David Farrier on ‘Tickled,’ The Crazy World Of… by Uinterview

David Farrier had no idea that he had just stumbled on a documentary idea – and into a few lawsuits – when he discovered competitive tickling.

David Farrier Video On ‘Tickled’

Farrier made Tickled over the course of two years. The subject, competitive tickling, was never supposed to take up more than two minutes on an entertainment news show. But after looking into the sport, Farrier knew that there was a lot more to explore and a lot more to say.

“I’m an entertainment reporter in New Zealand, so I was looking for another wacky story to cover. A friend sent me a link to a website that was running monthly tickling shoots in Los Angeles and so it was kinda framed as competitive endurance tickling,” Farrier explained in an exclusive interview with uInterview. “You’d get paid really good money to be flown into Los Angeles — if you were a good looking male aged between 18 and 24 and you’d take part in a tickling contest. I just thought it was the strangest sport I’ve ever heard of.”

When Farrier tried to get more information about competitive tickling, he was shut down by a PR person, who told him, “We don’t want to deal with a homosexual journalist.” Undeterred, Farrier and his friend Dylan Reeve continued their investigation, and were met with even more resistance. It was that resistance that eventually convinced Farrier that they needed to go full steam ahead with learning more about the sport of tickling.

“We started looking at who owned the websites and what was behind them potentially, and once we started doing that … they hired lawyers and they told us to stop and so we thought there must be more going on than what’s on the surface,” Farrier said. “It was originally gonna be a two minute story at the end of the news or late news like, ‘Here’s this crazy tickling contest,’ but once the threats came in and once they sent those three men to New Zealand to tell us not to make a film.”

Farrier and Reeve soon learned that they were not the only ones being bullied by the competitive tickling company. Those who participated in the tickle sporting events were subjected to far worse.

“A small percentage of those people involved, they basically found themselves with a website made up in their name, their tickling video was suddenly everywhere — you google your name and your tickling video is in the top 50 results, all over the internet,” Farrier explained. “You’ve been doxed so all your personal information is suddenly available online and there’s videos and various lies about you being sent to your school that you coach at or your girlfriend, your parents, your grandparents. Basically, there’s just this huge online harassment campaign against these young men. A lot of them are from parts of America that are fairly conservative. This stuff would really derail their lives.”

As a result of going through with making Tickled, Farrier and Reeve are entangled in lawsuits filed by the main figure behind competitive tickling. The goal, according to Farrier, is to withstand the litigation, and then make more documentaries.

“It’s not nice to have a lawsuit with you name on it. I mean we were warned when we started making the film we would be sued and that is now happening,” Farrier said. “I guess we’ve had time to prepare for it, we stand by the film, it’s just I don’t wanna spend my life dealing with lawsuits. I wanna make other films, so it’s worrying, but we knew it would happen and we’re prepared for it.”

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Q: How did you discover the world of online competitive tickling? -

I’m an entertainment reporter in New Zealand, so I was looking for another wacky story to cover. A friend sent me a link to a website that was running monthly tickling shoots in Los Angeles and so it was kinda framed as competitive endurance tickling. You’d get paid really good money to be flown into Los Angeles — if you were a good looking male aged between 18 and 24 and you’d take part in a tickling contest. I just thought it was the strangest sport I’ve ever heard of.

Q: When did you begin to suspect there was more to the story? -

I went on to their Facebook page and I just posted, ‘I’m a journalist in New Zealand and I’d like to do a story.’ And their PR person, Debbie, wrote back saying, ‘We don’t want to deal with a homosexual journalist’ — which was super weird because the videos were man on man tickling, and you couldn’t help but look at it and think that the whole thing is a little bit gay-looking. To get that response, ‘We don’t wanna deal with a homosexual journalist,’ was so weird. So, I started blogging about it and my friend Dylan Reeve started blogging about this company as well. We started looking at who owned the websites and what was behind them potentially, and once we started doing that [...] they hired lawyers and they told us to stop and so we thought there must be more going on than what’s on the surface.

