Thursday, May 3, 2012

Adam and Bitsie on "Caroline and Jackie"

Festival Movie

Adam and Bitsie on "Caroline and Jackie"

(from 5/4/12)

 The insensitive and unimaginative parents who named the two lead characters of Adam Christian Clark's Caroline and Jackie, which was one of the most interesting and well-acted narratives at the recent Tribeca Film Festival, should have immediately lost custody of their daughters. Cats maybe, kids definitely not. With that foolish decision they doomed their daughters to lives of unmet expectations and an unhealthy us-against-the-shallow-world steel sibling bond. It's no wonder that they grow up to be a bit off-kilter, though they can hide it for a while from their shallow, self-involved "friends" and lovers. And, cleverly played by two terrific actresses--Grimm's Bitsie Tullock as Jackie and indie favorite Marguerite Moreau (whose face is in Bitsie's hands in the picture) as the unpredictable Caroline--they keep us in the audience trying to figure them out long after the end credits. The genesis of this film was Christian's lousy experience attending an intervention for someone who, it turned out, didn't need one, the kind of event that is hard to forget. In Clark's debut feature, Caroline comes to visit Jackie and her live-in boyfriend Ryan (David Giuntoli, who stars as the demon-fighting live-in boyfriend of Tullock's character on Grimm.). Supposedly she was summoned by Jackie's close friend James (Jason Gray-Stanford) to take part in an intervention by Ryan and their friends on Jackie's behalf so that she'll deal with her anorexia. But was it actually Caroline who concocted the idea of an intervention for her younger sister? And did Caroline just invent Jackie's health issue? Don't expect easy answers in this refreshingly odd and compelling film because there are endless ways to interpret it. Near the end of the festival I met up with the personable Adam Christian Clark, a much younger but fellow USC Film School grad, to talk about his film. Then I did an email interview with Bitsie Tullock, who is a major reason I'm a big fan of Grimm. My guess is that they'll be interested in each other's answers to my questions about the very cool Caroline and Jackie.
In-Person Interview with Adam Christian Clark
carolineandjackieadam.jpgDanny Peary: I read where you turned down a couple of features in the past, so why did you choose to make Caroline and Jackie your first film other than because of your fondness for small, intimate films?
Adam Christian Clark: I really wanted to explore the family bond. It's interesting how you will run away from the family member who is nicest to you and you'll be the closest to one who is most abusive to you. It seems that with family or blood, you'll have the same amount of adulation, malice, charity, or hatred that you have with yourself. And you can never fully cut ties with family and things that happen between you will weigh on you forever. I wanted to explore that through sisters because women have much more emotion beneath the surface.
DP: Everyone must ask you why you chose the names Caroline and Jackie?
ACC: Not everyone has asked. In the original script I wrote their names as Caroline Wright and Jackie Wright. I didn't want people to think it's a film about the Kennedys, but I was trying to evoke this idea of their coming from a place, time and family where there would be a lot of pressure in trying to fit a certain ideal. The names Caroline and Jackie evoke a certain sentiment or emotion in the American quilt and that may help viewers understand why these characters want to be proper or perfect. I used those names because of the emotion it conveys, not necessarily literally.
DP: I'm not sure if you thought of it, but when I was watching these two women who are in a symbiotic relationship that is headed for decline and disaster as they age and remain together I kept thinking of Grey Gardens.
ACC: Oh, yeah! I guess I never thought about that! I love both versions of Grey Gardens, the documentary especially. It's a great character study and certainly it's about people dealing with extreme pressure because of family.
DP: I'm thinking of them years later when they're alone in the dilapidated house and resigned to always living together.
ACC: I think that may be accurate. I certainly don't see Caroline and Jackie, as this story is written, ending up married or living happily with other people. So I agree with that.
 carolineandjackietwo.jpgMarguerite Moreau (L) and Bitsie Tullock
DP: I'm a big fan of Grimm. On that Bitsie Tulloch has a supporting part while David Giuntoli is the lead, so it's funny seeing the switch here. I really like her on that but I had no idea how good an actress she is until I saw your film.
