Every so often, you stumble upon a new series that’s so unique, you have to watch. Such is the case with “This Close,” the first show being produced for the Sundance Now platform.
Featuring deaf writers and actors, the series is based on a series of web shorts that debuted at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and stars Josh Feldman and Shoshannah Stern, who co-wrote and co-created the series.
“I was the only director of all six episodes, which was such an honor,” said gay executive producer Andrew Ahn at the recent Television Critics Press Tour.
“I think I was picked because I was really there to help Josh and Shoshannah’s vision come across,” said Ahn. “I really respected their authorship and the sense of authenticity that they bring to these characters.”
Comprised of six, 30-minute episodes, “This Close” touches on universal and relatable themes of love and friendship and features an ensemble cast of recurring guest stars including Zach Gilford who plays Danny, Kate’s (Stern) fiancé; Cheryl Hines as Stella, a PR maven and Kate’s boss; Colt Prattes as Ryan, Michael’s (Feldman) ex; and Marlee Matlin as Michael’s mother, Annie, a recovering alcoholic trying to reconnect with her son.
In the series, the deaf, gay graphic novelist, Michael (Feldman) is trying to move on, after having his heart recently broken by his (hearing) fiancé. Throughout the season, audiences find out what brought the characters together and what broke them apart.
“I really wanted to show what’s a modern gay romance and the difficulties of figuring out marriage and family and intimacy,” Ahn told Los Angeles Blade in an exclusive interview.
“All that stuff we tackled in the show in a super modern, really fresh way,” he said.
“The intersection between gay and deaf is something Josh has talked about, in that you never see these characters (on television), and I think it’s why he felt so inspired to write and play this role himself.”
Ahn loved about the way Josh and Shoshannah wrote the character of Michael. “He feels real, flawed…he totally has a reason to be hurt and betrayed but at the same time, maybe he gave up on their engagement too soon. So showing this relationship in reverse is really fun.”
Look out for Michael to have some steamy sex, teases Ahn.
“Michael, in this tailspin of emotion, hooks up with random guys, has an orgy, and acts out sexually as a way to express himself, as a way to make him feel something again. This is something gay men go through and we wanted to show the difficulty in opening up with someone and what happens when you get hurt.”
During the panel, Ahn pointed out that working with deaf actors and writers didn’t pose a challenge.
“As a hearing director working with Josh and Shoshannah, beyond some very superficial differences, like how you signal action and cut, which is kind of just big hand waving or, making sure you get their attention, it’s exactly the same work.”
Ahn’s focus was more about the motivation of the character, versus the fact that the actor participating was deaf.
“For me, analyzing a script, I never wanted the reason for an action to be because this character is deaf.
Michael drinks because he has a family history of alcoholism and he’s heartbroken. Kate can’t ask for her promotion because she’s intimidated by her boss and she hasn’t found a client that she’s passionate about yet.
He continued: “If Michael drinks and Kate doesn’t ask for a promotion because they’re deaf, it would be a really bad show, you know? We together created fully three-dimensional characters that make the show bigger and better.
Ahn was interested in learning how to sign, and picked up a lot of the language by editing the series.
“We also did have on our call sheet a sign of the day. So we’d learn things like ‘toilet,’ and ‘ready?’ and ‘actor.’ It was a way to show on set that we cared, and we wanted to try and learn.”
Ahn is a Korean-American filmmaker born and raised in Los Angeles. His feature film “Spa Night,” premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and won a Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance. The film also won the John Cassavetes Award at the 2017 Independent Spirit Awards.
Ahn participated in the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, the Film Independent Screenwriting Lab, and the Film Independent Directing Lab for the film.
In Ahn’s own life, growing up Korean and gay, was its own stigma to deal with.
About his family accepting him, Ahn said: “It was a process. I was very fortunate my family wanted to have a conversation. I was also really inspired by my struggle and intersection of my identities. I had to express myself through film and I was really fortunate that the Sundance Film Festival screened my first feature.
My parents saw that people liked the film and wanted to showcase it. That really helped my parents better understand who I am. I would love to continue making meaningful material.”