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Interview: Director Jill Carter on “The Murders”


Director Jill Carter with Cinematographer Kamal Derkaoui (Source: TARO PR)

With so many TV shows, which one should we watch? As viewers, we have a hard choice to make; one reason for it is that we hate spending years watching something that can be cancelled due to low ratings while the show itself was interesting enough to continue. And you can trust me on that, it’s extremely disappointing when it happens.

As there are many questions in terms of the search for the right content, concept, and location, the new Canadian police drama “The Murders” seems like the right one to have our attention on. Its pilot episode that I was fortunate enough to see suggests its early success, diverse cast, and interesting storyline that revolves around homicide detective Kate Jameson (Jessica Lucas) who tries to correct her earlier mistake on duty that caused a fellow officer’s death.

As for the interview below you’re about to read, it’s important to note that I normally avoid having long interviews. In most cases, four or five questions seems enough to cover the narrative of any film or TV show. But with Jill Carter, who directed the first four episodes of “The Murders” including the pilot, I had to change that long-standing approach. I am sure you will appreciate it by realising how insightful and thoughtful she was in providing as much info as possible before we get ourselves ready for “The Murders”.

MOVIEMOVESME: What is it that drew you into “The Murders”?

Jill Carter:  Well, I’m not sure that I was in the position to be drawn in the way that you say. It was an opportunity that came my way that I wasn’t willing to turn down, or interested in turning down. But I had to work to get the job.

So I just thought the scripts were really well written, I liked the concept of the show, I thought it was a unique perspective, or elements of the perspective were things that we hadn’t seen before.

The show was a female led cast, which I liked. The protagonist is a woman obviously. And I also like the idea of the musical element where we have a song … You know initially we started calling them murder ballads, and I would say depending on the episode, that is true. But there is definitely a song each week that is specific to the crime that is in the episode, and I just thought that was a really interesting and unique perspective, playing with music.

Each season is going to highlight a different set. So obviously sound, music is our first attempt at that with the senses. So I thought that was also a unique perspective that I hadn’t seen before in a police drama. So I really liked that. And just the scripts that I was able to read were really well written.

And then I had an interview with the producers and the showrunner, and just enjoyed our conversation, and I guess they enjoyed the conversation I had with them. So they were interested in hiring me, and they wanted me to do a look book before I got the final approval from them and Rogers. So I put together a visual representation of what I was interested in doing in terms of how we were going to tell that story, or the story through the series and the season of “The Murders” visually, and the type of things that I was interested in doing. So after that they gave me the job.

MOVIEMOVESME: Why do you think females have to either fight for a project, especially if it’s their first, thinking there may not be many more chances? This might not have applied to you but I see that there are more male filmmakers who have been entrusted in a project, even for TV, than females. Why is that?

Jill Carter: I mean I think it’s just the old way of doing things, and also at the end of the day, it’s a business. There’s a lot of money on the line, and so when you are being handed the responsibility of directing a TV show, and especially the pilot and half the season of a show, they need to make sure that they’re hiring the right person.

And so I think me being a woman in this case had less to do, in terms of having the ability to have the opportunity to even be considered for the job, had less to do with me being a woman, and more to do with the fact that I am still, some would say, an emerging director. I’d never done a pilot before, and I’ve never done half a season of a television series before. So from their perspective, it could be a risky choice.

Now one could argue that giving that opportunity to someone who is emerging, and having a fresh perspective, and someone who hasn’t done this before is maybe going to fight harder, work more diligently, be more creative. Maybe those things maybe are true, maybe they’re not true, but I think at the end of the day, it’s something that they need to feel comfortable with because there’s a lot at stake.

So part of the conversation that we had was them understanding that I had the ability to do the job, and that I had clear ideas of what to do, and how I wanted to approach it. And also my ideas aligned with their sensibilities. If I had come and said something completely on the other end of the spectrum from what they wanted to do, I doubt that I would have gotten the job. But I think obviously they liked enough what I had to say, and my thoughts and ideas about how to approach the show, and my visual representation of the look book that I put together, that they felt comfortable with giving me the opportunity, and also were excited about it.

