Caroline and Jackie is the debut feature from writer/director Adam Christian Clark. It centers around two sisters with a troubled history: Jackie (Bitsie Tulloch of Grimm) and Caroline (Marguerite Moreau of Wet Hot American Summer). What starts out as a pleasant dinner with friends becomes a night of intense emotional strife. It brings down both the sisters as well as some of Jackie’s friends. The film’s all about family, and how you can stick to someone so closely even when they’re clearly distraught.
I had a chance to sit down with Clark, Tulloch, and Moreau the day after the film’s world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. While Clark’s background in reality television informs the film, there’s a palbable John Cassavettes influence as well. After talking a bit about the fun he had at Fantastic Fest and the Alamo Drafthouse opening in New York, I started the interview with the obvious question.
Look for our review of Caroline and Jackie tomorrow.
[This review was originally posted as part of our 2012 Tribeca Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of the film.]
[Editor’s note: Some of the questions and responses have been reworded to avoid spoilers.]
I wanted to start by asking what your favorite Cassavettes movie is. There’s this sort of ghost of Cassavettes in there, and it’s like having two Gena Rowlands in the film.
Adam Christian Clark: My favorite is– That’s a hard question because I–
Bitsie Tulloch: The one with the goofy guys that fall in love? That one? And they keep eating the hot dog and he wants a hot dog.
ACC: Minnie and Moskowitz, is that the one you’re talking about.
BT: Yeah. The goofy guy who eats the hot dog is Minnie and Moskowitz.
ACC: Minnie and Moskowitz is actually one of my favorites. I love that. I think it’s one of the best romantic comedies that’s ever been done. I mean, I love Punch-Drunk Love, and it’s kind of sort of a remake of that film. I would say I’d have to pick three: Minnie and Moskowitz, A Woman Under the Influence, and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. They’re all different genres. I mean, I find The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is the most watchable of the three. A Woman Under the Influence is my favorite — it’s a difficult film to watch. Minnie and Moskowitz is my favorite love story.
Marguerite Moreau: I like Minnie and Moskowitz.
ACC: There are so many, you know– There aren’t any I dislike.
I was at the premiere last night and you mentioned that the film was all based on an outline rather than a full screenplay. What were the challenges of making a feature film from the outline and building it out improvisationally?
ACC: Oh, that’s easier. That challenge is getting somebody to finance the outline. [laughs] Thing is, you look at a script. Scripts are textbooks. It’s a manual. It’s an instruction guide to making a movie. Practically nobody who watched your movie or sees it in the theater gets to read your script. And it doesn’t matter if your script is good or bad because it’s all about the [finished] movie, right? So if you have the freedom to really make direction-directions, it’s great. So often you see scripts that get pushed forward because the writing is really great, but I mean the writing is about it being a readable script, like it’s a short story, not necessarily it being transferred into a movie.
MM: I think also as a challenge for actors, if something is described that’s a big challenge because you can’t play adjectives. You can play actions, you can play verbs. It can be very trappy to have a film written like an outline. I think that was a good challenge to bring it off the page, find where we connect, and from that and watching rehearsals saying, “Okay, that’s the tone I want. Raise the stakes.”
BT: I personally wish that I could shoot everything as an outline. It’s so much more freeing. I keep using the word “magical,” and it really was pretty amazing to shoot it like this. And it also forces you to get to know your character a lot better than you would otherwise.
ACC: It also has more information than a script. This is a single-space outline. You put it into script format it would have been a 148-page script or something. People would have been like, “You can’t write a 148-page script.” I don’t know, I’m not an actor, but for me it’s way better. It’s way easier.
MM: Yeah, I’m not saying it’s better or worse. I’m saying there are different challenges, and that was exciting.
In defining your relationship as sisters, how did you build from the outline? Did you hang out a lot?
MM: I was only cast about a week and a half before we started filming, so I jumped into rehearsals pretty quick. We just sort of had to jump off the bridge.
BT: Yeah, we really did. She joined a little bit later on in the process so– I don’t know if we ever went out to dinner of had coffee or something.
BT: I mean, I did a lot of that with David, who plays my boyfriend in the movie. David Giuntoli, really great actor — also plays my boyfriend on Grimm.[laughs]
BT: So he and I had spent quite a bit of time together, and I went out for coffee with Valrie Azlynn, who plays Michelle, but that was about the extent of it.
MM: And you have a really nice shorthand that’s really specific with both of them, which is really nice. [a beat] Sometimes you know your sister the least, but you know her the best.
BT: You know it worked in a weird way. There was a little bit of distance there that really, really worked for what was going on emotionally with her character and obviously emotionally with mine as well.
