David Farrier talks Tickled, dolphin sex, and reveals his love for LA.
I had the great privilege to sit down and talk with journalist David Farrier about his newest documentary, Tickled. The documentary was one of the most talked about films at Sundance and went on to play at several other festivals including Hot Docs in Toronto. For those unaware of the film, it is the investigation of a underground sport known as competitive endurance tickling. What Farrier and his friend Dylan Reeve uncover is nothing short of astounding. You can read all about my take on the film by clicking here.
Below is the entire 13 minute conversation that I had with Mr. Farrier about the film as well as some other weird stories that he has encountered as a journalist. It was a great interview where it felt more like friends talking rather than an actual interview. There is a lot of interesting tidbits sprinkled throughout as well as some truly interesting reveals. Please let me know your thoughts about this interview by commenting below.
Scott Menzel: I heard a lot about the film at Sundance but didn’t get to see it at the festival. I was very excited to finally get a chance to see it prior to this interview and found the documentary weird and fascinating. So my first question is, when you got that email from your friend and it inspired you to unleashed the beast so to speak, at what point did you figure out ”I have to make this into a documentary”?
David Farrier: The point that I really had was when they sent those three guys from New York to New Zealand, which was the first time I could actually pick up a camera or have a friend to pick up a camera and basically start shooting something. Up until then it had been a whole lot of abuse via email and Facebook as well as legal threats and letters, but this was the first thing that felt incredible real, it’s like we wake up and we’ve read an email about we’re sending three people to your country. This is when I was like okay; we have to start filming now.
Scott Menzel: I know your background is in culture journalism. Outside of this, what would you say the second weirdest story that you’ve under covered as a journalist?
David Farrier: I came across a book on Amazon called ”Wet Goddess” and it was written by a man in Florida about his 6-month fling with a dolphin. He’s been sleeping with this dolphin and I read that and it was in an interesting way, because it was kind of written as a narrative, but clearly; it was him talking about his experience without talking about it. It was clearly done this way because of some of the legal issues. I got in touch with this guy Michael in Florida and I interviewed him about this and he said he fell in love with this dolphin and they had sex and he went to college and the dolphin committed suicide. Dolphins are the only mammals on the planet that can kill themselves where they basically stop breathing and sink to the bottom and die. This guy genuinely thought that the dolphin was in love with him and because he moved away that the dolphin killed itself. That was probably the strangest story until Tickled came along. The whole dolphin story is on YouTube somewhere so if you type Farrier dolphin sex it will pop out, but that was probably until now the weirdest thing. The guy was very open to talking about it and I asked questions like how did you have sex with the dolphin and he would tell me how he had sex with this dolphin.
Scott Menzel: How did you find this story and how many hours did you spend trying to find it?
David Farrier: I spend way too much time on internet, I love obscure forms and just kind of doing deep dives into some weird places/ I got obsessed for a while with very self-published books on Amazon and that gets you into some very weird things; when anyone has the chance to publish and they feel like their book justifies being read by the people, that was how I found the dolphin guy. There are all sorts of little things that I like to poke into.
Scott Menzel: It’s just fascinating, but the weirdest shit to me especially here in the United States is that we love all this glamour and ridiculous news, that’s why the Kardashians have a show, the housewives and everyone else.
David Farrier: I love LA and I love that it’s just full noise. In New Zealand people are more like Canadians, they like tiptoe around things, but fucking LA is full noise, you have to commit.
Scott Menzel: It is absolutely crazy.
David Farrier: And when you go to Florida, it’s even crazier.
Scott Menzel: Have your ever been to that place by Disneyworld? The religious theme park?
David Farrier: I’ve seen that.
Scott Menzel: You should go there and do a documentary about that, I’m sure that would be fascinating. The Holy Land, I think the name of the park is.
David Farrier: I saw it, I was raised a Baptist, so I’m super-fascinated by any kind of religious system.
Scott Menzel: I dabbled a little bit in documentary film making myself. How much of the film was actual one take where you didn’t go back and reshoot?
David Farrier: So we did, two of the interviews that were shot before we did the kickstarter campaign. We also did one trip to America where we interviewed Howell the journalist and Dave Star the older guy.
Scott Menzel: That guy was so weird and he didn’t even think he was weird, that was the best part of it.
David Farrier: He’s lovely, he comes to all the screenings in America, he even came to Hot Docs and Sundance. He loves meeting people that have seen the film and it feels like a really unique experience for him. A couple of interviews we re-shot, everything else is happening in real-time as the documentary unfolds. There are few recreations at the top of the discovery, but everything else just happened. I really like the journalist Debbie and when I’m giving her the letters and she’s begins to lean in closer…that stuff was all in the moment.
Scott Menzel: A lot of people when they watch documentaries, they don’t realize that some of the moments are recreated and that they weren’t created in the moment. I know a lot of documentarians don’t think of filming that moment and then have to go back and re-enact it, so I’m very happy to hear that most of it was authentic.
