Very Fine Day #26: David Farrier
David Farrier is a writer, journalist, and film maker from New Zealand who is currently based in LA. David made a film about Competitive Endurance Tickling called “Tickled” in 2016, and then a series for Netflix about dark tourism called “Dark Tourist”. I recommend checking both out. If you haven’t seen “Tickled”, do yourself a favour and go into it with no knowledge or context. Just press play and watch. David and I spoke for around 45 minutes about living (and being stuck) in the US, conspiracies, the thought process behind “Tickled,” and how he approaches talking to individuals from the darker, or less well-known, parts of culture.
VFD: So you're in LA?
David Farrier: Yes, I’m in Eagle Rock at the moment.
I was just on the freeway and my car tire exploded, which was particularly stressful. I pulled over with my friend to change the tire – we were on the side of the freeway and there were trucks racing by and it was kind of terrifying – but this guy pulled over, and we thought he was coming to help us, but he just got out of his car in a bow tie and did a little dance in front of someone inside who was recording. So he did a dance in front of our car. And then got in his car and raced off. So that summed up Los Angeles to me. It was some fuck making a TikTok video or something.
VFD: To put it nicely.
David Farrier: It’s like: this is LA. Here we are.
VFD: How long have you been in LA?
David Farrier: I've been here for for a couple of months.
VFD: From New Zealand?
David Farrier: Yeah, I came back to work on a documentary based in New Zealand. And then, obviously, the pandemic happened. So I stayed a little bit longer than expected because New Zealand was a real safe haven. I was very lucky to be there. But as the pandemic started to ease up I wanted to come over to the US. There was some work things over here and some bits and pieces I wanted to explore. So it seemed like – with a vaccine rolling out in the United States and Trump no longer president– it seemed like a semi-OK time to come over here.
VFD: Yeah, you got your timing right. Pretty perfect. I mean, I don't know… is New Zealand still safe? Because Australia is melting down.
David Farrier: Yeah, it's super unusual. Where are you based at the moment?
David Farrier: You're in Sydney. It’s funny because when I left New Zealand three months ago I was quite naive and I sort of thought: I'll come to America, I'll get vaccinated, and when I'm done with whatever work I need to do here it'll probably be easy to get back to New Zealand because I'm vaccinated.
But now I’m in this unusual position where there's actually no spots in managed quarantine over there. So it's the first time in my life where I can't get back to New Zealand if I want to, and I don't know when I'll be able to get back because – especially leading up to Christmas – there are no spots free. And when they do become free, they disappear very quickly. Who knows when I’ll be able to go back.
VFD: Yeah, I read your thing about the guy selling the bot script to help people jump over government software and get a spot in quarantine.
David Farrier: Yeah, there’s a lot of people battling to get back to New Zealand. And it's a very silly system because it's sort of how they sell concert tickets. It's a time based thing, so the quicker you can click “buy” the quicker you can get your spot. But there's thousands of people doing this at the same time so, of course, the bots always beat the people, which is a problem.
VFD: When you're in the US, are you always in LA?
David Farrier: I'm usually in Los Angeles because that's where a lot of my friends are. So I guess that's where a lot of the work ends up being. And I like Los Angeles. There's a lot of every scene you could imagine – every sort of person – which I really like. And it's always warm. I feel lucky to be here at the moment, while it's very cold and Winter-y in New Zealand.
VFD: Yeah. I'm trying not to make this like: what is New Zealand like??? I’m sure you get asked that the same way that I get asked about Australia.
David Farrier: I mean, God. New Zealand, at the moment, it's freezing. It's winter. It's rainy. It's a cold utopia where we don't have COVID. It's a very different place to California where the Delta variant is on the rise. It’s a different vibe.
VFD: You grew up there, right? In New Zealand?
David Farrier: Yeah, I was born in Auckland and then I grew up up north.
VFD: What was that like?
David Farrier: It was good. My dad was a vet so I grew up with lots of animals around me and it was a great place because it was very outdoors-focused. Lots of beaches nearby and lots of bushwalks. And I love the outdoors. And I loved animals. So I was in heaven. I only moved to Auckland to study journalism and go to university and that's kind of where I stayed, because it feels like if you're in journalism or documentaries Auckland is probably one of the better cities to be in.
VFD: Did you get that “journalism is my passion” type thing in high school and then go off to university? Or was it more of just finding something to do?
