Regina has sequestered herself in her Los Angeles apartment over the holidays. Frustrated by her own depression and inability to cope, she calls a Professional Cuddling service. When her eager Cuddler, Clara, arrives and the two attempt their first cuddle, Regina rejects the sudden intimacy and cuts the session short. Determined to help, Clara pursues Regina but is met with hostility. She confronts Regina and incites a break in her icy veneer. In the ensuing tide of vulnerability, the two women attempt a second cuddle and find true connection.
6 questions with Cuddle Buddy writer, actress, Diana Irvine at the half-way mark.
Monday, August 7th, 2017
1Hi Diana! Thanks for being a part of our festival. First, what was the initial seed that inspired you to make Cuddle Buddy? Thank you for having us!
I had been collecting Craigslist Personal Ad’s for months: printing out ones that resonated with me (some funny, deeply vulnerable, absurd, etc.). When Izzy and I sat down to brainstorm story ideas I showed her my favorites, and we were most inspired by the ones seeking/offering platonic massage. There was so much raw humanity in these posts, and my imagination ran crazy with ideas of who these people were and what their lives were like. We had heard about this service, Professional Cuddling, that offered the platonic physical connection these Craigslist characters sought -- so we took the idea from there and ran with it.
2You co-wrote and co-starred in this film with Isabel Shill. How did you two meet and what was it like working together on the script and on set? A dream. Izzy and I met on set of a Lifetime movie about the Charles Manson murders. We spent weeks together on this ranch in Calabasas and became great friends, realizing we shared similar artistic goals and tastes. A couple months later we both had a lull in work and decided to seize the opportunity to act together again, this time writing something for ourselves.
Neither of us are "writers", so we approached this storytelling from an actorly perspective. We discussed our character choices heavily and then improvised scenarios from there -- it was a blast. We had a great sense of play from the beginning. On set was a different because we knew the script upside down and sideways, so it was more about letting go and zoning in -- increasing the specificity of our choices. Once we were shooting we took more space for ourselves and didn't interact between takes, really. I think we both realized that our comfort with each other, as Izzy and Diana, was something we needed to eliminate as Clara and Regina.
3Max Barbakow directed this film. What was it about him that made you want him to direct it? What was it like working together? First of all, Max is damn talented. His work is visually beautiful and compelling, but I can say that about a lot of directors I know. What I think makes Max exceptional is his rigorous investigation of characters and his drive to constantly dig deeper, to inspire the creative team around him to be curious and bold. And that, along with his genuine excitement for the project, inspired us to ask him to come aboard. We felt very supported, from the beginning all the way through. There were many moments where Izzy and I really relied on Max's objectivity to check whether we were effectively telling our story (in writing, and acting). Max is very interested in the actor's process, and acting theory, so he was sensitive to our needs on set -- fostering an environment we felt safe to play and thrive in.
4Is a professional cuddler a real thing? It seems like a job many people would make fun of or turn into a comedy, but you chose to tackle it honestly. Why was it important to you to show how important and touching this job could be? It is a real thing! I think it's easy to see something like Professional Cuddling and make fun of it -- but I think people often make fun of things that they see a little of themselves in, and maybe a part of their self that makes them uncomfortable. These services are offering something very basic and human: connection. We're social animals and we need to feel seen and loved. There are many reasons why someone might be missing this comfort in their life: maybe they're recently divorced, or they've lost a loved one, or they've grown up embarrassed to admit vulnerability and asking a stranger for a hug is easier than asking a friend. We live in a time where "connecting" with someone is a click away. We scroll through feeds and send little messages, thinking we've interacted with our community: now we know what's going on in their lives. But that's not the same as person-to-person connection. In a perfect world, we wouldn't need a service like this; but we don't live in a perfect world. And I think people admitting vulnerability and helping one another is a beautiful thing that should be celebrated and perpetuated.
5You don't spell out the ending for anyone in this film. What are your thoughts on films that leave certain details up for the viewer to decide and why did you decide to go that route? Personally, I love movies that leave room for the audience's imagination to spread its wings. The balancing act of leaving some elements open can be tricky, but I think ultimately satisfying. It calls for more engagement on the audience's part and trusts in their intelligence. As a viewer, I appreciate that.
In regards to 'Cuddle Buddy', I think that we have two very different women coming together here, and challenging each other. The progress that happens is major, for sure, but also a baby step in a larger journey for the both of them. It didn't feel truthful to push them to a neatly tied up resolution so quickly. I think that what you imagine happens after we roll credits is indicative of your current emotional p.o.v. Maybe you think this hand-holding is as far as Regina and Clara can take it. Maybe you think they become best friends. That's ok! We want you to reflect. We want that engagement, that discussion.
6What's next? I'm writing a couple projects right now: one for screen and one for stage. I just got back from TriBeCa promoting 'The Boy Downstairs' -- a movie I star in with Zosia Mamet, Matt Shear and a slew of other talented actors – which will be released in theaters early 2018!
Izzy is currently working on another short film, about failed cyber sex.
Max is currently packaging his first narrative feature, a gritty, lyrical coming-of-age film set in Detroit, while finishing the script of another -- a dark screwball comedy set at a wedding in Joshua Tree -- and developing a mystery digital series exploring the seedy, surreal underbelly of a Southern college town and a pair of vigilante sisters who patrol it.
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time which was selected for the 2017 IFP Narrative Lab.
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