“Andre and Sarah” is one of the best short films of 2018. Within the overall framework of “Forever,” the new Amazon series that explores the strains and strengths of a marriage through multiple realms of existence, the sixth of the eight episodes functions as its own self-contained story.
Jason Mitchell and Hong Chau play the title characters of the episode, two real estate professionals whose chance meeting at an open house leads to a decades-long love affair. As series co-creators Alan Yang and Matt Hubbard told IndieWire, it’s a half hour of surprises that was tied into the conception of the show almost from the beginning.
“When Hubbard and I started talking about the show early on, there was an idea that came up that Maya’s character could be watching some other lives transpiring over the course of many, many years, even going into decades,” Yang said. “Once we hit upon that idea, we pushed it as far as we could go all the way from a couple meeting and then all the way until one of their deaths. It allowed us to play with the concept of the passage of time, the concept of regret, of paths not taken.”
Hubbard explained that it was a particular storytelling hurdle that went through multiple iterations as its relationship to the show’s main June (Maya Rudolph) and Oscar (Fred Armisen) storyline evolved.
“I think it was like a huge writing challenge, one I’d never faced before. You have to meet two people, have them have chemistry with each other, and go through all these things in the course of 30 minutes. That’s really hard to do,” Hubbard said. “So we certainly were put through our paces, writing-wise. We wrote that script many, many times. So if it did work and if it is effective, that would be something like I would be proud of and glad we tried and did.”
Part of the reason the episode works so well is its ability to navigate a specific relationship to time. It’s an idea that grows more ambiguous as June, Oscar, and the rest of the “Formers” go about their own business. But for Sarah and Andre, communicating just how much time and history had passed between each of their chance encounters.
“There’s a lot of temptations in doing an episode like that where you could do with chyrons and say ’20 Years Later.’ We wanted to avoid all that. We talked about how we could sell the passage of time with wardrobe, with hair, with acting choices. We chose to go subtle,” Yang said.
Writing the episode was a distinct challenge, but Yang also pulled double duty directing the episode as well.
“I talked to Jason and Hong a lot about how they grew and changed as people in between each chapter,” Yang said. “I very much wanted there to never be intense old age makeup to distract you. So for the last beat, we just cast a new actor [Jesse D. Goins] who did an amazing job of being the older Andre. We just thought it would be most elegant to let the audience connect the dots.”
Given how well “Andre and Sarah” turned out, Hubbard and Yang said they resisted the allure of doing other one-offs within this eight-episode season.
“We thought that it would be kind of nice to be its own thing because we only have eight episodes, so we didn’t want to shortchange the larger story. It was already a little bit of a challenge getting all of the story across in the other seven. And so we felt like it was one step-out and it would be really impactful to just have that one. We want to take people by surprise,” Yang said.
Maybe it was that sense of surprise that made “Andre and Sarah” an idea that the pair didn’t need to fight to include.
“Amazon was unbelievably open to us just doing it the way we wanted to, which was an incredible freedom that most people aren’t afforded. We were, we were very excited about that,” Hubbard said.
“When we pitched it to Amazon, they were super excited,” Yang added.
As the team behind “Forever” shored up this mini-story within the bigger world, it also helped them conceptualize and manage their own ideas about the role that ghosts play in this supernatural neighborhood.
“Most stories that are about ghosts, they’re always watching other people or trying to harm someone. I think one thing we ultimately landed on is that these ghosts should kind of have their own community and lives that are separate from living people,” Hubbard said. “There are times where they just aren’t thinking about them or care about them and sort of just think of them as a nuisance sometimes. So although we did have fun with them haunting living people in some episodes and watching them, I think we’ve tried to stay mindful of not overdoing that and making the show as much about Oscar and Jane as we could.”
Pulling back, even in this world where anything was a possibility, was another theme that guided how far to push the telling of the story beyond the familiar neighborhood core of Oscar and June’s story. It’s a conversation that included the visual language of the show as much as the logistical mechanics of making it run.
“The watchword was ‘restraint.’ That sounds strange in a show with so many big swings. But we were definitely wary of the fact that too many hats on hats on hats can make you lose the thread a little bit,” Yang said. “So we wanted to pick the certain moments that would be a little bit fantastical. The fountain and the traveler and then the cleansing and then walking across the ocean: We picked three or four big moments that we wanted to create. Doing the underwater sequence was really fun because it was bouncing back and forth with VFX people and giving them notes on how we wanted that to look and feel.”
This season ends on a muted moment of triumph for June and Oscar that closes off a specific, eight-episode arc. But for Yang and Hubbard, that’s far from the end of their story.
“I think we know we have Oscar and June as characters and Maya and Fred as actors. That relationship, I think, is hopefully deep enough that you can just keep going with them and face new challenges and learn about more things and the afterlife. So we’re hoping we can do more,” Hubbard said.
“We have some ideas. That ain’t the end of it,” Yang added. “We’re definitely open to doing more if people respond well to the show and have some fun ideas for Season 2 should one come about.”
“Forever” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.