David Farrier: Y’now, I didn’t really have a thing. I wanted to study medicine originally. I was a real nerd at my school and it was that assumed thing: you go and do medicine. And I went and did a year of health science, which was pre-medicine with a lot of competition to get in. And I was terrible at it. I wasn't as smart as I thought I was. There was so much rabid competition and it got really feral. And in that really stressful year of trying to get into med school I started writing for the local university magazine and I started doing some radio work – I couldn't even tell you why I did it – I just think it was escapism from the horribleness of what I was studying. And I really enjoyed it.
I was inspired at the time by some New Zealand journalists on TV and I went and pulled out of the med school dream and went and enrolled in journalism school. So it was a really organic thing, really, that I discovered during that horrible year of medical school.
VFD: When you were going through journalism school and studying that to then work in media, did you ever have any doubts around that kind of a career path? Because I feel like everyone I talk to – and I did the same thing – It's a 50/50 split of people that are like: This is it for me. Fantastic. Love it. And there's people who a year in start thinking: Oh, shit, this is not what I thought it was…
David Farrier: Yeah, I knew I wanted to do journalism. I didn't know what sort of journalism I want to do, so I didn't know whether I would end up in radio or print or TV. I wasn't particularly good at any of the practical stuff – I pretty much failed my TV papers. I wasn't very good at radio. I’m really just bad at studying but I was great at school. I just wanted to be doing things.
But I knew I wanted to do journalism and that being able to do it was this excuse to immerse myself in worlds that I would never be able to immerse myself in other ways.
I got a little taste of that early on: one of my university projects was covering the New Zealand branch of the OTO, which is the Ordo Templi Orientis, which is Alister Crowley's religion that he started. There was a little outpost in New Zealand and I was like: wow, I can just go talk to these people. And that is a perfect example of where my head was at. I was like: this is the job where I can immerse myself in things I'm interested in, share them with other people, and maybe spread some of that excitement with other people.
That was my mindset at the time: I was very focused on subcultures and being able to immerse myself in things, as opposed to having some higher calling of war reporting.
VFD: Yeah, who wants to do that.
David Farrier: I think some people do. I think some people gravitate towards it, but I certainly didn't.
VFD: So looking at the work you put out – it’s a lot on subcultures. And as the internet has grown, internet culture as well…
But was there a period of your life where you did the trench work? Y’know, where you’re just getting told what to do…
David Farrier: Yeah, absolutely. In my second year of university study I got a job in the newsroom. That began with running the autocue machine for the TV presenters, and then it was working on the news desk on weekends where you'd assign cameras to stories. I would sometimes go out with a camera person to do pick-up questions for journalists who were down in a different city or who couldn't be there.
So heaps of grunt work, heaps of being involved in stories that I had no interest in. And it was mundane. I had to go and do a few death knocks: that terrible thing that young cadet reporters get made to do when someone has died and you're sent to a front doorstep with a camera person to break the news to someone that something terrible's happened.
But these were the days where newsrooms had budgets and drones didn't exist. And so quite often I'd be sent off in a helicopter with a map to find a certain property with a cameraman and make sure we got the right shots and brought them back. Or I was being sent to interview a politician with questions written by another reporter. So it was diverse. There were many different parts of the job where that was my entire year. So I learned a lot. You sort of have to put in that time. And that's where you learn what you like, and what you hate about the field, I think.
VFD: And then you just transitioned to a job?
David Farrier: I was really lucky. When I graduated from journalism school we had a late night news and entertainment show called “Nightline” that aired at 10:30 at night. And at the time that was sort of the dream show for me. The reporter that was in charge of filing the the story in the third break towards the end of the show had just left and I just went and slotted into that job.
Immediately I felt like I had the best job in that newsroom: I could just file whatever story I wanted. I could file all the pop culture stories I wanted, and if there were bands touring New Zealand I could go and meet them and do a story about it. If there was a movie I liked, I could review the movie. And it was an incredible job to have because it was one of the few jobs in the newsroom where you weren't being assigned a story.
It was my job each day to arrive at 2pm and have a plan of what three minute story I was going to churn out that night. It was a dream. I did it for five or six years. It was incredible. It's still the best job I've ever had.
VFD: Was it competitive to get that job? It sounds like a pretty good job.