ACC: Yeah, she really is fantastic. I think David also really shines in this. Bitsie and David have an enormous range and breadth and I hope this allows them to do more films like this. It was a great coincidence that they ended up on the same TV show because we cast this film before they cast Grimm. At the time Bitsie and David had never met. I cast Bitsie first as Jackie and then cast David to be her boyfriend, Ryan. Then right after we wrapped principal photography, David auditioned for Grimm. They aren't represented by the same agency but when Bitsie was testing for Grimm David felt she should be given a greater shot because they already had chemistry after working months together on this film. When they tested together they had a real advantage having come off the movie. This was made first and there is a proposal scene in it, too, but it's coming out only now and in Grimm David's character has already proposed to and been turned down by Bitsie's character.
DP: Did you audition Bitsie with David or Marguerite Moreau?
ACC: I auditioned in a nontraditional way. I don't like cold readings or readings on the side because I don't know if an actor's ability to audition that way will give me an accurate indication of how well they will act in a film. So what I like to do instead is take a lot of meetings with actors and I'll have my own interview process and ask very extensive questions.
DP: Did you explain the movie to the auditioning actors for this?
ACC: I explained the movie but they had already read the script in its entirety. I asked them a lot of loaded questions to see how they'd respond. Then if I liked them from the meetings, I'd audition them, bringing them into a room with an actor who had already been cast. For example, I brought David in with Bitsie, who was the first to be cast. And then I did extensive scene preparation with them. I wouldn't have them read lines, but I'd have them do improv and I'd see how they interacted. That's how I did casting.
DP: Tell me about Marguerite, who I remember first seeing in Queen of the Damned. She is also really good.
ACC: I agree. She's been a few great indie films over the last few years, including Easier with Practice and Drake Doremus's first film Douchebag. I have to give credit to the casting directors, Angela Demo and Barbara McCarthy, for understanding what I was looking for and putting me in touch with her. We met and I talked to her for about two hours and then we rehearsed scenes together with Bitsie. As the first actor cast, Bitsie more than anyone else tested with other people, though I did have the Michelle [Valerie Azlynn] and Charlie [David Fuit) characters test with each other.
DP: Did you have time to do a lot of readings with the final cast?
ACC: We had a solid month of rehearsal, usually seven days a week. I rehearsed extensively while we were shooting as well.
DP: You brought in two strong, talented actresses to play two strong, complex women and they had to have ideas of their own. So did things change during that month?
ACC: No. The cast was so, so, so supportive and knew exactly what they were getting into. On day one everybody was told that this was something that they really had to dive into and really had to trust me with. Of course this was a collaborative process but they did not fight me. They were wonderful to work with.
DP: Did you want two actresses who look sort of alike to play the sisters?
ACC: Yeah, but I got lucky with Bitsie and Marguerite. I think they especially look alike. To give credit to them, I think they began to look more alike as they started rehearsing and began to almost mirror each other's mannerisms. I know them very well and they look less like sisters alone than when I see them together and they start mirroring each other. They really get into each other's energy.
DP: How did you explain the tone of this movie to actors? Did you say it's a totally serious film with bits of humor--as when Caroline wants everyone to recite ten things they hate about Jackie--or a black comedy or something else?
ACC: My number one goal with this film was to make it always seem as real as possible in a stylized world. I still struggle to explain it genre-wise because while I think it's a drama it's certainly comedic at times. It's like life, my life at least, which is funny and dramatic at the same time. I wouldn't describe it as a black comedy but if somebody did I'd be flattered.
DP: I think it's a black comedy.
ACC: Thank you, that's very flattering.
DP: One reason I say that is that everyone comes together at the house for a serious intervention and they all seem worried, yet when the distressed Jackie runs off into the night, they stay behind to eat and party, even shooting off fireworks. And Ryan returns home and in the middle of all this takes a shower!
