Pamela Adlon has partnered with the sustainable period underwear brand Thinx for her commercial directorial debut.
The Emmy and Peabody Award-winning actress, director, producer and writer helmed a series of spots for the launch of Thinx Teens, a new line of affordable period underwear products for pre-teen and teenage consumers.
Adlon’s first commercial, titled “Saved by Sister,” will premiere online and on television Tuesday. It will be followed up by the advertisement “Moon Landing” with the remaining spots to air beginning in 2023. Thinx Teens, which retail for $16 a pair, can be purchased at the company’s website and will be made available online at Walmart and Target later this year.
In “Saved by Sister,” an embarrassed young woman sits on a toilet while her mother awkwardly demonstrates how to use a tampon before her older sister intervenes and presents her with a pair of Thinx Teens. “Moon Landing” follows a kitchen table conversation between a middle-aged mom with her own mother, who is bemused to learn of the existence of “period underwear” and shares startlingly funny observations about how times have changed.
The candid and realistic tone of the commercials may lead to comparisons to Adlon’s recently concluded FX series “Better Things.” As the parent of three daughters and a longtime fan of Thinx, Adlon described the partnership as a natural fit for her first commercial outing. Having directed many of “Better Things” episodes over its five-season run, Adlon enlisted several members of the show’s former crew to help her create the ads.
Adlon plans to further her abilities as a director with her first feature-length film, an untitled pregnancy comedy penned by Ilana Glazer and Josh Rabinowitz. Filming is currently underway on the FilmNation Entertainment and Range Media Partners production, which will star Glazer and actress and comedian Michelle Buteau.
In an exclusive interview with Variety, Adlon explained how the Thinx advertisement was inspired by “Better Things” and who she sought for advice on directing her first feature.
Why did you choose Thinx Teens for your first commercial project?
I think it was meant to be. How could I find the most perfect thing for me to express the way that I make things? And I’ve known about Thinx for five years. My kids and I have been using them. It’s like having toilet paper or water. You need Thinx. When I told them all that I was going to be directing these commercials, they all said the same thing: “Can we get free Thinx?”
And did they?
We had the product on the set and they let me take eight pairs with me. So, I stole them all.
I loved the authenticity of the commercials. They seem unlike any other advertisement for period products that I’ve seen before. What was the inspiration behind them?
Lisa Topol, from the ad agency Oberland, is a fan of mine. She wrote these spots based on “Better Things” and the vibe that she got. We were able to really kind of break them down and I thought it would be great to find a place to shoot all these spots that was cinematic. We found this beautiful turn-of-the-century house in Koreatown in Los Angeles.
When I first met with everybody, I cried. It was like a whole bunch of women. I like things to be meaningful and that’s a big gift. Thinx is something that every girl and every woman in the world should have, like a toothbrush or a pair of shoes. These are incredible so I feel like it was just like these two people came together. Like Lennon and McCartney. Pamela and Thinx. I don’t want them to ever go away. I want to do the Thinx Super Bowl spot. That’s what I want it to be. I want it to be on that level.
Did any experiences that you had raising your daughters help inform the commercials?
I did a thing in one of the spots where I got a red velvet cupcake for one of the moms. She brings it to her daughter and her mother and is just like, “Guess who got her period today, Mom!” You know, three generations. It’s a red velvet cupcake. When my kids got their periods, I got them each a diamond circle bracelet. And I wanted to have a celebration and my last kid called me. I was in New York, and she said, “I got it, I don’t want to talk about it, bye!” That was it. “I don’t want the bracelet, I don’t want a cake, bye!” Don’t put that in the piece. They’ll kill me. Okay, put it in.
After having directed many episodes of “Better Things,” how did you find it different from directing commercials? Were there different challenges?
I looked at it as an opportunity to be able to make something the way that I make things. For television in a commercial, an encapsulation, a mini-movie. The vibration that I work at with my crew, it was just a total joy.
The scripts for the commercials were so funny and realistic. Were there ever any awkward or funny moments when you were directing the ads?
It was just joy and pleasure. The only time that it’s never not good on set is when it’s about time. “We gotta go, we gotta go.” There’s never enough time because I have to get in there and say, “Did you ever have this? Where did you grow up? Did your mother ever sing you a lullaby? Can you sing me a little of that lullaby?” This is the way I work. I like to disarm people and get them to a place where they feel safe.
In one of the spots, a mom is trying on her underwear and the actor had to be in her underwear. So, I took my pants off for that whole spot while directing it. She was all beautiful in her underwear and I was like, “Fuck it, I’m taking my pants off too.”
And now you are directing your first feature-length project. How has that experience been for you so far?
I’m working with Ilana Glazer and Michelle Buteau. Michelle is all about body positivity. Also Hasan Minhaj and Stephan James from “If Beale Street Could Talk.” I got Sandra Bernhard, my best friend, John Carroll Lynch and Oliver Platt, who is going to play Ilana’s dad.
We just finished shooting our first week. It’s crazy because the commercials were a great dry run for me. Making a film, understanding the math of this. It’s insane because Friday night we were shooting — we had pyrotechnics, we had prosthetics, we had VFX, we had SFX. It was crazy. And I looked at Ilana and Michelle, and I said, “This is so awesome.”
You already had so much experience with directing after “Better Things,” but did you ever seek out any advice from anyone when it came to directing these other projects?
I just went with my instinct in terms of commercials. I’ve been working for over 40 years as an actor, a writer, a producer and a director. My dad was a writer and producer. I grew up on soundstages. I know how to make people feel safe and calm and heard and seen and that’s all a big part of it. But I did call Judd Apatow before I came to New York to direct the movie. And I was like, “Big comedies, any thoughts?” He was extremely generous and was like a good big brother.
Is there a title yet for the film?
No. I want it to be called “Astoria.” “Astoria” or “Astoria, Queens” without the comma.
What are some of your goals and aspirations for future projects?
I really want to get another show on FX. I wrote a screenplay with my friend Ariel Leve, based on her book “An Abbreviated Life.” I really want to do that movie next.
If you want to change things, you’ve got to start from the ground up. You can’t have diversity unless you educate people. I have this job fair, which I want to do on a large scale. This industry is so male-dominated, it’s so white male-dominated, it’s so cis white male-dominated. This is the system and you can’t break through unless you say, “This is great, there is space for you but we have to introduce these people.”
What are these jobs? What does a key grip do? What does a gaffer do? What is editorial, post, sound engineer? These are brilliant jobs for women. Women, women of color, people of color — they don’t know about these jobs. They certainly don’t have a shot at getting these jobs. They need to be shown what jobs there are. This is something that I’m really passionate about.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.