David Farrier: Weirdly, it wasn't that competitive because a lot of people coming to the newsroom didn't want to do pop culture stuff that fell below them. Everyone was obsessed with getting the lead story on the 6pm news about a murder or something like that.
David Farrier: It was a dream gig and I still can't believe it happened.
VFD: And then what caused that dream gig to end?
David Farrier: I got bored. I have a short attention span.
VFD: Six or seven years working… not quite a short attention span.
David Farrier: Well, yeah.
I mean, after a certain amount of time you get sick of covering the same music festival that you covered the previous six years that happens in January every year. And you get sick of talking to another band. It's a very privileged thing to say that you're getting sick of that stuff, but it was just time to try something different.
So I shifted and I worked on the six o'clock news for a bit. I thought I could do the news thing. I worked on some other shows. I sort of floated around the newsroom but I just never found the place that I felt like I wanted to stay and I was getting itchy feet.
That was about 2014, when I came across the “Tickled” story.
David Farrier: And that was just such an obvious time to tell that story outside of the newsroom.
VFD: Was that as simple as what you put it in the documentary? You’re just like: Oh, I found this story. I thought it was gonna be three minutes and then it turned into a feature length documentary because everyone involved was kind of wacky.
David Farrier: It kind of was! I was working at TV3 and my position at the time was floating around all of the different shows, I'd find a story, and I would deliver it to whatever show wanted it. And so when I came across that competitive tickling video I was like: Oh, this will be an amazing story for the late night show, or maybe for our New Zealand version of “60 Minutes”.
And then I approached [the people from the tickling company] and I got these crazy intense responses. That's when I realised: Oh, this is bigger than three minutes. This is a story that could indeed be a strange documentary that I go off and make in my spare time. And that just happened organically really quickly.
VFD: Were there a lot of favours called in, or was there a more formal approach?
David Farrier: There were favours, yeah. Not long after the legal threats started piling in and the tickling company sent their representatives over from New York to New Zealand and we had to go up to the airport. And so yeah, I tapped a camera person on the shoulder that I worked with in the newsroom and said: Can you come out to the airport with me at six in the morning and record this?
And then we've got this wonderful thing in New Zealand where the government supports independent documentary makers. So I applied for a little bit of funding to research the topic more, that got us to Los Angeles, and I could pay for a director of photography to film with us.
But then the story ended up even bigger than that, so we came back. And we thought we had the film – and Kickstarter also funded that – but then we realised: Oh, God, now there's more to shoot. And we need to make this bigger. And this needs to look better. We need to spend more time to work on lighting. And so that was applying for more funding. It was a real process of upgrading as we went. It was a very step-by-step process. But it was also very organic, to the point where we eventually had a 90 minute film.
VFD: Did the New Zealand government ever say: Uh… What are you doing?
David Farrier: No, no. I mean, it's super clear. We applied for funding from the Film Commission and you've got to put a full outline of exactly what the film’s about. So they knew that I was facing a strange, competitive, endurance tickling ring in New York. And they gave us some money to help make it.
David Farrier: I guess it’s kind of wild when you think about it.
VFD: I don't know if the Australian government would do that. I guess the art departments of governments are a bit differently run to the rest.
David Farrier: Yeah, totally.
VFD: So if you're in the US, and you're making this film, and then you come back to New Zealand, and then go back to the US - you go back and forth, back and forth - was there ever a moment where you were like: I don't know if we can string this together?
David Farrier: No, never. I've never had a story that is just so clearly a film and I know it will work. I just needed to keep getting more material. It was unrelenting. Like, the story was unrelenting, the information we were discovering was unrelenting. And it was just a matter of figuring out how to capture it.
VFD: Did you ever worry about – I’d say your personal safety – it's a pretty intense movie in parts, right?
David Farrier: Yeah, at the beginning we were super worried. I mean, Dylan and I were poking around and suddenly we were getting really terrifying legal letters from attorneys in New York and attorneys in Auckland. And they were sending people to New Zealand to mediate with us. So that was super scary. It was a really, deeply unusual thing. The whole time felt very fishy – and when I got to America, y’know, the thought goes through your mind: Do these people have guns? If we’re alone with them what will they do?
And of course they didn't have guns and we were fine. But that paranoia was in our minds right from the get go, because they very clearly had a lot of money. If they're gonna fly representatives to New Zealand, from New York, you sort of sit up and take notice.
VFD: Yeah, it's a long trip.