It was originally gonna be a two minute story at the end of the news or late news like, ‘Here’s this crazy tickling contest,’ but once the threats came in and once they sent those three men to New Zealand to tell us not to make a film. And then, also, the additional thing that made it a documentary I think was that we noticed that a lot of the young men in the tickling videos were subject to this huge online harassment campaign, and so we found these websites set up — basically to name and shame the competitors. So, once we saw that, we saw that we were coming under attack, we just thought, ‘Okay, who’s behind this […] why are they so defensive?’ Why are they acting in such a sort of a trolley-bullyish way?’ That’s where we thought this is a documentary.

Q: Do you believe that the young men in the videos were victims of online harassment? -

Some people went and got tickled and had a great time; they got paid and they went home. But, a small percentage of those people involved, they basically found themselves with a website made up in their name, their tickling video was suddenly everywhere — you google your name and your tickling video is in the top 50 results, all over the internet. You’ve been doxed so all your personal information is suddenly available online and there’s videos and various lies about you being sent to your school that you coach at or your girlfriend, your parents, your grandparents. Basically, there’s just this huge online harassment campaign against these young men. A lot of them are from parts of America that are fairly conservative. This stuff would really derail their lives.

Q: Who is behind the company creating the tickle videos? -

Dylan and I have been researching this for a while and I think whenever there’s something a little bit strange going on online and it’s fronted by a woman you kind of think, ‘Actually, it’s probably a dude’ — that just comes into your mind and it ends up in this case there was a man pulling the strings. It just happens that this person has a lot of money, and so the more we looked into him the more we found out about his background and his wealth and how he was using that sort of as a control mechanism over these young men in the videos who don’t have a lot of money and come from not very privileged backgrounds. The more we looked into this character we found out this wasn’t just something that had been happening for the last three years; this has been going on for literally for decades. That’s where I think the story really kind of took on this different shape and became much bigger than Dylan and I had originally imagined.

In the film we eventually do catch up with the person behind [...] and I can’t speculate about that character too much because there’s already been two defamation lawsuits, so I have to be careful, literally, in what I talk about, with my opinion. But, I’d say it was on one level satisfying to kind of meet the person behind all these threats and all the kind of craziness of the last couple of years. It’s a strange experience when you’re approaching someone on your own, on a very cold New York street, who doesn’t wanna be approached. It’s a strange situation to find yourself in and I think it was a tense moment for me and it’s probably a tense moment for the audience as well.

Q: Has there been continued legal action? -

Various people from [...] show up at screenings, we had a case a couple weeks ago in Los Angeles where all the main figures from the film turned up who didn’t wanna be in the film and they told us very loudly and clearly what they thought. The main figure behind it, he has already filed two lawsuits for defamation so that’s been going on and he actually showed up at that screening in Los Angeles, and basically my co-director Dylan handed him the microphone and he proceeded to tell us and the entire audience that, ‘This is all just starting, you think you got a good lawyer, you need a better lawyer, because this whole thing is going to escalate.’ So, it hasn’t stopped.

It’s not nice to have a lawsuit with you name on it. I mean we were warned when we started making the film we would be sued and that is now happening. I guess we’ve had time to prepare for it, we stand by the film, it’s just I don’t wanna spend my life dealing with lawsuits. I wanna make other films, so it’s worrying but we knew it would happen and we’re prepared for it.

Q: How does Tickled talk about ethics online? -

At its surface, Tickled is a cautionary tale about the internet and a story we’ve all heard before, and Catfish has told it again and again. What I think Tickled also talks on a little bit is this situation you have, especially in somewhere like the United States, where if you’ve got money you can’t be touched and we’re dealing with an entity who has a lot of money and is taking advantage of people without money and that means they have all the power in that relationship. In the Unites States, Trump seemingly has a lot of fans here and that’s another example of someone who is a wealthy bully. I think you see examples of it all over the place, whether it’s Robert Durst and The Jinx or the situation we’ve got with Tickled or just the political system — if you’ve got money then you can pretty much have free reign to do what you want and that’s incredibly disturbing I think. In Tickled, that’s just a very strange, surreal example of that situation.