Authentic human connection – specifically, cuddling and hugging – is becoming increasingly scarce in this digital age. In fact, people are now asking cuddles from strangers. For a fee, of course.
In the short film Cuddle Buddy, director Max Barbakow and co-writers/actresses Diana Irvine and Isabel Shill explore the concept of professional cuddling and its emergence in a tech-obsessed world.
The film tells the story of a woman who summons a professional cuddler on Christmas Eve hoping to alleviate her loneliness. Filled with relatable characters and highly intimate scenes, the short shows that we all need authentic face-to-face interactions with others – some of which come at an hourly cost.
“Intimacy is scary,” the filmmakers said. “In a world where our lives are increasingly public and under scrutiny… basic vulnerability has become an intimidating concept. As a result, reaching out for help, in space both real and virtual, can be humiliating.
“With Cuddle Buddy, we hope to inspire a generation of people to slow down, breath in, and dare to connect.”
We recently had the opportunity to interview Irvine to know more about the film. Check it out:
What made you want to make a short film on professional cuddling?
“I had been skimming Craigslist Personal Ads for several 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 stack and we were most intrigued by the ones seeking/offering platonic massage.
“The seeming fragility and desperation of the people posting for it was intriguing, and fuel for some deep character exploration. We had heard about this service, professional cuddling, that essentially offers what these people were seeking. We went down the Internet rabbit hole and took it from there.”
Seeing as little is known yet about this new industry, what was it like writing the script? What was the research like?
“Well, most of these companies exist online only, and connect you to their employees immediately. It’s up to the cuddler and client to decide on all the details: whose house, what time, how long, the rate, etc. It’s all very loose.
“Izzy and I tried to meet up with several cuddlers before filming, but we were on a tight schedule and they all bailed on us! It was weird. It’s hard to know from just the websites how ‘legit’ some of these places are, but we scoured them for protocol, mission statements, etc.
“Izzy and I are both trained actors, and do a lot of physical work – we’re familiar with how trauma and emotion lives in the body, and ways in which to release that. Since the story isn’t really about the ‘cuddle’, but the maneuvering around it, we felt comfortable with our preparation, and focusing in on these two women.”
Speaking of the script, we loved the intimacy involved in the short. Please tell us more about how you set the tone for the film, as well as how you wrote such engaging and real characters.
“Regina is in a really tragic, fragile place – her apartment is a direct reflection of that. She lives alone, she’s been holed up there for weeks, depressed. That, in and of itself, sets quite a tone.
“Max, our director, was instrumental in fostering and preserving this environment and extending it to the way we worked on set, as well. We had a small, hardworking crew that allowed us, the actors, to feel safe and really ‘go there’.
“Izzy and I first decided what kinds of characters we’d most like to play, and ones who’d dramatically foil each other. We had fun developing their personal histories, fears, hopes, and personalities. As actors, that can be the best part – the biggest opportunity to bring your own P.O.V. to a project – so we ran with it.
“Once we’d worked out who these women were, we improvised scenarios between the two. We’d stop periodically to write down the bits we liked, rework them and pretty soon we had a script.”
What is the film trying to tell its audience? And what does professional cuddling say about human connection in the age of social media?
“I see the film as an advocate for real human-to-human connection and touch in this digital age. We can so quickly judge and superficially interact with one another, even face to face. So many people’s problems and daily pain can be solved by just breathing in another human, slowing down and connecting. Sometimes this happens in Yoga, or on vacation or when you’re falling in love, but it shouldn’t be saved for special occasions.
“As performers, we talk about empathy and compassion – two very important things when inhabiting another’s skin. But I don’t think just feeling for someone is enough, you have to reach out and react based on these feelings. Hopefully, this film inspires its audience to be radical with their empathy.”
Lastly, what are you working on next?
“I’m currently working on a one-woman show and Izzy is working on a short film about failed cyber-sex. We’re also both auditioning and doing that actorly grind.”