David Farrier: It’s not internet bullshit. It's a big difference when you cross over from internet bullshit insults into flying three lawyers to New Zealand to meet with you. That's full fucking on. So yeah, of course we were terrified.
VFD: And how did you approach that? Like, I talk to other journalists about these things – and I remember when the film came out and my friends were like: This is the perfect story you could get as a journalist.
David Farrier: It’s a dream. It will never get better, ever.
VFD: Did you approach it as an organic growth thing of following the story, or did you at some point have a narrative where you’re like: OK, these are the characters…
David Farrier: We had a narrative. I mean, it happened really quickly for a documentary. It took us a couple of years from beginning to end to make, which is a really quick timeline. So organically, we were finding things out as they happened. We weren't retelling a story that had already been written about or told. Parts of it had been written about. But the whole thing – and that's something I'm really proud of – it was a fresh story. There wasn't a retelling, which a lot of documentaries are.
So it was organic in that respect, but it wasn't like we went in naively. We researched the fuck out of it. We knew and we predicted where certain things would go and we made sure we got certain results. It wasn’t like: Oh, what's going to happen here if we turn up to the studio? Or: Oh, we're just going to go to the apartment where David D’Amato lives tomorrow. What could happen?
We knew what we needed to hit to get the story. So we had plans and we almost treated it like a narrative script, as far as beats go, and what we needed to get. We were pretty pedantic about planning it as it was happening in front of us.
VFD: And at what point did you start thinking about the people involved in it and the humanity of it? I guess that's a broader question.
It’s like: you're writing about subcultures, or internet culture, or anything that involves people that perhaps don't have the spotlight on them, and you're getting ready to put that spotlight on them in a big way. So what was the thought process there?
David Farrier: There was a lot of discussion about privacy because it was a film about privacy and about people who were being bullied online. And so when we're coming along to put a spotlight on that, it’s like: how are we going to treat these people? And how will we present them?
I guess, in summary, for us it was all about the context. And that was taking these people and these videos and these stories and putting them in context so that when people watch the film, I think anyone that watched it would come out probably feeling a certain way about certain people in that film. And I think the way people felt would probably be the same way that we felt.
David Farrier: So what I'm saying is, I suppose: a lot of these young men had found themselves in these really upsetting videos, but they were upsetting because they were being used in an abusive way. And they are being framed almost as pornography.
But we also had these videos, and met with these boys, but we were presenting them in the full context where we saw why those videos existed and how they were being treated. So the idea was – with any of these people that were involved in the film – I like to think that everyone who was in “Tickled” I can imagine them all being in a theatre watching it and myself feeling completely confident about how those people felt. So if David D'amato felt angry, I would be OK with that. Do you know what I mean?
VFD: Yeah, I think that's a good way to think about anything you create – what would it be like to expose them to it in public?
David Farrier: 100%. And I want the victims to be happy with how they're portrayed. So we thought a lot about that stuff, because the last thing we wanted to do was re-victimise anyone.
VFD: Do you still get messages and leads?
David Farrier: Yeah, yeah, totally.
I mean, on Webworm – the newsletter that I write – I've done a couple of pieces now. There was a newsletter I sent out about a tickle ring in the US military, which we hadn't really got to touch on in the film. So I wrote a two part feature about that. And then I heard from one of David D’amato’s old students who had still kept all the letters that David D'amato had sent him as Terry Tickle.
So yeah: That’s why I really love the newsletter that I'm running at the moment because it's a really good way to explore things like this. Because often when you put a product out into the world – and it's a very cynical way to describe a film as a “product” – but when you put something out, you hear from people and they come out of the woodwork, and it's really nice to be able to do something with those leads.
VFD: And what was the response once you'd made it and put it out? I know you showed it at a few film festivals. You must have been a bit nervous about that? Or were you fully confident that this was going to crush.
David Farrier: No, super nervous. Sitting at Sundance was fucking horrible. I didn't want to be in the theatre.
VFD: Why’s that?
David Farrier: As we sat through it people were responding to it and it started to feel really good. And yeah, that first showing is a killer because you want it to crush and you don’t know if it’s going to. And I think it went relatively well.
It was a super positive experience releasing that film and touring around. It was a year of film festivals and releasing it in different markets – in the UK and Australasia and the US. It was a really fun year.