So I think it’s less in this case about women or men. I think it’s more a case of just being a newer director on the scene, and do you go with someone who has a proven track record, or do you take a chance and hire someone who’s newer. And maybe it’s harder to know whether that’s going to go well or not. But I’m happy to report, it went super well, and we were all very … It was a great show to work on, and the producers and the showrunner and I all have a very huge amount of respect for each other. And really felt connected through this whole process, and felt like we were all telling the same story, and that we all had the same vision for the show.

So it was an amazing experience. But I definitely think that in terms of getting back to the female, male opportunities, I mean yeah, we need more opportunities. I think that’s changing. There are definitely incentives put in place in terms of mandates. People are starting to mandate that kind of thing, which I have mixed feelings about, but I think until the pendulum swings the other way, then we can stop having these mandates, and then it’ll just be who’s good for the job. And equal opportunity for men and women, and then it won’t matter anymore.

But I think it just takes time for these things to change, and now women get a lot more opportunity, and we didn’t have that opportunity before, and no one can know what we’re capable of until we’re given an opportunity to show that. So obviously people are starting to see that yes, we’re very capable, and so the opportunities are starting to come.

MOVIEMOVESME: In 2019, Canadian TV is scheduled to produce 19 TV shows out of which 6 of them are yet to be premiered. USA has over 200 shows in the same time period. Why the huge difference? Is it because Canadian TV has a lack of ideas, fear of taking risk, no writers, actors, or directors? Or is it all because of funding?

Jill Carter: It’s about money, and it’s about the size of our countries, and it’s about the size of our industries. At the end of the day, Canada is not even a third of the size in terms of population, and in terms of the US. So the ability to have those financial means to tell these stories, and to have the outlets to tell stories …

We have a lot of great, talented, creative people in this country. From producers, directors, writers, actors, musicians, we have everything, and very curious, engaged people that want to tell stories. But there’s only so many places to go to be able to tell those stories. We only really have … We have Chorus, Rogers, and Bell are our three sort of biggest television components. And then there are … and CTV I guess, four. So there’s four big networks, or ringers that can tell stories. And then you have smaller entities that are built in from those bigger companies that will be able to tell stories.

In the States you have Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, and then all the premium cable channels. AMC, Stars, A and E, you know History’s starting to get in there, and National Geographic is starting to get in there. There’s so many other places.

Plus all of these other fractions like there’s now YouTube Red, there’s Facebook, Apple is starting to do projects, and then there’s things that we never get, like PBS, and Pop, and I can’t even remember.

But there’s just so many more opportunities, and there’s so much more money available to spend on that kind of stuff. So it’s really about … it’s a numbers game. It’s about the amount of people that we have in this country, and the amount of networks, and studios, and creative places that can buy or make televisions shows. And movies for that matter as well. So it’s just financial I think. Has nothing to do with talent.

And hopefully that’s also going to change. Obviously Netflix is now … now that they’re building a studio up here, and hopefully all of this stuff is going to move forward in a positive way, where it won’t just be us being often a service production country where we make a lot of programs that are going to air on American television, that are made by Americans, but crewed by Canadians.

Hopefully that will start to change, and we’ll also have more opportunities for our creative voices to get out there in a bigger way. But it’s going to take time.

Jessica Lucas with Director Jill Carter (Source: TARO PR)

MOVIEMOVESME: I have seen a lot of movies with actors that are relatively known. But these indie movies are way better than the ones which have big actors in it. So as a director who would you prefer to cast for your project – an actor with an unknown name but with a big future in a film that may not bring that much money or will you go with someone that has a big name just to draw more attention and more viewers to your film? Many go with the big names causing future stars to miss out on the opportunity to grow. Meaning they don’t get the exposure or the platform to show that they are equally capable of doing what, let’s say Nicole Kidman can do or what Jake Gyllenhaal can do. But they don’t have that name. So they get no exposure and no experience. What would you do as a director?

