Director Matthew Epstein
Ever been to a cuddle party? Neither had the couple at the heart of this funny while poignant short comedy, in which they fight against the flow only to find direction for their relationship.
What made you want to tell this story?
It was indeed going to a cuddle party myself that first gave me the idea to make a film about it. I can’t remember exactly when it was that cuddle gatherings became part of my consciousness, but I recall from the first time I heard about their existence that I knew there must be comedy in there somewhere and that I had to see one for myself.
I approached my first time attending as many outsiders would, feeling uncomfortable and mocking the events of the evening to try to cope with those feelings. I assumed a group of adults spooning each other in pajamas must consist solely of creepy old men trying to letch on women and crazy cat ladies who hadn’t been touched in decades.
I could not have been more wrong. Every kind of person was represented that first night I went, all with different reasons for attending. The only common thread between the attendees was a deep honesty that sometimes we all just need to be held. I tried to honor that truth in this film.
I was also really fascinated by the idea that in a society where we so often assume intimate touch must be sexual, or even taboo, the cuddle community is altering that narrative in a very G-rated way. They are suggesting that physical intimacy is as necessary and as nourishing to us as food, and that cuddling with a pal should be as straightforward as asking them out to lunch. That notion is absurd to the average adult brain, making it really fun to discuss in film form.
Ultimately, having seen cuddle parties as good and genuine, for me the comedy and conflict couldn’t come from the cuddle party itself, but from the characters at the center of my film, Jane and Drew. By populating this world with two very closed-off people in search of more from their marriage, I was able to cultivate the humor and resolution I desired. The center of this conflict is the protagonist, Jane, a powerful government attorney, someone who can ask for and get anything, but still can’t ask her husband to be intimate with her. Instead of asking for what she needs, society has nurtured her in a way that has made cheating on her spouse a more bearable alternative. Simultaneously, Drew is of no help to the matter, refusing to be an audience to his wife’s problems.
Once at the party, the group’s genuine openness antagonizes Jane, who is unable to reach such self-honesty herself. Through this conflict she is forced to find comfort in that which is least foreign to her, Drew, aiding her in discovering the closeness they still share. As the couple continues to alienate themselves from the rest of the party, their bond is solidified as enemies to the group. While it wasn’t their hope going into the afternoon, ultimately it is their mutual outcast nature which helps them reconnect, be honest with each other, and reignite the love between them.
I think ultimately the film turned into a love story about misfits, which is something I can relate to in my own life; so I feel close to the story in that way, too.
You were able to get great and pretty well-known actors. Are they eager to do short films like this?
I think if you have the opportunity to work with established actors you should do anything you can to get your script in front of them. Not only does it immediately make your work more visible by breaking through the clutter of all the independent content out there, but it makes your life much easier on set. Working with Michaela, Rob, Yvette, and the rest of my beautiful cast meant that I could count on getting an all-star performance and could focus more on the other hurdles of mircro-mini-budget filmmaking. Working with such brilliant improvisers also meant that I could break down the beats of the scenes for the actors and let them make their own discoveries about the characters. I have the cast to thank for many of our most laugh-out-loud lines.
Working with such talent could not have been accomplished without the great faith put in me by my friend, mentor, and executive producer, Jill Soloway, who helped connect me with my leading cast. My producer, Tara Tomicevic, got us Yvette. I’ve been extremely blessed to have a friend in Jill and have her vouch for me. She has been an incredible inspiration to me as a storyteller, encouraging me to write my personal truth and to create content that can change people; everyone should be watching Transparent on Amazon if they want to see art that can change the world.
What is the life of a short comedy like this? What do you hope becomes of it?
For now, I just want as many people as possible to see what we’ve made, which means taking it on the road to as many festivals as will have us. I am also adapting the short film into a pilot script for TV. The show will follow Jane and Drew as they try to work on their marriage and relationship while destroying everything in their wake. It would be like Curb Your Enthusiasm with two Larry’s, which sounds terrifying but also hilarious. I love how blurred the line is between hate and love with these two. It’s a fun tension to explore.