Tickled Q&A: David Farrier and Dylan Reeve
Tickled is the new New Zealand doco that has taken the Sundance Festival by storm.
It started when David Farrier was threatened and abused when investigating a story about men being tickled. Intrigued, David dug deeper and discovered a world he had never expected.
The film was backed on Kickstarter and received the attention of Stephen Fry.
I caught up with co-directors David Farrier and Dylan Reeve to talk about the film and the rapturous reception it received abroad.
How has the Sundance experience been?
Dylan: It's very hard to describe. Just spending time at an amazing resort town 7,000ft up during the peak of the ski season would be great enough. And just being able to take our film to a festival would have been incredible. But both of those things combined, and all amidst some of the most interesting and inspirational people in film and TV...
We kept describing it as 'surreal' in interviews, which it really was. None of it felt all that real.
David: It was a strange combination of feeling incredibly exciting and incredibly tired. These are strange emotions to put next to each other. Usually, excitement wins over tiredness, so you just feel excited. But Robert Redford's put his little festival up a blimmin mountain, so you don't get enough oxygen. So sometimes I'd be talking to someone in a normal sentence and suddenly, mid way through a really amazing point I was making (it wasn't) I'd run out of breath and do like a little gasp for oxygen. Then I'd want a little kip.
How have the premieres of your film gone down, in terms of your expectations and audience reaction?
Dylan: It was hard to guess how the audience (and critics) might respond. Going into the film no-one really knew what they were going to see. We were (and remain) deliberately vague about the film - to describe it in too much detail is to spoil it. So we were springing quite a lot on unsuspecting people. The reaction given that was perfect - the audience made all the right noises and we had many fantastic discussions after the screenings and even in the streets of Park City.
David: By default, I always put my expectations low. I don't set them low, they are just low. I think this is a good thing, because it makes me work hard and not get lazy, because I just assume somewhere down the line everything will be terrible. Just call me a cynical newsroom person. I think this surprises some people because I come across super happy.. but that is me just covering up an impending sense of doom.
Anyway - my expectations were exceeded. I knew we had something quite good.. but people really, really liked it. The premiere screening.. where Sam Neill was in the audience.. I was just sitting there in the back row clenching my jaw the whole time. "Is that person leaving because they hate it, or they need to use the loo?". That sort of thing. But pretty quickly afterwards I realised people dug it. They clapped! I've never been clapped, except with sarcastic clapping.
The reviews have been extremely positive, which obviously you would have wanted for Tickled, but does it surprise you that you're generating buzz beyond perhaps your dreams?
Dylan: I think we always knew, especially once we managed to put the whole story together, that the nature of our film made it the sort of thing that would catch people's attention and might keep dancing around in their minds for a while. But by far the best feedback from critics was about the mechanics of how we've made it - commentary on the fantastic shooting of our DOP Dominic Fryer and the work of our editor Simon Coldrick. We were aiming to make a "cinematic" documentary and they helped us deliver on that.
David: Pffft Dom and Simon, who are they again? Jokes. Those guys, holy hell - what talented folk. Our producer Carthew, too - the handsome one - he produced the hell out of this thing. The buzz was super exciting. And strange things create buzz, too: Like, mid way through the week, there was a bit of a kerfuffle in the audience. Murmors and stuff. It turns out one of the people on screen - in our film - was in the audience. And I'm not too sure that person wanted to be in the film. And slowly everyone around them in the audience realised IT WAS THEM. So they had to watch the entire doco with this person making disatisfied noises and so on. What a blast! It was like for that select part of the audience they had this enhanced experience, like a 4D experience or something. How wonderful! Afterwards in the Q&A it sort of reversed the dynamic, because I was asking the audience about the unique experience they'd had.
What does that translate to in terms of international sales - are you in talks to get a wider release net and how quickly do you have to move to capitalise on that buzz?
Dylan: Well since you sent these questions it's been announced that we secured sales with Magnolia Films and HBO. Both seem like spectacular fits for our film and we're really excited to see how those releases will manifest. It's very exciting to imagine that our little film, ultimately stemming from a weird Facebook comment, will find it's way on to the big screen in the US and elsewhere, as well as HBO who've brought us things like The Jinx and Going Clear!
David; I am so happy about this. Magnolia and HBO. Before I left New Zealand I binged on a show called The Leftovers. It's 2 seasons of the most transcendent TV I've ever watched. That's HBO! Speechless. As for Magnolia, well Wolf Pack was a standout film at the NZ Film Fest last year. That's one of theirs! And they've got upcoming releases like High-Rise which I've watched the trailer for about 5 times already. I'm excited.
Dylan: At the festival we were lucky enough to spend a bit of time with Sam Neill on a couple of occasions - that was exciting, he's so wonderful. But before the festival we also had the immense pleasure of meeting Stephen Fry when he was in Auckland! He backed us on Kickstarter early on and we've been corresponding back and forth as we made the film. He was everything we could possibly have hoped.
David: I met Werner Herzog, legendary documentarian and the bad guy in Jack Reacher, one of the most underrated Tom Cruise films of all time. Anyway, he told me some great stories including the time he got too stressed out making a documentary series about the death penalty and "Woke up to screaming one night". He paused. "They were my own screams." Totally deadpan, totally serious. What a guy.
What's next for Tickled?
Dylan: In the immediately term we're starting to figure out what shape the release is going to take both in NZ and overseas. And we'll also probably be taking it to a few more festivals. After that, who knows - maybe the dramatic based-on-a-true-story retelling? Who'll play me?
David: Haha. Dylan and I have a joke that in this film that he is the Jonah Hill to my Channing Tatum. So we'll take those actors please.