MM: I think if we had felt that we needed to [hang out a lot], and I’m definitely the sort of actor who loves to do that too, but it just didn’t– it just seemed to suit what we were making.
There was also the choice to segregate the cast and crew when not filming. How did that change the dynamic of the performance?
MM: I don’t know how it changed it since we kind of did it that one way, but it’s really fun when a lot of people want to create as much opportunity for the environment to be as real as possible. Sometimes as an actor, what you find on different sets is that everyone works a different way, so you really have to respect everybody’s process. So it was pretty exciting — from how I like to work — that a director was telling us, “Uh, Marguerite, I think you’re going to sit over there, while all four of you get to go hang out in there.” At first I was a little pissed, but then I thought, “Oh, this is kind of fun.”[laughs]
MM: It was a good treat.
Did the outline change at all during the course of filming? Or even during the rehearsal process.
BT: If anything, it changed more during the rehearsal process.
ACC: Well, the script certainly changed during the rehearsal period. [But it’s not like] a different act was created.
MM: Or like “This moment didn’t happen.”
ACC: Like, a character wasn’t added. I think that it was further defined.
MM: I just did an improv film. When I got to set they were like, “Okay, the last three days have been very interesting. We’ve rewritten the script and your character is now doing this and all these characters are doing this, because when we did the scene, it didn’t work.” So I didn’t experience that at all, where all of a sudden certain scenes were out or the outcome of the scene was different. We understood what the story was.
ACC: I knew exactly what I wanted before we casted.
BT: I didn’t mean in a huge way. I think we’re all in agreement.
ACC: Ah, okay.
BT: I’m saying that what we brought, what the actors brought to rehearsals, informed what ended up happening, what ended up actually being shot.
ACC: There were parts that were intentionally [changed]. There’s one part in particular that is omitted from the script. I had written parts and had written whole sections, but I had never showed any of the actors. For instance, in the intervention. They’re like handwriting their things. That was one of the more ambiguous parts [in the outline]. I don’t know if you guys have seen this, but I had a back-up. I went ahead and wrote those part in case it didn’t gel. We could pull that out at the last minute. But they wrote those parts entirely on their own, and they would do the backstory on it. And they did it perfectly. I would give them a general sense of what the problem was, but that was one part in particular that really [hinged on the actors]. But it wasn’t changed. They did it exactly perfectly.
I did want to zero in on the intervention scene. It seemed properly awkward and self-righteous at the same time. Did you draw from any experiences to make it seem authentic?
MM: I watched some Intervention, the show. A little bit, I think. At least one episode. Did some research online.
ACC: I think the important thing was to make sure everybody was sincere. The editing of that was also somewhat difficult because it’s really early in the film and it’s a very long scene and it’s difficult. I was always trying to find the perfect line. If I made it shorter and more watchable, it wouldn’t be effective. I really wanted you to be cringing at the end of that scene and want it to end — I mean really want it to end. When she walks out of that scene, you think, “Finally. I can’t bare it if that would have gone on 30 seconds longer. I was going to get out of my seat.” I was terrified at the first screening. I thought that people would just bail on that movie. That’s the beginning of the second reel. Luckily nobody moved.
ACC: Everyone was very much into it. That was a tough scene. We shot that, like many scenes in this film, we shot that in real time. They did 11 or 12 18-minute takes.
BT: It was the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done. And there were some takes where I just had nothing left. There were some takes that Adam couldn’t even use because I had so much snot coming out of my nose.
BT: Like dripping. Just total snot pump in the scene. And then I was like, “Oh, that’ll be great in the movie. It’s so intense to have this snot running out my nose.” Totally didn’t work, and totally didn’t make it in. When I went home that night and we were done with that, I didn’t want to see anyone, I didn’t want to talk to anyone.
ACC: They were real troopers too. I don’t like to shoot inserts ever, or coverage. For instance, if the one take would be dual close-up coverage, I’d still make everybody do the whole scene, and they would do it off camera. They were real champions about it, they really embraced it, nobody ever complained. And honestly, some of the best dialogue in the film was from those off-camera moments, and they’re added in transitional shots. It gave so much to the actors who were on the camera at that moment.
MM: It was really fun to do it full out, because it’s like you’re doing a play. And there’s a certain energy that gets going once you’ve all been working together after a few minutes that doesn’t get to happen often in a film. It makes it easier in a way. I know that’s probably hard for you [Bitsie] to say because of the emotional depths.
BT: It was like being put through hell like 18 times. Just over and over and over again.
MM: But she didn’t have to turn it up in the corner — we gave it to her every time.
