Bitesize episodes, big laughs

We chat to actor/ producer Riley Nottingham about his new short-form comedy series Metro Sexual

Tackling the awkward topic of sexual health through character-driven comedy, short-form series Metro Sexual sees hilarious stand-up comedian Geraldine Hickey team up with up-and-coming actor/producer Riley Nottingham as clinician colleagues in the disaster-prone Metro Sexual Health Clinic. 

Filmed in a mockumentary format similar to Parks and Recreation, the series follows the lives of sardonic and seemingly-aloof Stephanie (Hickey) and bubbly, customer service-driven Langdon (Nottingham), as they navigate government cuts and battle STIs, patients and arduous colleagues. We caught up with Riley Nottingham to talk about the focus and format of the series, filming in Melbourne and working with Geraldine Hickey, and advice for other early career producers.

Sexual health isn’t always an easy topic to discuss. Was this the reason you chose to make it the focus of a television comedy series? Why did you decide on 10-minute episodes?
After our last show Hitstroke FM for Virgin Australia & TVNZ, we wanted to do a project that wasn't just entertaining but also had a genuinely helpful place in society. From high school to now, I have always thought the area of sexual health clinics can be so awkward and scary for the patients going in - but for the doctors working there it's just another ordinary day at the office. That juxtaposition is such an interesting backdrop for storytelling!

I also think the beautiful thing about comedy is it's such a great ice breaker to delve into these taboo or awkward topics - like sexual health! Every person and their dog (well, hopefully not) has or has had Tinder, Bumble, Grindr, Plenty of Fish, etc. - more people are having sex than ever before and more people are catching STIs than ever before - but no one's talking about it. Even though the show's backdrop is a sexual health clinic, it's really the crazy characters that come in, and the opposing ambitions of the two doctors Steph and Langdon that drive the story and comedy forward.

Regarding the format, I think length really matters less and less these days. Look at Quibi coming to Australia, and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's 10-15 minute content callouts. Special and Bonding on Netflix fit into that 15 minute slot as do we... audiences can now choose when and on what device they watch a show, and 10-15 minute episodes are a nice 'public transport' length.

Geraldine Hickey is best known for her stand-up appearances at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and as a host on Melbourne community radio station 3RRR. How did Geraldine become involved in the series? What did she bring to the project?
We saw Geraldine's amazing stand-up and various TV roles she'd been doing, and reached out to her via Twitter in 2016. She said yes (she thought we were a student film or something, haha!) and I met with her a few times to go through scripts, etc. and after about two 1/2 years we decided to film our pilot, which then led to funding a year after that. Between first contact and now, her career has just gone from strength to strength and we're so thankful that she was still keen to do the show. Geraldine is not just a comedic performer, she is an awesome dramatic actor as well and I think audiences will be pleasantly surprised by the series arc that unfolds. Geraldine is really great at improvised lines and moments.

No doubt there were lots of funny moments on set. Any that you can share with us?
Honestly some of the funniest times were between Geraldine and Jo Stanley or Candy Bowers and I wasn't on set for a lot of that, but personally the ONLY times I corpsed were all involving Ryan Shelton and/or Rebecca Massey. Gosh, Rebecca and Ryan are so funny and committed - and so intimidating as their characters! It was really hard to keep a straight face.

Metro Sexual was filmed in Melbourne. How was the experience working with Victorian cast and crew?
The best! We had just over 100 cast and crew with the majority being local performers and crew. Our team was absolutely amazing - there was not a single person who didn't bring a positive, collaborative spirit to their work and we are proud that so many cast and crew have told us Metro Sexual has been their favourite project they have ever been involved in. A lot of people 'stepped up' in their role on Metro Sexual - for the Humdrum Comedy team this was a massive learning curve for us. Our crew was highly experienced but for a lot of people this was their first Head of Department (HOD) role, and for some crew it was their first crew role ever! Some cast had their TV debut, too, which was lovely. Victoria has such a wealth of talent both in front of and behind the camera.

What did you learn from making the series that you can share with other early career producers?
One of my mentors Rob Carlton gave me great advice before we started filming Metro: do each project in a way that everyone involved would want to come back and do it all again tomorrow. That's such a great ethos and I'd pass that on to other filmmakers. Bring people onto your project who are positive, hardworking, and who genuinely believe in your stories that you are trying to tell - BUT it's also really important that you treat everyone with respect and gratitude for coming on board. If you want to have a long career in this industry (most people do!) you won't get very far if you're not treating people nicely, and if you're not humble enough to surround yourself with experts who can help you. Making a film or TV show can take years and years and years ... and it won't be sustainable or fun if everyone's not having a good time along the way!

What’s next for you and your production company, Humdrum Comedy?
We think we've got something really special here with Metro Sexual and so we're developing Season 2, which expands the world as half hour episodes. Regarding Season 1, we're in active talks with international distributors (watch this space!) and Virgin Australia has just acquired the series for 2020 which will hopefully keep growing the audience. We are also working on an action movie ... but that's another story!

Metro Sexual was supported by Film Victoria through our Assigned Production Investment funding. Head to 9Now to watch Metro Sexual Season 1.

This interview has been edited. The views and opinions expressed in this interview are solely those of the individual involved and do not necessarily represent those of Film Victoria