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Filmmaker Adam Christian Clark with Caroline and Jackie actresses Bitsie Tulloch (left) and Marguerite Moreau (right)

by Francesca McCaffery

One of the best narrative films I’ve seen screening at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival so far is the extraordinary debut feature written and directed by Adam Christian Clark- Carloline and Jackie.

The film centers around two sisters with an unexplained but hinted to have been very tough shared childhood. As Caroline (the wonderful Marguerite Moreau) flies in to see her younger sister Jackie (an amazing Bitsie Tulloch), we see her glancing at an “Anorexics Anonymous” brochure.Jackie has cooked a huge, thoughtful meal, (“Nana’s pot roast!”)and she and her new boyfriend Ryan (David Giuntoli- nicely understated) show Caroline their beautifully appointed, new craftsman home. Jackie is a designer, and it’s clear she has worked quite hard to achieve this still modest, but still, quite lovely lifestyle.

Caroline flippantly tells her sister that she has arranged to celebrate Jackie’s birthday with a few friends at a nearby restaurant, even though it is in fact Caroline’s birthday, and Jackie’s own birthday is literally months away. A bit upset (“I spent thirty-two hours cooking!” she sadly laments to her boyfriend), but putting on a sweet, big-girl face, they literally skip off to the pre-arranged fete.

At the restaurant, they are greeted by three of Jackie’s friends, and Jackie is curious as to why any of Caroline’s own friends aren’t present. It soon becomes quite obvious, especially as Caroline assembles everyone in Jackie’s living room, that another plan entirely is being put into play. James (Jason Gray-Stanford) is a musician who has abruptly cut his tour short to be there for Jackie’s birthday, and seemingly bestie Michelle (Valerie Azlynn) has brought new 22-year old, youngin boyfriend Charlie (David Fuitt) along for the ride.The tone changes almost minute by minute, as hints of realization dance across Jackie’s face, and the audience is quite uncertain as to who is telling the real truth, until there is no denying it

This film, especially for a director’s debut, is an absolute knockout. The camera work (by director-turned-first-time cinematographer Christian Swegal) is warm, non-intrusive and sumptuous, and the audience feels somehow placed in the room or setting in each and every frame.And the performances by Moreau and especially Tulloch are beyond standout, they are some of the realest, most down-to-earth and intelligent performances you will see all year. A film about family, the oh-so-complex ties that both bind and nurture, and laying witness to how mental illness can erupt and change the course of an evening and an entire lifetime, the movie explores the concept of love between two sisters that is simultaneously life-sustaining and in reality, both destructive and crucial. This great little film better get distribution, and fast!

Francesca McCaffery sat down with Caroline and Jackie’s  filmmaker Adam Christian Clark, and spoke with him about his roots, why he loves the work of Harmony Korine, and how being employed in reality television gave him the discipline and chops to work with his actors on-set today.

Vimooz: The two performances of the two lead women were really extraordinary.

ACC: Thank you! I had some really great casting directors- Angela Demo and Barbara McCarthy. They did a really great job, because they completely stood up for what they believed the characters were. What I imagined didn’t really exist! In pushing these certain actors, they became real to me as characters even more. We actually cast Bitsie first. And the additional challenge was that- the actresses really had to really look like sisters.

Vimooz: It’s kind of incredible how much the actresses actually do look alike!

ACC: They really do. We got very lucky. I actually know both Bitsie’s and Marguerite’s actual sisters, and the two actresses certainly look way more alike! It is a little more than that, too- because when they very first met and started working together, they got so into character, that they began to mirror each other’s mannerisms. I think it was that, more than anything. They kind of, like, were synced up to each other.

Vimooz: How did you start out?

ACC: I was really fortunate when I was in college (Clark went to USC), and started working in reality TV, which always shot in the summers. This was in 1999, and I started working as a PA. I came into it during the time of Survivor, and I ended up directing episodes of Big Brother. About three or four years ago, I decided that I really wanted to focus on making art-house films, so I cut myself from reality TV, and started directing music videos and commercials. Directing is a weird thing, because I wonder how people like Harmony Korine are able to do it! I’ve been fortunate to find other things- like editing reality TV, as opposed to directing it, which can be pretty draining. Editing is not that emotional draining, there’s no taking it home with you. I’ve also sold quite a few scripts. But they aren’t going to get made! I feel like a lot of good producers have my scripts as like, decorations, in their office! They’ll never be movies. But I’ve been doing this for years.

The thing about Harmony Korine is, all I ever wanted to do from the time I was eighteen was to make like a John Cassavetes movie, or a Jim Jarmusch movie, or a Harmony Korine movie, right? Harmony Korine has been somebody that I really, just, admire. You make a movie, and you don’t know if you’ll ever be in that realm. That’s why it’s so great to be in the Tribeca Film Festival’s Viewpoint section this year, because The Fourth Dimension is also in there. He has always been a hero of mine. When Gummo came out, that imagery and style he created is everywhere now. It pre-dated everything. He is such an artist.

Vimooz: What did you shoot Caroline and Jackie on?

ACC: It was shot on the Red MX camera. We also had great color conversion and correction.My best friend was actually the DP. Adam Hendricks, the producer, and Christian Swegal, the DP, we all went to film school together. Christian is actually not a DP (by trade.) He is a director, too. Going into this film, myself having only directed one short film before, I knew that I really had to go in with a lot of support. I just knew he would do a great job. He has a gift for that I don’t possess. But he had no experience doing this before. I had been on his sets so many times, I just knew he could do it well.

Vimooz: He definitely did! Tell us about directing your wonderful actors.

ACC: I take it really to an extreme. When we shoot scenes, I block everything with stand-ins, do all the blocking with them, and then pull everyone off set, and do just separate blocking with me, the camera operators, and the actors. Then the actors go into complete isolation, separately, I don’t want them together when we’re not filming. Then we roll camera and sound, the crew is pulled out again (except for the camera and departments) so the actors just enter the scene like they’re already really in it. If there’s any direction to give, everybody (the skeleton crew)leaves, then everybody comes back in. I had failed pretty big with the actors in my first film, a short called Goodbye, Shanghai, which was visually very strong, shot on 35mm, very formal. So I remembered back in the very first days of reality TV, it used to be shot by documentary filmmakers. The way they work is that they don’t intercut with the subjects, you’re a fly on the wall. I knew as a camera assistant not to even shake their hands. And I really remembered that, and thought, “I’m gonna try this with acting. I’m gonna try this with acting, and see if it gives them a greater tool, and be easier for them to be in that world. “ And they also don’t hang out with each other offset. The actors actually loved it. In theory, I mean, they loved it! There was a little bit of like, ‘Oh!’ in the beginning, when they realized how intense and serious I was about it. It may have happened slightly less (the isolation) than I thought, but I think it worked! We shot it in fifteen days, there was no off-camera time. But I did rehearse the actors for almost a month, and we would then rehearse every day on the set, during set-ups, about three hours a day.

Vimooz: I really loved Caroline and Jackie, Adam. Thank you so much for talking with me, and good luck with the film!

ACC: Thank you, Francesca!

Go see Caroline and Jackie– which screens this week of April 23rd, 2012 at the Tribeca Film Festival. 

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