ACC: I wanted to show these characters--as is their world--are vapid and self-involved. Until that point in the movie, he seemed very concerned and up for the challenge and was telling everyone we need to do this and we need to do that for Jackie. But I wanted to show him alone and suddenly he's very vain, glancing at himself in the mirror and freshening up. It's like when James is alone and he has a cocaine moment. I wanted to show that these characters aren't as genuine as they portray themselves to be because it's accurate to that world and also because I wanted to set up a powerful ending. If the bonds were too great between Jackie and the other characters then I don't think my ending would have the same impact.
DP: Well, Caroline, who is having a secret affair with James yet accuses Jackie of promiscuity, tries to seduce Ryan while he's wearing just a towel in the bedroom he shares with her sister. But he tells this beautiful, sexy woman to leave, so I thought at the time you were showing us that Jackie really has a decent guy for a boyfriend.
ACC: Right, it's walking a fine line. I intentionally wanted all the characters to be morally ambiguous. I just feel we don't live in a white-black world and I respond to characters who are greyer. I didn't want Ryan to be an overly nice or bad guy.
DP: Is there something that happened in Jackie and Caroline's childhood that had an incredible impact on them and made them go through the years unchanged, still in a sibling relationship in which Caroline is controlling?
ACC: I have been asked at screenings what exactly their backstory is. Certainly it's implied that there was a level of abuse--their mother is talked about in the dinner scene and we learn she was abusive and pitted them against each other. But in preparing for the film, the backstory I'd work on with Marguerite would be different from the backstory I'd work on with Bitsie, and then we'd combine. The reason that I leave the full backstory ambiguous is because if I had a prologue it would rob moviegoers of the ability to identify their own troubled pasts to the unspecified troubled past of Caroline and Jackie..
DP: While making the film, did you have a complete backstory in your head that you still want to keep secret?
ACC: No, I had a back-up emotion that I tapped into that connected to the abuse or childhood trauma and I made sure that the characters' reactions and consequent events in the film were correct. I was really conscious not to hold on to a specific event. And it certainly wasn't just one thing that happened to them.
DP: At one point Jackie tells Ryan that Caroline stabbed someone in college. But later on, she says Caroline never went to college because she wanted to stay home and protect her.
So are we supposed to figure out if Caroline went to college or just realize that Jackie lies as much as Caroline?
ACC: What I was trying to say is that we often lie about things when we're insecure about them. I would assume the truth is that Caroline didn't go to college but stabbed someone of college age and was sent to the mental hospital for a minute. This is something Jackie is ashamed about so she's not honest. Jackie went to an Ivy League school so she wouldn't present Caroline's real story to Ryan.
DP: The intervention turns out to be a sham but is there the possibility that Caroline is right in saying Jackie has anorexia and is promiscuous? Jackie examines her slender body with curiosity in the mirror but she has been eating all day and even cooked a beef stew.
ACC: Right. She does have troubles. But does she have an eating disorder that warrants intervention? Probably not. But then I have it that way intentionally because with anorexia, alcoholism, and other things that we now classify as diseases there are sliding scales and it's hard to define them. That inner struggle is something a person is going to deal with and try to contain always because there is no cure. Jackie may have symptoms, but whether she is or isn't anorexic depends on how you define it. There are certainly enough issues and evidence and characteristics present so those people could be wooed to come for her intervention.
DP: Could Caroline be setting up her own intervention by inviting these people to one of her breakdowns?
ACC: I think she's making an extreme cry for love and help. I don't know if she's setting up her own intervention but she's going to extremes to get needed attention.
DP: I think she may just be orchestrating this to get Jackie back for herself, which she does by exposing everyone else for who they really are.
ACC: I think so too. But I think it's also that she needs love and support at this time.
DP: I would think Caroline is very close to a breakdown, although she may be faking that. Jackie doesn't seem close to a breakdown and she has always been more stable than her sister, but she seems a bit loony too.
ACC: I think Caroline is crazier but they're both crazy--but crazy in the nicest sense of the word, because we're all a bit crazy. Caroline is a little more dangerous but I don't think Jackie is that stable. They're both exciting for men to be with but no man could devote the rest of their lives to them, so Jackie realizes that she is always going to be alone because her relationships are always going to be sabotaged in the same fashion. She is resigned to always being with Caroline, who can't reciprocate her needs. Though part of her finds comfort in being with her sister, she won't allow herself that comfort for very long.
