Crippled by a lifetime of overthinking, CK is a typical artist – forever worried about rejection, people’s perceptions and how things look. One day, he is challenged to leave his house, walk the busy streets, and ask sixty-one strangers for a hug. Although terrified by the inevitable rejections ahead, CK accepts, clinging to his long-standing belief that ‘overthinking is the enemy of remarkable’. Filmed in one take using actual footage from the challenge, ’61 Hugs’ demonstrates the remarkable power of optimism, heart, goodwill, human spirit, spontaneity and the universe.
I recently had the chance to chat with CK Goldiing about his new project 61 Hugs; in this interview, I got to peel back the layers behind the film and discover the personal intent, trials, and challenges that went into one of the most unpredictable shorts of the year.
When asked about the amount of focus that is placed on the nightmare that is over-thinking, the difficulty of talking openly about it and the technical process that honesty lent to the film, CK had this to say:
“It’s difficult for me to talk about anything personal, I assure you. I’m not a natural sharer, which might surprise people, because I produce such daring stories that require me to build immediate rapport with large numbers of people, but the truth is, experiencing these unique mini adventures energizes me much more than talking about my feelings. ’61 Hugs’ is easily the most revealing story I’ve ever told. When I was given the challenge, I loved the idea immediately, but I assumed it would simply be a throwaway video for my YouTube channel. By the end of filming, however, I was speechless and knew immediately that this story required me to reveal things about myself that I never have before in order to better immerse the audience in the journey. You’re absolutely right, though, my narration also serves as a neat production tool – enabling me to convey the emotions I was too overcome to talk about while filming.”
Due to the nature of the experiment, which is asking strangers to do something they would usually only do with the people closest to them, CK had no idea what the on-camera responses would be. My next curiosity was whether he prepared for different versions of the film based on different reactions from the people he approached or whether he always had a certain outcome in mind.
“The greatest irony of this film is that despite my nerves and reservations ahead of filming, I never once doubted the potential for something remarkable to happen. I had the luxury of two successful challenges before ‘61 Hugs’ – first ‘100 Musicians’ in 2015 and ‘Be Different, Say Yes’ in 2017. Both of these highlighted the merit of putting strangers at the heart of my storytelling. Human behavior fascinates me, and I have a strong understanding of boundaries – essential traits if you’re going to attempt the crazy shit I do. I can honestly say that I approached this challenge with unflinching optimism.”
Throughout the film, there is a sense of community. Having spent some time in Sheffield I’m aware of how warm the city’s welcome is. I wondered why was it important to display that kind of positivity.
“All my unscripted stories are underpinned by optimism and positivity. I’m forever shocked by the number of people who, after watching my videos, say, ‘this is what the world needs right now’. I enjoy hearing that sentence more than I enjoy hearing, “CK, do you want cheesecake?’, and believe me, I like cheesecake more than I like my friends. There’s a never-ending supply of cynicism in mainstream media, and as far as I’m concerned, enough is enough. On a personal level, I’ve seen how negative media messaging has heightened the paranoia and fear of people around me, and in some instances, even in my family. It’s hideous.”
61 Hugs is an interesting mash-up of social experiment and short film – with the opening containing more traditional techniques and set up. After that, we move on to something that is altogether quite different in the way it wasn’t scripted. Next, I asked CK about his thoughts on modern storytelling and working outside of the box.
“Since I discovered producing unscripted stories is my lane, my appetite for scripted storytelling receded. I pitched one of my unscripted concepts to a senior TV producer in 2016, then the same concept to another producer last year. In both instances, they acknowledged the potential, but obviously, when you’re seeking investment in a format, it’s preferable that said format leaves very little open to chance. I suspect the ‘risk’ element made them nervous. I wholeheartedly respect their decisions, but truthfully, I know they both declined the greatest unscripted TV series I’ll ever produce. When I eventually make it, it will dwarf everything I’ve previously written. There, I said it.”
My final question was a simple one. “If you could sum up the experience of producing 61 Hugs in one line, what would it be?”
“I’ve rarely seen the universe conspire this beautifully – it deserves a co-writing credit, surely.”
‘61 Hugs‘ is due to be released on September 14th, 2018. If you’d like to keep up with the film or learn more you can follow its official Twitter account here.