material for a sequel? Should we expect a follow up in the next year or so?
DF: I mean, we are covering what is happening, because everything has kicked up. We had a couple of private investigators that were sent from New York to Muskegon, Missouri who were trying to record the film funnily enough, from a coffee cup. And the police had to remove them.
I mean it’s outrageous. I mean, two private investigators sent that far. So, we’re recording everything and I don’t know what we’ll do with it. I very much feel like I’m in the middle of it again, and it’s a story that I thought had possibly ended that appears not to have.
MS: Are any of the men from these tickle videos who didn’t want to speak to you before reaching out now that the story is getting more attention?
DF: Yeah, we have, because obviously when you’re making a film, Dylan and I were just a couple of strangers, a no-one from New Zealand getting in touch with these people, right? Saying, “We’re making a documentary”. There’s a lot of people making documentaries, that are just making, who knows what. We could have been just making some terrible thing for YouTube, you know?
So, now we’ve got this film that’s being picked up, and we’re in cinemas, and HBO Documentary Films is going to play it, we have that credibility now. We’re hearing from a lot of people, and people that are seeing the film are saying, “I was involved in this twelve, thirteen, fourteen years ago, this is my story”.
The documentary is filling in gaps for them, they’re getting a sense of closure, and also they now feel the courage to talk about what happened, because they can see how talking can possibly help other people, I think. And they just want to get it off their chests, there’s this weird thing that turned around on them for a long time, and now they have an opportunity to make sense of it in their own heads.
MS: The film deals a little bit in the complete inability of most law enforcement agencies to really handle cases of harassment, and especially online harassment. In the age of things like targeted harassment campaigns like Gamergate, was there any point in time during the film that you were just stunned at the inability of anyone to do anything about this? And, do you think your film is going to do anything to help that?
DF: I hope so. In putting the film out, very specifically, we wanted to shine a light on something we saw as being an injustice, and in this particular case, hopefully stop this from happening. But, yeah of course, I think it’s a really good example of how ineffectual law enforcement seems to be with stuff that exists online. There is so much, so many– this is one of many examples of online harassment, and as you say Gamergate is happening, that’s something that Dylan and I followed quite closely and are shocked by it.
And it’s allowed to happen, because law enforcement is catching up and trying to figure out how to deal with this, because you are dealing with a lot of anonymous, angry people. So, yeah, I hope it’s used as a case study, a very clear example of how things are, and how the law is ineffectual at the moment regarding internet harassment.
MS: It definitely feels like your film maybe serves as a catharsis, for some harassment victims who aren’t able to peel back the curtain like you did.
DF: I’ve talked recently to one of the original students who had the FBI turn up, and they said exactly that. They felt some closure with this whole thing. It’s in their distant past, but they still didn’t really know what had happened, and they didn’t know why people got off so lightly for it. So for them to watch it, yeah definitely it gives them some catharsis.
MS: The film basically takes the form of a long-form investigative journalism piece, which is not really the most cinematic of things. But in your film, there are some great images that match the tone of what’s happening during the story. Where was the decision there? Did you decide that when you saw the filming, or did you go back to your B roll during the editing and say, “We have to put this in here”? When did you decide to make those images in there, give it that little cinematic effect?
DF: Yeah, we had a lot of conversations very early on about the sort of images we wanted to use in the film, because we didn’t want this just to be a film where you are watching tickling for an hour and a half. Because no one would want to watch that.
MS: Well, somebody would, as you know.
DF: [laughs] Right, somebody would.
We wanted to focus on this theme running throughout the film of power and control that we would shoot it, so anything we saw was a victim, or something dominating something else, that is something that we would shoot that we ran into it. So, that’s where we’ve got dogs chasing squirrels and a hawk eating a squirrel, a car crash, that sort of thing. And then that stuff was honed obviously in the edit room with Simon Coldrick, our Editor. I sat with him in the mornings, and I would need to go to my day job in the newsroom the rest of the day, and he formed some really amazing sequences in there as well.