DP: I see in your credits that you directed Big Brother while you were at USC Film School. In Caroline and Jackie, there are a bunch of people who are stuck together in a house and reveal themselves, so I see a link to Big Brother. Do you?
ACC: Sure, although I don't know if there's a link in terms of the narrative because my putting my characters into a house was due mostly to the constraints of my budget. I couldn't afford a lot of locations. Also, on Big Brother I didn't have the control of what the cast did that I had on other reality shows. I had years of experience on other reality shows dealing with nonprofessional actors and real people and that made it a lot easier to direct professional actors--and when they're as gifted as my actors were on this, it is even easier.
DP: I think you used space very well. As you learn to make movies, are you thinking in terms of space and how to use the frame?
ACC: Oh, yeah, mise-en-scene is very important to me. This is a story that is character-based and very naturalistic in a lot of ways and has overlapping dialogue, but I don't really identify with mumble-core films, which is the mainstay nowadays for telling stories with depth. The reason I don't like them is because they don't really respect the craft of filmmaking. My favorite films are probably John Cassavetes and Robert Altman films of the seventies. I love them because they are very naturalistic but also very much take style and lighting and framing into account. On this film I was very conscious of production design and of confining people with a tight frame or loosening it up. I wanted an ebb and flow to convey and release tension.
DP: It's filmed at night but even so it's very dark, with light coming at times from candles and at one point fireworks.
ACC: I wanted it be dark. I'm more of a fan of hard lighting than soft lighting so that was a style choice.
DP: Your film has a lot of twists that I don't want to ask you about because it will spoil the film for those who haven't seen it.
ACC: It's difficult to talk about. Now the film is getting reviews that give away the whole plot, and if you give a too detailed synopsis of the film it takes away the effect.
CAROLINEANDJACKIEbitsie.jpg David Giuntoli and Bitsie Tullock
DP: Were you satisfied with the audience reaction at the Tribeca Film Festival?
ACC: I am tremendously flattered. I'm always better received than I anticipate. I worried that it would be inaccessible. It is a risky, very tension-filled film that I didn't know would pay off. I know every line in the movie and when I listened in I was worried that there is so much naturalistic chatter on top of each other and people wouldn't even hear crucial lines. It requires a lot from an audience. I thought people would hate it and walk out. But nobody did.
Email Q&A with Bitsie TullockDanny Peary: Adam wrote two strong female parts in Caroline and Jackie. I asked him if once he gave those parts to two strong actresses, who would explore them from their own perspectives, if he watched those characters change in big or subtle ways. He contends that you and Marguerite Moreau stuck to the script and the characters didn't change really. I ask you: do you think you, because you inhabited her, got to know Jackie better than Adam did and showed more of her than is in the script or were you trying to play exactly the Jackie that Adam wrote?
Bitsie Tullock: Both. While the outline was thorough and specific, one of the most magical aspects about working on this movie was how generous Adam was with us--for example, during the intervention scene, all of those actors "wrote" their speeches to Jackie, which was very effective and I believe added a lot to the "documentary/reality show" feel that audiences have mentioned a few times. If I had to choose though, I would contend without hesitation that nobody knows the character of Jackie better than I do (and rightly so).
DP: Did you try, maybe coming up with a full backstory of the relationship between sisters, to know everything about Jackie or did you think it was better to play her if she remained partly a mystery to you, too?
BT: While every character I have played has remained a bit mysterious, which is to be expected as there are parts of ourselves and our psyches that we are constantly discovering and exploring, overall the way I work as an actor involves quite a bit of 'homework' and imagination. You do a ton of work at home on a character's backstory and then the minute you start shooting it's much easier to let all of that go and trust that the character is within you.
DP: Did you have to fully understand Caroline as well as Jackie in order to play this part?