It’s like the best feeling of all time. So it's very sad, the idea of cinemas becoming less of a thing as post-pandemic, because there's no better feeling I've had than making a thing and sharing it with a big group of people in the same room.
VFD: Definitely. Is it addictive in that way? I mean, now you have your newsletter and you do freelance writing too, right?
David Farrier: Yeah, I’m happy if I'm making and telling stories, and they're out in the world. Like, I get really rewarded when people read Webworm and the comment section goes live. It's a really fun thing to do. I like making stuff in whatever format.
VFD: What do you think about when you're talking to people in these subcultures – and it doesn't have to just be “Tickled” – but whether it's some conspiracy group, or some religious group, or it’s a tickling community that is perhaps more sinister, how do you approach talking to the people involved in those communities?
David Farrier: I mean, I just always go – and it sounds cheesy – but I just go on trying to understand them and trying to empathise and figure out what makes them tick.
I think I had a fairly conservative upbringing. I went to a Christian school and I was raised in a Christian home. I had a pretty narrow view of the world. So for me, meeting any group that isn't like me is this wonderful delight, and I just want to make them feel comfortable and genuinely understand what they're about.
That doesn't always have to be an aggressive question – it can be just a conversation. That's what I try and do. So I'm just delighted to be there. I honestly am. I just feel very lucky to be surrounded by these really interesting people that are nothing like me, just trying to learn something from them.
VFD: Are you a research guy, or do you just throw yourself in?
David Farrier: Oh, I definitely research. And I think that's the respectful thing to do. Not to research to the point of not being open to free conversation, but I definitely want to know as much background as I can get, but then be open up to new things coming up in that conversation.
I think it's a combo of the both. I definitely wouldn't want to walk into something like: if I was going to go and meet Pablo Escobar’s hitman for “Dark Tourist”, I'm not going to walk in there and have the only knowledge in my head being something I watched on “Narcos” on Netflix and the fact he was hit man, because that's embarrassing.
You want to know as much of his story as you can so that if he raises something it might have a context in your mind, and you know where to jump to and what to talk about. So yeah, research is everything.
I mean, in a film, it all comes down to the planning in advance of what you do. I don't have the brain power or capability to ad-lib a situation with nothing and make it good. Like, I have to go in with tools.
VFD: For sure. I ask that question because I always think about Larry King and how he was like: “I like to know nothing, and to learn with my audience.” Which could have just been bullshit. But I always used to think that's such an intense way to approach it.
David Farrier: I mean, it's mad. Certain people can do that. And he was such a personality and obviously incredibly gifted. He could maybe just go in there and be himself. If you’re celebrity figure, which he ended up being, I think you can go in with nothing and your personality can carry you through and your subjects know who you are and they’re going to respond to you in a certain way.
I think when you're relatively, I would say, a complete unknown like myself going into most situations, I'm just a blank slate. So I have to come in with something. I can't just go like: Look at this face. You're lucky to be here with me. I'm Larry King. I have to go on with more than that.
VFD: So you haven't faced anyone – you're trying to dig into some part of the internet or some part of culture – And they reply to you like: Oh, you're the “Tickled” guy, I don't want some documentary about my weird life out there.
David Farrier: Oh, no, that has happened. I've had doors shut in my face with lots of ideas. There's certainly been ideas I wanted to pursue in the documentary that have been shut down because I'm viewed as being someone who might be poking around, or may not be favourable.
VFD: OK, so tell me about what happened after “Tickled”. It’s an interesting life thing, at least, because it feels like it represents a shift in doing daily reporting, in-and-out, and then you make a movie and you're touring the world and you're releasing it in different countries. And then that stops.
David Farrier: Yeah, totally. No, that was a big shift. And I think, as I said, I'd been in that newsroom for so long I was sick to death of it. I was sick to death of telling two minute stories.
So we had a tour that ran for a year. Not too long after that we pitched “Dark Tourist” to Netflix.
VFD: How did you pitch it?
David Farrier: One of the people at Magnolia Pictures who had distributed “Tickled” was someone we ended up working with at Netflix. And so we had a little in. We had a meeting with them and took some ideas.
A TV producer in New Zealand, Mark McNeil, had had this concept for “Dark Tourist” for a little while. And I had a meeting with them leading up to this Netflix meeting and it was one of the ideas that I brought in. That was the idea that flew and we got that off the ground pretty quickly. So that was another couple of years making that series. It's a small team and these things take a while to make.
