The strange saga of David Farrier and Dylan Reeve’s fascinating and controversial documentary “Tickled” didn’t end once the filmmakers stopped filming in 2015. When Farrier, a well-known New Zealand entertainment journalist, first started researching the world of “competitive endurance tickling” for a piece, he soon discovered a bizarre entertainment underworld populated by both true tickling enthusiasts and shady dealers who weren’t eager to have their activities at the center of a buzzy documentary.
“Tickled,” which premiered at Sundance in 2016, is as much about Farrier and Reeve attempting to understand the “sport” of tickling as it is about the filmmakers being threatened, harassed and bullied by various representatives of Jane O’Brien Media, who host competitive tickling events and then record them for internet dispersal. Even when production ended, the Jane O’Brien reps persisted, popping at “Tickled” screenings at Sundance, True/False and other public venues.
What happened after “Tickled” is chronicled in the new documentary short “The Tickle King,” which will makes its premiere on HBO on February 27, following the cable debut of “Tickled.” For fans of the film, it’s a wild catch-up on everything that happened — and, somehow, is still happening — to Farrier and Reeve, but it’s “Tickled” neophytes who will likely be most struck by the way things have unfolded.
IndieWire recently caught up with Farrier in New York City, hours before HBO was due to screen the film as part of the weekly Stranger Than Fiction series at the IFC Center. For Farrier, the bizarre path of “Tickled” seems close to an end — but damn if he still isn’t shocked by every twist that has played out over the years.
“The difficulty in making ‘Tickled’ was knowing when to stop,” Farrier said. “Things were still active and happening. Things kept going. It just had a whole other life. I feel like the story is still unfolding.”
Farrier and Reeve had long considered producing a second installment in the saga. As Farrier notes, they had more than enough footage, and the idea of a film called “Tickled 2” seemed amusing — but “The Tickle King” grew out of a desire to provide HBO viewers with an update to accompany their “Tickled” viewing. (Farrier has not ruled out the possibility of a feature-length follow-up to “Tickled,” and he is currently exploring other documentary ideas.)
“Where is the end? I don’t know how long this crazy shit is going to keep happening,” Farrier said. “It’s just this ongoing thing. But I wanted to give people some summary. Some people will see ‘Tickled’ for the first time [on HBO] and be like, ‘that was crazy!’ I just want to give them some indication of what happened the year after. And how it didn’t just stop.”
The short includes leftover footage from 2016, including a run-in the “Tickled” team had with Jane O’Brien Media associates David D’Amato and Kevin Clarke at a screening in Los Angeles.
“Being able to show that to people is kind of exciting,” Farrier said. “It captures moments like, there is a handshake when Dylan meets David D’Amato in the cinema, he locks on to Dylan’s hand and won’t let go, it’s like this endless handshake. It’s moments like that capture the surreal nature of the whole thing.”
It’s incidents like that one that have changed Farrier’s own life in uncomfortable ways.
“Anything that happens now, I’m always curious as to who will turn up,” he admitted. “It just leaves you with a certain sense of paranoia. Certainly, when I’m in New York or LA, I am always a little bit more aware of what’s going on, more than I usually would be.”
“The Tickle King” makes it clear that the tickling competitions have not stopped, thanks to an alternately bizarre and horrifying final act that shows off new audition videos from the Jane O’Brien Media team, complete with new competitive ticklers who are using a curious nickname.
“There’s this whole new thing going on,” Farrier explained. “People are calling themselves ‘pumpkins.’ It’s a very creepy, unsettling thing. It’s very hard to explain. That was an incredibly recent discovery. These auditions still seem to be taking place, and that’s where we’re at.”
Farrier is still baffled by the events that occurred after he made “Tickled,” especially the frequent contact with people like D’Amato and Clarke, who had been so elusive while Farrier and Reeve were actually lensing the film.
“Because everyone had been so difficult to talk to while we made ‘Tickled,’ no one from Jane O’Brien Media would give us any interviews, so the fact that all the key characters suddenly started voluntarily coming out, that was the biggest surprise,” Farrier said of the fallout of the first film. “I still don’t fully know why they did that. It gave us more publicity than we could have ever imagined.”
He doesn’t expect that to stop any time soon, especially with the film hitting HBO and reaching a whole new audience who don’t know anything about Farrier, Reeve, competitive tickling or Jane O’Brien Media.
“I think we will hear from more people,” Farrier said. “What seems to irritate Jane O’Brien Media is the film playing in any way. Whenever it’s released, that’s when we get a new wave of threats or lawsuits. We’re kind of just waiting.”
Farrier, however, remains undeterred and surprisingly pragmatic about the whole ordeal. “We knew what we were getting ourselves in for, because the second we started looking into it, it started,” Farrier explained. “It’s not like this has been a huge surprise. It’s just been constant.”
Though Farrier and Reeve are “currently in the clear” legally, they keep a keen eye on the courts to make sure nothing new has been filed. So far, they seem to be in the clear.
“The plan is, having it airing [on HBO] will kind of, I think, put a full stop on it,” Farrier said. “Just mentally, for me, that’s my plan. Whether that will happen or not, I don’t know.”
The effects make still linger, however, and Farrier laughed when asked if “Tickled” had ruined tickling for him. “Oh, yeah, completely,” he said. “I don’t tickle my nieces, I don’t tickle anyone. There is no tickling being done.”
The HBO documentary “The Tickle King” will debut on February 27 on HBO NOW, after the debut of “Tickled” on HBO. Check out an exclusive clip from the documentary below.