David Farrier: Our DP Dom was super good at capturing moments. The scene where I’m talking to Jordan in his kitchen and its only 20 seconds on camera and we’re having this conversation, but that was hours long, but Dom was shooting the whole time, following everything and he doesn’t miss anything. That was always Dom being and awesome.
Scott Menzel: W hen you came over to Los Angeles and New York and everything, did you find it more difficult to kind of film over here with a crew and without permits?
David Farrier: No, we followed the rules like we can film in certain places on the street but we just couldn’t put a tripod down and we read up on it. We found it pretty smooth sailing. We kind of took the approach to just shoot first and ask questions later, but we made sure things checked out. We were dealing with people who are very litigious and so we didn’t want to give them any opening for them to call the police and say they did this thing wrong or they don’t have a permit and get sent back to New Zealand. We were super careful to keep everything about board, mostly there were occasionally thing we were just like go and find…
Scott Menzel: I love what you did with the coffee cup in that one scene.
David Farrier: The funny thing with that is, when we were in Missouri, we had to stop filming and escort two private investigators out because they were trying to film it. They were sitting in the theater and they had a fucking coffee cup with a recording device in it, so I don’t know whether they copied my coffee cup idea or whether everyone just does secret recordings from coffee cups, but it was exactly the same thing.
Scott Menzel: You always seeing a camera hidden like in a purse or something like but never have seen a camera in the coffee cup. I loved that.
David Farrier: The coffee cup was on angle and I had the camera mounted, I was kneeling down and so I thought I have a coffee cup here, so I was shooting his face just straight through the cup.
Scott Menzel: I thought everything about the film was just fascinating and unlike most documentaries that when you get to a certain point you kind of want it to wrap it up already, but with this one, you just can’t wait to see where this goes next. So when I was at the end of the film, I actually wanted more. What’s fascinating and I don’t know if anyone else has told you this, but I’m one of these people who because I’m so jaded because don’t trust anything, so I immediately asked myself when I started watching is this real? So I did like a Google search on everything in the movie to make sure that it was legit and checks out.
David Farrier: I’m really glad you did and I’m the same way, because after something like Catfish where you’re very frustrated. I still don’t know if the full truth is out about that film. I don’t trust anything I see, but what I’m so proud of, you’ve got an online history with this. We’ve done this amazing podcast from the blogs that we’ve written and it’s all there, like you can see it all laid out and I love that, I love the idea of someone can watch this film and then go on the internet and look up any part of the film or character in the film, and dive into that part and just find out more.
Scott Menzel: The whole media company looks exactly the same as it does in the film, they didn’t even bother to redesigning it knowing that this film is coming out.
David Farrier: We have downloaded all that stuff if it ever goes offline, we’ve got like a digital copy, because we just find it so fascinating, but it’s all still there, you can go to Jane O’Brien Facebook page, you can go to Jane O’Brien website.
Scott Menzel: Well, they are asking me to wrap it up already which I can’t believe that we’ve been talking this long already but there is so much stuff I have still to ask.
David Farrier: I’ll give you my card, it’s got my email, if they’re anymore that you think of, I’m always on the fucking internet, so I’m happy to answer you if you really need something else.
Scott Menzel: How much footage did you wind up having?
David Farrier: A lot. I can’t tell you the exact number of hours because we downloaded every tickling clip from Debbie Kuhn’s Vimeo page and I’ve got like two terabyte drives sitting in my house full of tickling videos. There were over 800 videos just on that channel alone and they are all in 1080p. Each video is a half an hour long or an hour long each. Just the tickling videos alone there was a shit ton plus the footage and the interviews that we shot on the stakeouts. There’s a lot, but Simon our editor was very great to flash the story out, because he was very logical and story based and he didn’t know about the crazy background. I haven’t done this before, so I don’t know what the process is, but I found like we found our story; we planned in advance, we kind of knew how we wanted things to go, but they happened quickly. It was a 15 or 16 week edit it and two years from beginning to end which I think is short for a documentary. It didn’t take over my whole life.
Scott Menzel: That’s just what I love about these kind of movies, it’s what I love about independent film in general is that you just get a level of realism and heart and passion that I don’t see in big budget movies. There are so few big budget movies that I really feel have heart and importance. One final question, what was your reaction to the Sundance reaction?
David Farrier: I was really happy with it, I was incredibly nervous at that first screening at Sundance, I felt awful and it was like a nightmare. I was sitting at the back and I’d watch people get up and go and a lot of them when to the toilet and come back, but I was panicking. My main panic was that I’ve just made something that people might not like and so when we got the feedback and people liked it, I was on cloud 9. I genuinely didn’t know, so having that feedback was huge.
Scott Menzel: Thanks so much, I’ll definitely shoot you an email, my name is Scott Menzel.
David Farrier: Definitely do. I’ll be glad to have your details.
Scott Menzel: Okay cool, thank you again, we will talk soon.