International audiences fall for ‘Flunk’ as YouTube series comes of age

The cast of 'Flunk'. Front are Caylen Forbes and Madison Dell'Aquila. Back from left are Jessica Li, Madelyn Sheahan, Holly Monks and Olivia Wright.

Lilydale Films’ LGBTIQA+ YouTube series Flunk is flying high internationally, screening this month on the Belgian TV network Proximus with French and Dutch subtitles.

It’s not the first distribution deal for the young adult title, which was previously sold to US LGBTQ streamer Here TV.

Now in its third season, Flunk follows 16-year-old Ingrid (Jessica Li), as she starts to explore her sexuality while dealing with the pressures of a country high school and conservative Chinese-Australian family.

The cast also includes Caylen Forbes, Madelyn Sheahan, Holly Monks, and Madison Dell’Aquilla, who was introduced in the latest season.

The Melbourne-shot series has clocked more than 100 million views on the video-sharing channel since it started in 2018, with filming on a fourth season underway and funding support for season five already announced by Screen Australia.

For producer Melanie Rowland, the international interest in Flunk was no fluke.

“It turns out that viewers are very open to a smaller scale series that focuses on emotional truth rather than huge numbers of extras, flashy sets, or stunts,” she told IF.

“We didn’t need Netflix money… though that would have been nice. The show’s not super high concept – the conflicts are small and personal – honest and recognisable.

“Tone has been incredibly important – keeping the show warm, but realistic whilst the drama plays out. We have been careful not to preach at viewers too.”

Conceived as half-hour episodes, which are then split into shorter five-minute chunks on YouTube, Flunk has also spurned three feature-length films with shared characters and storylines.

Season three is the first to have backing from Screen Australia and Vicscreen, allowing Lilydale to expand the creative and production team to include new writers Phoebe Willems and Mekelle Mills and script consultant Kevin Roberts, while retaining the services of scribe Ric Forster.

Production also moved to a fitted-out studio that housed the school and character sets, a development that Rowland said “helped massively” during COVID.

“Content-wise, the third season features an expanded cast,” she said.

“We were able to do more multi-hander scenes in the school and the duration was upped to 40 x 5 minutes, or 8 x 23 minutes on Vimeo.

“It allowed for a deeper dive into Ingrid and Saffron’s stories, with more airtime to play it out than previously available.”

Rowland also credited the YouTube platform with contributing to the series’ direction.

“Being on YouTube helped massively, as we were able to adjust the series as production continued based on audience feedback,” she said.

“Viewers told us through the comments that they identified with certain characters and storylines – shy, sensitive Ingrid in particular early on. This led to us pushing that character to the forefront of the show, giving the audience more of what they wanted to see.”

Production on season four of Flunk is expected to be completed in November ahead of a release in the first part of next year. Rowland said filming on season five will begin shortly after.