Director Talks: Adam Christian Clark of “Caroline and Jackie”
After two screenings of his first feature film Caroline and Jackie, we spoke with Adam Christian Clark to get a unique look at the themes of Caroline and Jackie as well as his feelings on his feature debut at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival.
Clark has worked in Television and Film, creating a host of short films as well as directing on the popular reality series Big Brother while still a student. Clark’s ambition is proven, and he pushes the envelope with this intense look into an intervention gone wrong.
Caroline and Jackie is a dark tale of two sisters. Caroline, concerned for her sister’s well-being, stages an intervention under the guise of a birthday party dinner and the events quickly spiral out of control.
Note: Some PARTIAL spoilers are involved in this interview.
Q:Caroline and Jackie approaches a very real situation that anyone could place themselves in. Have you ever experienced anything like any of these characters went through?
A: None of the events in the movie were my experience firsthand.
I had a family friend call me and she was trying to stage an intervention for her sister. The intervention didn’t actually happen; it wasn’t warranted so it never happened. But, I saw it as an attempt of one sister to really try to reconnect with another sister and really she was doing a loving thing but it was just sort of ill-directed.
So, that was the inspiration for it. I wrote it as if that intervention actually happened. Those [the cast] aren’t the people that would have been involved, and the sister who called me wasn’t crazy or anything like that – that’s just the movie – that is just how I got the idea to do it.
It’s so extreme to do that [an intervention]. In the way, there was one part of hearing that you’re staging an intervention for your sister and your sister might not even really need it that just sounds really mean. But somehow, the way it came across, it didn’t seem mean at all. It just seemed like she loved her sister and didn’t know how to communicate it.
Q: While watching the sequence of events after the intervention you feel as if you’re another character who wants to chime in with what the right thing to do is, though you might be mistaken. Was it your intention to immerse the audience in this way?
A: Very much so. It was difficult for me because we used an ensemble cast and I didn’t spend a lot of time humanizing the other characters – the other relationships aren’t very developed.
There was a fear of mine that if you do that then people aren’t going to identify with them. But, I wanted to do it because I wanted you to always feel like you’re a part of that group; and it keeps them [the group] a blank palette. I was afraid if they developed too much and you weren’t able to keep them kind of blank there wouldn’t be as big of a payoff at the end.
For example, if you saw Michelle and Jackie develop together and they have a bond then when Caroline and Jackie are left alone at the end it wouldn’t matter as much.
Q: I’ve read that you wanted pairs of characters to establish strong relationships before throwing them into the melting pot that was the full cast – I think that exercise is conveyed most with Ryan and Jackie’s very honest moments. When Ryan proposes, he presents that classic movie moment where you feel that everything will be ok – but it immediately isn’t. Was this meant to play at any norms in traditional film?
A: I was trying, in extreme ways, to show that there was not going to be a lasting bond with Jackie and other characters. I wanted to show that, especially when you have a boyfriend or a girlfriend or a spouse that you have more trust with those people then you have with your siblings or family members.
So, if that relationship [Jackie and Ryan’s] is going to be ultimately successful then it’s going to threaten the closeness with Caroline and Jackie. I just wanted to go to an extreme and show that was going to happen. Another part of it is that there’s an ebb and flow in terms of tension and release. The film is difficult to watch.
I began to cringe during Caroline’s outburst in the pool.
The pool scene especially, I feel the reason you feel the cringing is not because it’s a straight 86 minutes of awkwardness but the film is constantly going in a zigzag between awkwardness and release. The reason the pool scene is so cringing, I think, is because the moment right before is so relaxed: finally Jackie, Michelle, and her date are having a good time. It’s the first time in the film you feel that everything’s safe.
In terms of Ryan, I also have it there because it’s so extreme it provides a bit of release going into the dance scene because you think nothing more can happen – the proposal denial could potentially be the end of the movie. It’s a little bit of that convention.
The third reason is also that when you’re writing something oftentimes you subconsciously write characters as amalgamations of people you know (I a lot of times wrote Ryan as anti-me). All the other characters are a combination of two people I know or kind of like somebody I know.
My inspiration for writing Ryan was me – that was my own voice if I was that character. But in doing that I felt that I was writing the exact opposite of me. For instance, I was in a relationship with my girlfriend at that time that I thought was perfect. I was writing him like “this is what would not happen to me.” But, in retrospect, the relationship I was in at that time was a very bad relationship. So that [writing Ryan] might have been my way of subconsciously dealing with that.
After Caroline and Jackie I didn’t actually propose but I got to that point where I was about to.
Q: Caroline and Jackie’s relationship vacillates throughout the film, but eventually balances when both sisters come together for the sake of order amongst all the chaos. What message were you looking to convey with this resolution about sisters and/or family?
A: I wanted to just explore the extremes of the bond of a family. I wanted to put the audience in a situation where you could see someone abusing another person but in doing so it not mattering. It’s difficult, despite any level of abuse or love or charity, for you to cut yourself off from a family member – especially a sibling that’s so close. All I’m saying there [at the end] through Jackie is that things may not necessarily be better but things aren’t going to change – Caroline’s still her sister.
I felt that Jackie just ignored all the horrible things her sister did – she denies her own feelings.
There essentially is no choice. She mind as well accept it. Well, maybe Jackie ran away from Caroline before this movie and that’s why Caroline’s in Los Angeles and Jackie’s in New York but if you run that far it goes to an extreme. There’s no right interpretation of the ending.
Q: This is your first feature, and it’s screened a few times already. How do you feel now that the dust has had time to settle?
A: It’s showed twice so far and I feel really good about it. It’s been really nice to see an audience watch it and the audience has pleasantly surprised me. They have been laughing at points that I thought were funny but I didn’t know if anyone would ever laugh at, and they are picking up on things that I didn’t know people would pick up on.
There’s so much dialogue that almost all, even the secondary dialogue, has some context – there’s really no “how is the weather.” Everything is related to the story but it’s so entrenched at multiple times– I’m hearing it because I know it and where I’m going with it – but when I hear someone say “Oh, I liked that line” which was a secondary background line I think it’s fantastic they even heard it!
For instance in the restaurant scene in the very beginning they’re all chatting and Caroline very subtly says something like ‘you know our mother is always pitting us against each other’ and people laugh at that part and I’m thinking wow that they actually heard it.
Q: Last question: you’ve got one feature under your belt. What’s next?
A: I’m finishing a script of a movie called The Rancher. It’s about a Wyoming cattle rancher, a dying profession in America. In America right now a lot of these ranchers don’t exist anymore: there land is being taken over by a lot of things – like genetically modified soy bean farms and fracking. You can’t really be a rancher in America right now. This guy is the last one and because of that he is really holding on to being the big man in this little place and he’s really celebrated for it.
On his 50th birthday he learns that he’s going to lose his farm because his cattle keep getting quarantined because his next door neighbor has been fracking and there’s contamination in the water. He’s going to lose his ranch but nobody knows. When he comes home his wife has thrown an opulent party for him where the whole town is there and it’s way out of the range than he can afford.
He turns on everyone and ultimately has to look to his family for aid and reassurance. It’s a lot like Caroline and Jackie but hopefully more accessible – much more of a crossover.