Try this Cuddle
By Peggy Sturdivant
There could not have been more hugging at the event. Even if the occasion wasn’t a launch party for a web series about a Cuddle Therapist there was a lotta lotta love in the lobby and screening room of Northwest Film Forum. Although written and created by Los Angeles writer Adeline Colangelo the launch of cuddletheseries.com felt homegrown, from seed to full bloom on a Thursday night. (If you saw huggers at Ballard Farmer’s Market on Sunday, June 23rd you get the idea).
It’s almost unfathomable how much effort is required to make an independent production, even one that has episodes around five minutes in length. The seeds of the series date back to a meeting between Ballard filmmaker and writer John Helde of Try This Films with Colangelo at a film festival in Austin, Texas. I have been following Helde’s work since working on a Ballard Film Festival at Sunset Hill Community Association in 2009. Once our house was even used as a location. From shorts to documentaries, non-profit work and his feature film (Brown’s Canyon now available “on demand”) I try to see them all.
The journey from idea to script, to pilot, through development, fundraising, filming and post-production has taken years. The seed for Colangelo was reading about Cuddle Therapy and professional cuddlers. Originally conceived as a feature film, the writer decided to develop the idea as short online episodes, what’s known as a web series. Helde was interested. . After putting together a production team led by Constanze Villines the next step was casting and crew for a pilot. In turn the pilot was used for fundraising through Seed and Spark crowdsourcing.
By this time the team had found their lead in actress Hope Shanthi, who also had experience behind the camera and became part of the production team. Without meaning to make a pun Helde said,
“She embraced all of it.” Her role, along with Helde and Villines has included the pitch, local appearances, recruiting crew and even personal thank you messages.
Dollar by dollar (and many promised hugs) the producers raised the $25,000 necessary to complete Season One. Enter filming in friend’s basements, Helde’s yoga studio on Phinney Ridge, and a backyard cottage in Maple Leaf, plus more. There was also the long (cold) day filming at Greenlake when runners finishing the Mimosa 5K were overly willing to accept a free hug, at least for purposes of the episode’s plotline.
Introducing the first screening of the series in its entirety Helde of Try This Films said after reading the script, “I felt the series belonged in Seattle.” He said that the story of a quirky woman pursuing her equally quirky dream of independence felt very Pacific Northwest. In May the Seattle International Film Festival made it an official selection of their Shorts Festival.
The series is funny but doesn’t overlook the loneliness in a society that has more touch encounters with their phones than other human beings. As a fan of short fiction and film I loved how each episode takes you straight into the lead character and her interactions with clients, and growing connections. Although shaped into little bites there’s an increasingly “just right” sense as the narrative arc rewards the viewer.
Last summer Ballard Historical Society hosted a summer series of movies with Seattle scenes, which even included Mike’s Chili’s chili in honor of their bar as location for “Twice in a Lifetime.” Last week I reluctantly came home from a yoga retreat at yes, a fishing lodge in Alaska, to find a Hollywood movie being filmed up the alley. The coincidental invitation to the launch of locally produced, locally filmed, “Cuddle” helped me “embrace” being home. So I invited a new-to-Ballard friend from the retreat and we got swept into that homegrown love with cast, crew, extras, donors, soundtrack band “There Is No Mountain,” and so many supporters gathered to watch the premiere. In Cuddle I even recognized a friend’s Olympic Manor basement. It doesn’t get much more local.
Everyone in the audience wanted to know about Season Two. The production team was delighted by that response but Helde confessed, “Our minds have just been on finishing production.” Sorry, the fans enthusiastically want more, which means more fundraising and a lot more hugging.
Cuddle the series is available free online for the next four weeks.