Undergarment Odysseys (AUS) is a four-part anthology comedy web series about sexual health. Various matters are explored throughout the episodes to address the stigma and taboo surrounding sex, such as STDs, consent, sexual identity and much more. Humour and satire are used brilliantly, making the series light and fun to watch while getting the point across.

Melbourne WebFest spoke with Lead Director and Editor Alex Thomson, Producer and Sound Mixer Rachel Wilson, and Head Writer Millie Holten, about sexual health and the process of creating the 2020 Spotlight Selection series.

How and when did you come up with the series idea? What inspired it?

Alex Thomson: As part of a post-graduate opportunity, we were lucky enough to be given a small amount of funding to create an educational web series about sexual health. I desperately wanted to avoid being dry and patronising, which would quickly cause our intended audience to switch off, and so I floated the idea of a satirical, absurdist approach to Harrison Lane & Tom Kerrigan, my co-directors on this series and good friends who I’d just graduated from film school with.

Being such a broad topic, and having a limited scale to work with, we felt our sensibilities were best suited to targeting the stigma surrounding a handful of sex-related issues, as opposed to a more literal examination of the issues themselves. From there we assembled the writing team, made up of Millie, Annabelle Ots, Samuel-Pratt White and Sebastian Klarica, who turned our initial mediocre concepts into something actually decent, and brought our producer Rachel on board.

We loved the musical episode, would you consider doing anymore episodes or even a whole series in this style? Why?

AT: Glad you enjoyed it! I’m very keen to explore the style further. I think the format allows plenty of latitude both visually and tonally, while being immediately recognisable and engaging. I also think musicals are a great way to frame ideas that are not typically exciting, the contrast in style and subject is a nice marriage.

Rachel Wilson: Definitely, it was such an exciting process and a completely new way of working. Being able to bring together the writers, the composer and a choreographer to make this episode come alive was magic and would be heaps of fun to do all over again. Plus, who doesn’t love a musical number?

Millie Holten: Yeah we would absolutely be keen to do more musical parodies (licences allowing). We’ll tackle Cats and make it even hornier.

What message(s) did you hope to convey with your series?

MH: Talk, talk, talk. Sex is built up to be daunting and awkward to chat about, but it doesn’t need to be! Just be honest and you can’t go wrong.

RW: We really wanted to be able to open up the conversation around sex and sexual health in a fun way. There is no need for the shame or stigma that is still quite present in our society.

AT: Hopefully the tone of this series allows the audience to reflect on both the silliness and stupidity that exists in these stigmas!

Has the end product strayed far from your initial vision?

AT: Inevitably, there were compromises along the way. It was a big challenge producing essentially four short films in a week of shooting, with lots of locations and a budget that any sane person would say wasn’t feasible. But luckily we received plenty of generosity from all the creatives involved, and I’d say the series has only strayed from my initial vision in mostly cosmetic ways that don’t really have much impact on the viewing experience, so I think that’s an important thing to recognise. The writers had to walk a really tricky tightrope, working in an educational space, and I think they pulled off the tone really well.

Undergarment Odysseys Episode 1

What was your favourite episode/scene to film?

RW: It’s so hard to pick a favourite as they’re all so different and fun in their own ways. It’s like making me choose my favourite child. Although, I definitely had a great time on the set of Rachel vs Her Sexuality. Never having done much work with stunts and seeing all of these great wrestling moves come out of our awesome actors whilst sporting super cool costumes, the energy on set that day was just electric. It was such a great day!

MH: They all hold a special place in my heart, but Summer Lovin’ (the musical episode) really takes the cake for me. My favourite moment is about halfway through, there’s a momentary break in the music when Danny (Alex Donnelly) checks in with Mandy (Joanna Halliday) before they sleep together. While the overall episode is silly and over the top – that moment is very sincere. It was a lovely touch.

AT: One of the highlights was seeing Tom (Director of ‘Nailed it!’) create havoc with disgusting, nail-impaled hands on the set of that episode, the amount of blood and slime really whet our appetites for the catering that day. I also loved working with my good friend Montserrat Heras, who choreographed all the dance sequences in Summer Lovin’, and creating the group dynamic with the lads in A Few Good Boys.

Why did you decide on that format, with the man sitting on his chair at the end of each episode?

AT: When I named the series Undergarment Odysseys, Harrison (Director of Rachel vs. Her Sexuality) had the great idea to frame each episode as part of a VHS Collection, as a little nostalgic throwback that would allow for the archetypal, wise narrator to appear. We hoped that classical style would feel familiar and warm, complementing the delivery of the key messages.

MH: Given the different genres and characters across the four episodes we wanted a common device/character to link them together. It was also useful to have him clearly articulate the takeaway from each episode due to the sensitivity of the topics we covered (STDs, sexuality, consent). We didn’t want anything to get lost in translation.