This year has amplified loneliness in unimaginable ways, forcing us to commune via screens, no longer devices of distraction, but as our sole source of human contact for those keeping true to quarantine guidelines. Guidelines that cut casual sex and hook-up culture from the realm of possibilities, leaving singletons, well…self-soothing. Exploring the intersect of this tech-bound fate, and the primal horniness that the realization of our own mortalities can inspire is Khaki is Not Leather, six shorts written by series director Ray Smiling, and co-creator Konyin Ayuba. Each episode is fueled by transactional relationships, cultural keystones, and the ghosts we long for but can never quite catch.
Inspired initially by PornHub’s offer of a free month to those pledging to stick to the rules and their individual homes, the writing duo first wrote “Tilda“, a whimsical moment shared between a cam-girl and her client as they negotiate the framework of that session’s fantasy.
“The search for connection is present in all of them, very deliberately so…but I think people tend to like ‘Tilda’ more because it’s the most hopeful. It’s romantic and in a way fairy tale-ish”, says Smiling.
Working on a shoestring budget of approximately $15,000, with each shoot being equally as economic with time, Smiling credits his production team and actors with being “fully dialed in” and ready to go. “Me and Konyin had the first drafts complete in a week….The shoots were two hours and it took about a week or so to figure out exactly how to do it all.”
Filmed and written in the thick of quarantine, the series was shot remotely in early May via camera phones and computer screens, with direction given through Zoom and a DP framing shots with the aid of “misappropriated” IT software. “We basically had to scout each actor’s home through Zoom, then send them lights, props, wardrobe etc., via mail and hope it got there in time…Once we figured out how, it wasn’t that hard, but the road to get there was a pain,” says Smiling.
It’s appropriate since each episode focuses on exchanges between clients and the cam-based providers of their individual kinks, be it Wookies or sensual muckbangs, as well as a love letter from a toxic ex presented entirely in Second Life animation. That episode, “To Twerk, Perchance to Dream,” (character designed by Liniya Lanvin) takes us through one man’s late-night Hail Mary attempt at winning back his curved-out Queen, while he relives their torrid affair in a flurry of social media outtakes and reimagined life events.
While not all of us can relate to the specifics of each electronic-entanglement depicted, at their core Khaki’s characters present their vulnerabilities to viewers in much the same way we reveal ourselves to new lovers: veiled in salacious acts and humor. Alternating between sexy, sentimental, and utterly uncomfortable, Khaki is Not Leather lets us all play voyeur into the isolation habits Instagram would shadow-ban you for sharing.
All episodes now available on No Budge.