I mean, it’s just a process. You make a thing and then you just sort of go: Oh, god, what am I gonna do next? So it takes me a year of trying to figure that out because you’re sort of exhausted. I was exhausted after “Tickled”, exhausted after “Dark Tourist”, and then it takes me a year to try and come up with something.
And after “Dark Tourist” I've been working on this documentary film in New Zealand about this sort of madcap story that is very unusual.
VFD: Which is what? Or can’t you talk about it?
David Farrier: I can… I'm just trying to think how to describe it because it is such a weird story. It's basically this very strange story that came out of this mad clamper in New Zealand who was terrorising this car park that I live quite close by to.
VFD: A car clamper?
David Farrier: Yeah, a car clamper. He was rabid. Just every night he was just creating chaos and clamping people. And then, just for fun, he kept upping the fee. So it started at $200 but I think he got up to about $780. Just creating chaos. And so in my mind I was sort of like: Who is this man? and I started filming that. And that's turned into this whole other story. That's the film I'm finishing off at the moment.
I don't really want to say where that goes because it will be a spoiler. But that has been three years of my life: thinking about that and shooting that. And over that time I started Webworm, which takes up a lot of my time. And I have a podcast with Dax Shephard.
VFD: What was the thinking behind all that?
David Farrier: Just the pandemic, I guess. I was locked up in New Zealand for a while and I couldn't film my documentary, and I just wanted to start writing again. I missed writing. I don’t know… It’s much like you: It seemed like a fun thing to start up and use.
David Farrier: And it's a neat format. You're emailing your readers directly. It feels really personal. It's a really fun tone to write in because you can be yourself and you're not writing for a publication. Webworm is where I've put a lot of my ideas. I started over lockdown writing a lot about conspiracy theory culture and that led to other things. I do the podcast with Dax Shepard now, over here in the States, about conspiracy theories. And that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been writing Webworm.
And there's no big plan. But some things, sometimes, lead to other things. Sometimes they fall over spectacularly.
VFD: Yeah, for sure. I feel like we sort of jumped ahead a little bit, but I did want to ask about “Dark Tourist” and what that experience was like. How long did you say it took?
David Farrier: A couple of years. It's like a year of shooting, but we have a lot of planning and then the year of travelling, cutting…
VFD: Was that different? “Tickled” was very much your own thing, right? Like, you run that ship and then you sign a contract with Netflix. And I feel like it'd be a different dynamic.
David Farrier: Weirdly it wasn’t. “Tickled” really was the perfect thing because it was such a contained story that I was in the middle of, but “Dark Tourist” wasn't that far removed. It was a Netflix production but our whole team was in New Zealand and we could choose who we hired and what we did. And we had a little production office.
Y’know, the Netflix thing didn't really factor in. We just got on with it and had a really small, dedicated team to plan out these eight episodes. I mean, logistically it was a bit of a nightmare because there was so much travel involved and it was kind of chaotic. Whereas “Tickled” was just New Zealand to the United States.
But yeah, it was honestly a small, really savvy team of really cool New Zealanders making this thing together. And we're all really involved across everything because there weren't hundreds of us - it was just a small team doing this thing.
David Farrier: So yeah, it didn't feel as big as you might think it did.
VFD: Were you happy with it when it was all done?
David Farrier: Oh, no, I hate everything after I make it. All I can see is the things I hate.
But once it was out I started enjoying it because I started hearing from people that have watched it in various places in the world. And that's really rewarding. And you sort of see how people in India respond versus people in Japan and London and Brazil, and you see the power of what Netflix is. But yeah, overall, it was a really positive experience. With stuff like that I can only just try and see things I'd try and make better or do differently.
VFD: I always thought the concept of that show – as a journalist or as a creator – is dangerous. Because you're like: Dark tourism is this thing people do: Is it kind of weird? Is it kind of exploitative? Is it kind of interesting? Well, I'm going to go and look into it and do it.
And did it factor in your thinking where you're like: OK, we're now hanging out with this guy who killed endless amounts of people for a drug cartel, what is the ethical ramifications of that?
David Farrier: Yeah, should we give them a platform…
David Farrier: Yeah, yeah. Totally. The part that made it a compelling idea is that the actual area of dark tourism can, ethically, be really compromised. And so of course, making a programme on it – that can definitely compromised. And is that giving certain people a voice and a place for them to speak more widely than they might typically get?