MS: Do you have any of those favorite domination and control images that didn’t make it into the film?
DF: Yeah, there was, leading to Florida we shot a lot of… um…. is it alligators or crocodiles in Florida?
DF: It’s gators, right? We don’t have a lot of these things in New Zealand. [laughs]
MS: Gators have wide snouts, I think.
DF: We went to Gatorland–that would explain that, right? We went to Gatorland and we shot a lot of gator footage, we spent pretty much a day there and we got real close as they were feeding. But we just couldn’t see it in a neat place in the film. We had cut some sequences, that they just didn’t find a home.
MS: At one point in the film, you go to Richard’s house, and he’s a legitimate fetish video producer.
And you film him filming, basically. And there’s this great music in the background, everything’s in slow mo’d, you’ve got a great close up-of the nipple. Did you realize at one point that inside of your documentary, you’ve made possibly the greatest tickle fetish video of all time?
DF: [laughs] Yes! You know, I’ve talked to Richard about that, because people have responded in the audience. We’ve got some people afterwards that have come down to us and said “We didn’t know before this film that we really, we watched it and we felt a strange feeling in our stomach, and it turns out we really love tickling videos.” That’s not the common response, but we’ve had that.
Richard now jokes that he’s going to have to start shooting some of his tickle erotica in slow motion to keep up.
MS: You are the Orson Welles of tickle fetish videos.
DF: I’m glad you liked the music there because in a New Zealand guy, Rhody Kirkade did the music for us, so that was, his music is all throughout the film, I think he did a really great job. We put it up on iTunes. There are a few tracks used from [Primer/Upstream Color filmmaker] Shane Carruth, I’m obsessed with Upstream Color, and we used some of those tracks to cut to. He saw the film and let us keep them in the film, which was great, so it’s a bit of his music, and then a lot of original music.
MS: In the film, there’s one scene where you’re a little bit hesitant to go on but Dylan really wants to continue. And that’s about the most we get of conflict between you and Dylan. Were there other scenes, were there other points where the two of you diverged on this, on any other issues?
DF: Generally with the story, we weirdly didn’t argue a lot. If we argued about anything it was in post where we were arguing about really seemingly fickle things like font choice and spacing between letters, and just really little decisions. But on the road, apart from just the usual annoyances, I did a lot of the driving and Dylan was a pretty annoying backseat driver. And we filmed a lot of it but we didn’t put that in the film just because it became so superfluous to everything else that was going on.
And the weird thing is, we weren’t quite friends before this. We were Facebook friends and Twitter friends, we only met each other once before. So this could have been a disaster. But, for whatever reason, I think just because we had the same goal, which was to shine some light on the systematic bullying that we saw, I think we bonded over that.
MS: Did you go back to talk to David Starr, and tell him that he’d been working for a man named David D’Amato that entire time?
DF: Yeah, we did. I mean, he was aware, he’d actually been sued by David D’Amato. So, when we interviewed him, he never met David D’Amato but he was aware that David D’Amato was Terri, at the time. He didn’t know about Jane O’Brien, that was all new. But he was aware that he was dealing with D’Amato.
So you know when it all came up public about the case, it was in a lot of papers. And he was just really, I think he was really amazed that this had gone on since he’d been in prison. I think he was pretty amazed by that. And suddenly finding that these letters he’d been sent were written it looks like from the same time period when D’Amato had been caught.
MS: When Terri had “mono”, quote unquote.
DF: When Terri had mono. [laughs] What a thing to have.
MS: That’s such a schoolboy excuse, too.
DF: It’s so juvenile, isn’t it? It’s like a comedic excuse for a sickness.
MS: Ferris Bueller didn’t have that ridiculous of an excuse.
DF: [laughs] Exactly, that’s right, this amazing comedic film. It’s kind of outrageous. And that’s the whole thing, right?