Still in his early 30s, USC film grad Adam Christian Clark has journeyed through all facets of the entertainment industry, directing episodes for the American Big Brother, working for Quentin Tarantino, and shooting the likes of Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco. His first feature, Caroline and Jackie, just had its premier at the Tribeca Film Festival, and revolves around the intense bond between two sisters who were likely scarred by their abusive mother as they grew up. Starring Grimm lovebirds David Giuntoli and Bitsie Tulloch,who give highly realistic performances, Caroline and Jackie asks it’s own questions about manipulation, human nature, and the intensity of familial bonds.
You directed Big Brother at 21. Do you think that experience influenced your understanding of human interaction and relationship dynamics?
Perhaps. I had a lot of years experience directing, and in Big Brother, there was very little interaction with the cast. But I’ve directed a lot of other reality TV shows where you do interact with the cast a lot. But I would say that my biggest influence is 1970’ American New Wave, John Cassavetes and Robert Altman’s films – all very much centered on family and relationship drama. What I loved about those films, that we don’t see a lot anymore, is that they would intently study the inner-workings and dynamics of a loving relationship and all the aspects of it.
How do you feel about family as an institution?
One of the things I was trying to explore in the movie is this inalienable tie you have to your blood relatives. I feel that it’s close to impossible to break that bond. In terms of the institution of family, I think it doesn’t matter if it’s fractured or if it stays intact, it’s always going to be there. You can run away from your family members or you can fully embrace them. You can move away from them, you can come back. But no matter what you do, and no matter what pain or malice you guys bestow to each other, it’s all sort of still going to be there on your deathbed. And oftentimes it’s going to be something that is never irreconcilable.
I read that you were inspired by a real phone call that came from a friend’s sister.
Yeah, I got a phone call from a family friend, and she was trying to stage an intervention for her sister. The phone call occurred but the intervention never happened. It was an inspiration to write this story as if it did happen, because it was a really malicious act. Yet it didn’t come across to me as something that was mean-spirited: my interpretation of it was that it was a very desperate act for one sister to reunite with another. I found it so extreme that I really wanted to further explore that.
The film revolves around the intervention Caroline stages for Jackie. How do you feel about interventions in general?
In a lot of cultures, it’s far more caught up in the tradition. People are expected to be part of different roles. When they don’t fulfill that role, denial is the maybe most appropriate way to deal with that. In America, it’s the opposite of that. Things go to an extreme, where twelve steps and all that really help a lot of people. And America is certainly obsessed with watching people fall, and interventions are certainly a celebration or display of that. It’s a way of saying, we’re better than you and we’re going to show you why.
Your actors were already rehearsing for a month when you first started filming. Were they comfortable around their characters when the film started to roll?
We did a very intensive rehearsal process and we continued to rehearse on set. They were far into their characters before we even shot. They all did a fantastic job and I think they were all very skilled, so it didn’t take them a tremendous amount of time to get into their characters. For me, rehearsal was more so a way that I could just get it as naturalistic as possible. Also, I shot it in fifteen days, so it was a way of making sure that we were very on point, and we could move at a very fast pace.
What kind of an extra responsibility does improv acting put on the director’s shoulders?
I really wish we had a few other words to describe what we did besides improv, because what it implies is a little different from what we did. What we were working with at the beginning of rehearsals was a sixty page single-spaced outline. You put that in script format and it was actually like an extremely long script, every question and every answer spoken in that movie is in the script. It’s just that I chose to do it in a way of describing it, as opposed to using the exact words. If one of the actors didn’t deliver the line that I felt was appropriate, I would give them the exact line. It put a lot of pressure on me because felt like it would give them more to work with, making their process easier and richer, but if I was wrong, then it would have been really sloppy.
No interaction was ever permitted between the cast and crew, even during meals and breaks.
If I had it my way, the cast and crew would’ve not known each others names until after we finished. I want the actors to not have anything to think about that takes them out of that make-believe world. So in addition, I didn’t let the actors hang out together when they weren’t shooting, because I didn’t want them to know each other as their actors. I wanted them to know each other as Caroline and Jackie, so that it would be a richer experience in that world.
What’s next for you?
What I’m doing next is called The Rancher. It’s about a fifty-year-old cattle rancher in Wyoming who’s a part of a dying culture. On his fiftieth birthday, he finds out he’s losing his ranch. It’s very much a study of somebody who stands for something that I think is noble but is not rewarded in the world we live in.
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