by Dorri Olds, published on August 28, 2013|
Writer-director Lynn Sheltons Sundance indie Touchy Feely is about a masseuse named Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt) who has an extreme reaction when her boyfriend (Scoot McNairy) asks her to move in with him. Her commitment phobia comes out sideways and she becomes phobic about touching other peoples skin not a good thing in her line of work. Meanwhile, Abbys brother Paul (Josh Pais), an emotionally rigid dentist with a dwindling practice, suddenly gets the magic touch. His formerly empty waiting room becomes packed with patients. Ellen Page plays his co-dependent daughter, and the cast also includes Allison Janney as the healer who loosens Paul up, and DeWitts real-life hubby, Ron Livingston.
Dorri Olds: Do you know someone with that aversion to touching skin?
Lynn Shelton: No, it just occurred to me after having received so many massages over the years. I started thinking about how odd it must be to touch a string of naked strangers. Thats so freaky and weird. That idea bounced around in my head for awhile and led me to a more universal question: if your occupation informs your sense of identity and self-worth, then what kind of hole does that put you in when its taken away, and how do you dig your way out?
Do you prefer writing or directing?
They just go together as part of the same process. Touchy Feely was the fifth film that Ive written and directed.
How did you come up with Paul, the quirky dentist character?
Josh [Pais] and I had met a couple of years before, and it turned out that we were both admirers of each others work. By happenstance, after a movie he was in called Please Give, we got to meet, and by the end of the evening we knew we had to work together. We Skyped, talked on the phone and emailed, then began working on a character for a different project. That didnt gel though and fell off to the wayside. I started working on this film and realized Josh as the Paul character would be a counterpoint to the massage therapist, and they would be a great juxtaposition.
Do you prefer actors stick to the script or improvise?
My quest is to create characters who feel like real flesh and blood on screen. Sometimes that works if youve got the right dialog and actors that can make it sound as if its coming out of their mouths. But its nice to play off of the script too, like if an actor says, That line doesnt feel at home in my mouth. I want to say it differently. Or if they want to change the trajectory and loosen things up and say the lines out of order, all of that really helps to keep the film dynamic, fresh and naturalistic.
How long did it take to film Touchy Feely?
I think we had 20 days. It was ridiculously short for the amount of locations and scenes we had, but compared to other movies Ive done, 20 days was a lot. Your Sisters Sister was shot in 12 days and Humpday was shot in 10. This movie had multiple story lines and several locations, so we had to work very efficiently. It never felt crazy, though. We took the time needed to do the work.
What was your reaction when you found out Touchy Feely was going to play at Sundance?
I screamed and skipped around the house. Sundance was where I was praying it would be accepted, and then it happened! Id been at Sundance before, but you just never know. They get so many submissions. I didnt want to get my hopes up too high. When I found out it was just as exciting as the first time I got in. I was able to stay for the entire festival, the whole 10 days. The first weekend is really crazy and youre very focused on your own film, but then, in the later part, I actually got to see quite a few other films, and it was a very strong festival this year.
How was the editing process?
There was such a complicated bunch of narrative threads and story arcs being sewn together. I had a lot of people that I trust come and see. My friend Megan Griffiths is an amazing filmmaker, and she got an editorial consultant credit because she saw, like, 12 different versions of the film and helped to give me an outsiders perspective. You can get too close myopic if youre the director. I knew I needed to be brutal. As William Faulkner said, you have to be willing to kill your darlings.