[laughs] It does make sense though. If you’re running through a scene all the way through, there are no disjointed emotions in every cut. It’s really just about that scene moving through.
ACC: Another thing I love about Cassavettes is that there are just few cuts. There are 132 cuts in this film, which is extremely low.
That’s like Béla Tarr territory.
ACC: Extremely low. I remember the colorist got it and thought there was an error or something.[laughs]
ACC: They’re like, “What? No. What?” But yeah, you know. I don’t like cutting.
Was there another scene in the film that was challenging, or even just a favorite one to shoot?
MM: Favorite is a really weird word in this movie.
That’s true. [laughs] What’s your favorite–
MM: When we got to the house. That was a nice scene to shoot.
BT: I feel like the most– I’m going to start crying. It’s like it’s still that real for me. The most emotional scene is the one at the very end.
BT: That was like everything to me. It was the dynamic, it was just so…
MM: Clear? Or maybe was it that your character had made a decision at that point?
BT: It was difficult and there was an element of finality to it. Like, I choose this. For better or worse, I’m choosing this. For f**k’s sake, I’m choosing this.
BT: Like, “God damn you, I want to kill you right now, but I’m still choosing this.” That was a hard scene for me to shoot.
It must have been especially draining because it was at the very end of the shoot since everything was done chronologically.
BT: Yeah. I remember Christian [Swegal, the cinematographer,] trying to get that shot on the stairs right before.
MM: “Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!”
ACC: My favorite scene to shoot was the one where you were all in the car together.[laughs]
ACC: That was the only time I didn’t have a monitor or a Commtech, so I just had to do nothing. I just had to do nothing and just follow a car and just listen to them afterwards. I’d listen to the audio and be like, “Okay, we need to do this over.” It was like a break. [laughs]
ACC: That was like my vacation scene.
BT: My least favorite scene to shoot was the one in the pool, because the pool was so effing cold.
It wasn’t heated or anything?
BT: It had been on.
ACC: It was–
BT: I was getting rushed by Adam Hendricks, our producer, to go get in a bathtub, [I was] sitting in a bathtub between takes because I was so cold.
ACC: You know, that pool was so difficult on them, especially Bitsie because she was in it the longest. Was it heated? Yes. Was it in the summer? Yes. Does it matter? It was in the middle of the night and they were in it for like 12 hours. And if you think about that, it wasn’t bath water. It was definitely colder than that.
MM: So basically you should get a pool with a Jacuzzi next to it when you’re shooting a pool scene.
Have it flow over.
ACC: It was really difficult. Had they all gotten in it in the middle of the day when it was 95 degrees, it’d be fine. Yeah, it’s a heated pool, but it didn’t feel like that at three in the morning. I mean, I felt it with my hand.[laughs]
ACC: It didn’t feel good.
Like, “Ooh, that’s cold.”
ACC: Yeah, like, “Well… that’s going to be rough.”
As a last question, have your feelings about family changed at all in making the film? Or have they been reinforced even?
MM: It’s nice to have an opportunity to think about it, how everybody has conflict in their family and are sometimes very different from their family members. And to just have this space where you’re not being activated by them in real life, to see it — to see a family being in conflict, but also the blood ties that bind are the strongest things in life. It’s been really nice to think about it when not just being caught up in it. The film afforded a really nice opportunity, I think.
BT: You know, one of the best things that has been said to all of us over and over again is that people really feel like — and one of the reasons the reality TV connection is coming up — is that it really feels like someone just put a camera in there. And you feel like you were invited to that dinner party and you were invited to that intervention, and it was ugly, and it was real. And whether or not you’ve gone through something with your family that is on the same level as staging and intervention or whatnot, that chaos and that frenzy and that kind of nervous energy that’s so rife with love and hate and all those emotions — everybody’s been through that at some point or another. So I think it’s a really wonderful movie to connect to on that level. To relate to. To be like, “I’ve been through this, I’ve seen this, this is me and my sister. I have a relationship like that with my mom.” That kind of response.
ACC: I think it’s made me embrace and love my family a little more. I think that when you write — or especially when you direct or especially when you edit something — you’re really crafting. Especially the editing, actually. You’re really the crafting it to fit with you emotions and your past, and your understanding of things, and just hoping other people watch it and find it relatable. People are going to like this movie or they’re going to dislike this movie, and certainly people have disliked it, but it seems across the board, people have said, “That was very much a real moment, and I really felt like that was something that was close to me.” And to make something that you think is close to you and other people say it’s close to them, that makes you feel like all the insecurities you have about your own family are more universal than you thought.