But in some ways it’s like what I was talking about with “Tickled”. It was all context. I mean, dark tourism is a thing that exists in the world. It's a phenomenon. I'd always been super curious about people who would travel to Chernobyl. It has always been a thing, tourism there. And so that's in the back of my mind - that was always fascinating to me.
So to be able to look at how that exists in other places in the world, and with other disasters and tragedies: these things happened and it's an interesting thing to dig into. But there were lots of conversations about what was appropriate and what my turn would be. We talked endlessly – with the team – about whether I was a dark tourist, or whether I was a journalist exploring this area. So yeah, heaps of those conversations. I like to think we got most of it right.
VFD: Yeah. You didn't do a Chernobyl episode, did you?
David Farrier: No, we did Fukushima, Japan.
David Farrier: That was our nuclear tourism.
VFD: And there’s no future plans for “Dark Tourist”?
David Farrier: No, I mean, maybe…
We mapped out a second season, but then we all kind of went off. And I'm making this film in New Zealand. So we might do more down the line, but I don't think I would do more. I don't know…
It would have to depend on what was going on in the world. I feel like the world is a very different place now. It's a very different place.
David Farrier: I think the whole world is dark tourism now. It’s like wherever you are is kind of fucked. So maybe it's not as resonant as it was three or four years ago.
VFD: Oh man, the thing that happens with this…
David Farrier: Sorry, is that too bleak?
VFD: No, no, not at all. It's just funny, because a thing that happens with these interviews is we reach the 40 minute mark and I'm like: OK, that's pretty decent in terms of time. I don't want to keep them for too long. I'll start wrapping it up.
And then someone always says: And, y’know, like: fuck my life, or, and the world is ending!
David Farrier: Maybe that's telling that that’s where you always end up.
VFD: Yeah, yeah. OK. I guess the last question is one that a lot of people get asked, because I think it's really interesting to hear what people think about it.
So: what scares you in the scope of what you do? What keeps you up at night? What do you think about the most?
David Farrier: That is a really good question. I'm scared by a lot of things that aren't my job. I'm scared of dying. I hate the idea of dying.
VFD: Yeah, that doesn’t sound good.
David Farrier: I hate the state that our planet’s in. I hate the way we're all increasingly having our brains fucked over by technology in various ways. But none of its really tied to my job. Like, as far as journalism goes, and my work goes, that hasn't led to any direct fears. I think my fears are those bigger, more horrible things that we all experience with existential dread.
VFD: Were you deep-bedded into 4chan or something from a young age?
David Farrier: Nah, I spent a lot of time on forums. The first time I travelled to the United States, when I was about 18, was to meet up with someone on a goth internet forum that I got to know over high school.
David Farrier: It was amazing. And so I was heavily invested in forum culture. But it wasn’t 4chan. I missed out on the Chan stuff, whether it was my age, or what I was into, I never spent time on those boards.
But I think very early on – when I was 15, 16, or 17, and the year was 1998-99 – the internet was becoming what it was becoming. There was no social media.
I got really deeply involved in internet forums whith the idea that you could suddenly become part of worlds that you were never a part of before, and you could really create real bonds with people, and you could go and visit them in the world, and it felt very real.
And sure it was all anonymous, but I understood that at a point you did know who these people were and you could become friends with them and you could meet them and experience really different parts of life. So I think those early forum years, for me, definitely informed the way I think about things and interact with people online now.
But yeah, I missed out on the horror of all those fucking 4chan things and I'm glad I did.
VFD: Yeah, that's probably a good thing. Your documentaries might be a bit different if you had.
David Farrier: Yeah, it's a pretty fascinating space and I'm interested in it but I don't want to spend a lot of time in those places.
VFD: One of my white whale interviews is Christopher Poole. He was the founder of 4chan and then he went and worked for Google for like six years doing… something? But who knows what. And now it's like, what does he do? Does anyone know where he is? Because obviously, there's a few questions for him. I think it'd be pretty, pretty charged.
David Farrier: Yeah that’d be great. You should do that. He's changed change culture, somewhat.
God, go get him. I’d read or watch that.
VFD: Yeah, just gotta find the time. But I'm just making excuses for myself, really. Well, thanks so much for the talk. I really appreciate it.
David Farrier: I hope it's not too much of a nightmare to transcribe.