BT: No. In fact, of the three actors I rehearsed with one-on-one before filming, Marguerite and I spent the least amount of time together, and I believe part of the movie's success lies within the ambiguity of the characters and outcome, and within the characters' inability to understand each other and connect. So Marguerite and I never had coffee like I did with Valerie Azlynn (Michelle), or went out to dinner/drinks like I did with David Giuntoli (Ryan). I should add that Marguerite and I have the benefit of having younger and older sisters, respectively, so much of that relationship was already there.
DP: Do you think it was essential that Caroline and Jackie are sisters rather than just lifelong best friends?
DP: Truthfully, I don't think Jackie would have been friends with Caroline in real-life, which is one of the main points of the movie. We are stuck with our families from birth, for better or worse, whether we like it or not. We can choose our friends, but we can't choose our families, and that oft-irritating and undeniable bond is impossible to sever. I know Adam is fascinated by family dynamics and even more so the very intense and very emotional bond between sisters, so I don't think the movie would have worked had it been about friends.
DP: Do you think what happens in this film, with Caroline wrecking Jackie's relationship and getting her back for herself, has happened before? (It may not be a negative since Caroline does expose that Jackie made poor choices in choosing her lover and friends. And perhaps, maybe you agree, Jackie does have body and promiscuity issues that need to be addressed.)
BT: While I don't think this exact scenario has played out before, I do believe that this is not the first time Caroline has intervened in an unwelcome and 'crazy' way. Jackie does not immediately walk out of the intervention, which to me indicates that she has been here before. As to whether Jackie actually has body and/or promiscuity issues, while I know the conclusion I came to as the actress playing her, it would be negligent of me to answer this question, as the director intentionally left this ambiguous.
DP: Do you remember how it was reading the script the first time, in regard to surprises, feelings, or being stimulated?
BT: Not really other than that it terrified me. On paper, Jackie is very much the "straight woman" and I was scared that I wouldn't be able to play her with integrity and depth without her being unsympathetic. It's also obviously a little scary working with a first-time feature director, but having seen a few of Adam's short films, I knew we were in good hands.
carolineandjackieheadshot.jpg Bitsie Tullock
DP: I asked Adam this: do you think it's a black comedy? (There is some funny and odd stuff in this film.)
BT: No. In my opinion this is a drama. It is peppered with welcome light-hearted moments, but is, at the end of the day, a drama. I loved that people were laughing during the two screenings I attended, but it was a nervous and uncomfortable laughter, which to me signals that people were getting very emotionally involved with the characters and the story.
DP: How was it playing with David (who I told at the festival that I like Grimm) when you have the main part and he follows your lead?
BT: David Giuntoli and I had wrapped Caroline and Jackie about 6 months before we auditioned for Grimm. After the movie, we kept in touch and remained friends. It never really occurred to me to think about the dynamic of who is the lead and who isn't, we are just both lucky--since Grimm has been picked up for a full 2nd season--and very grateful and happy that we get to continue working together. He's a great actor and a wonderful friend.
DP: Do you have a co-producing credit on this? I wonder what that entailed.
BT: I do have a co-producer credit on Caroline and Jackie and was involved in things such as location scouts prior to filming, but for the most part I drastically cut down any involvement on the production side of things once we started filming--Adam and I wanted my full attention focused on the character.
DP: Talk about working with Adam. I thought his Big Brother experience may have influenced him to write this script about a group of weird people who are mostly confined to a house.
BT: Adam was a delight to work with. He was remarkably generous--he tried very hard to shoot the film in chronological order, let the actors bring their own ideas to the table, and was very much committed to making the entire experience feel as "real" as possible. In hindsight, filming Caroline and Jackie felt a bit like filming a one-act play, and I think that is a huge compliment, as theater is so freeing and creative.
DP: Finally, do you think both characters are a bit crazy as Adam says--although only one is destructive? And would Jackie want to stay away from her crazier sister or does she find her only comfort in being with her?
BT: Everybody is a little bit crazy. One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given as an actor was to not judge a character, because we all have a little bit of everything within us--the martyr, the clown, the judge, even the murderer. That's what makes people so boundlessly fascinating. All I remember, as Jackie, was that I wanted to be both as close and as far away from Caroline as possible.

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