Jill Carter: I mean it’s a complicated question, because at the end of the day as a director you want the best person for the part. And if that’s a big name celebrity, great. But if that’s an unknown, also great. But it’s ultimately often not a directors choice, because you have financial people to answer to. You have funding bodies, or financiers that are driving your ability to choose a cast.

And then it’s also people connecting to that material. You may like a certain actor, and want them in the role, and see them as that person or character, but they may not be able to do the show because either they are booked up from now until the next three years, or they didn’t respond to the material. There’s a lot of reasons why. Or, of the five people that have to agree to the one person you want to choose, you’ve got four who like it and one person who doesn’t, and that one person has put in more money than anyone else so you’re going to have to find someone that everybody can agree on.

So it’s sometimes, sadly, not really a matter of who I want as a director, it’s more, depending on the size of your budget, who you have to answer to. So if you are making a small independent film for 500,000 or a $1,000,000, then chances are you’re going to be able to hire who you want. And if you can actually manage to convince someone who has a name or a reputation to be a part of your film, because that sometimes does happen, then great. And if that’s the person you want then that’s amazing. But if you can’t then you obviously go with the best person that you can have through an audition process.

But if you’re making a movie for even two and a half million, five million, 30 million, 500 million, there are going to be people and financiers that you have to answer to, and sales agents that say, “This person isn’t a big enough name, they’re not going to draw a certain amount at box office. So you need to look for someone different.” And producers are going to look at that.

Now sometimes you can work with a producer that is less concerned about those things. I think in Canada it’s really tricky again. The reality is, we don’t have a lot of people or opportunity to find independent financing in this country, so it’s harder because we have to go through … People say we’re luck because we have funding bodies like Telefilm, and the LMBC, and whatever other provincial opportunities there are, plus tax credits and all of that kind of stuff, that help us make movies and television shows. And we are very lucky to have all of those things, absolutely. There probably wouldn’t be an industry without them.

Having said that, we don’t have, I believe anyway, the same opportunities that say, since we’re talking, or have been talking about the US. You were saying there’s 370 million people in that country, that’s a lot more people who have money to spend, and potentially risk, because it is a risk, and invest in the future of a film maker, the future of a story they want to be told, a future of an actor they believe in, a producer they support, or an artist, or anybody of that nature.

Their ability to be able to do that with freedom exists I think more, because you just have more people making more money that have the ability to take risks with the money that they’re making. And at the end of the day, no matter what happens, it is a risk to make a movie. And it’s not to say that it can’t be a calculated risk, and you can’t do your homework and figure out what it’s going to be, and you make a film for a certain amount of money, and it’s going to hit the sweet spot, and you’ll be able to get a good sale, or obviously sell it in multiple territories and all of that kind of stuff. And that’s obviously possible, but it’s still a risk.

So I think it’s just again kind of down to opportunity. And at the end of the day for me as a director, I want the best person who’s going to do the best job in that part. And I’ve been surprised in auditions where if you look at the headshots of people, or you look at the body of work of somebody, and you haven’t seen the audition yet, but you see who’s auditioning for you, and you’re like, “Oh, I think this person will do a great job.” And then someone completely unknown to you comes in and does an amazing audition. And you’re like, “Oh gosh, I had no idea this person existed. I love that person, they did a great job.” And you find someone completely new that you didn’t know, and that’s exciting. And maybe the person that you thought all along would be right for the part, ultimately isn’t right for the part because you just found someone new and exciting that you had no idea was around, and now you’ve found the perfect person for your role.

Jill Carter Directs Ep 102 (Source: TARO PR)

MOVIEMOVESME: Why do you think directors, writers, and producers opine that a TV show comprising typical police drama will draw more audience than something which has no bloodshed?

Jill Carter: I mean again, I think it’s also what we’re able to tell. Not to say that people don’t want public kind of stories, obviously people do. But I also think it’s what people are willing to buy. So you may have five ideas, and one of them is a police procedural, one of them is a This Is Us, one of them is a romantic comedy, one of them is a multi-cam comedy, one of them is a documentary, like it could be anything. And you have five ideas, and you go to production companies, producers, and you go to the networks, and say the producer wanted to buy three of those, and one of them was the police procedural, but one of them was a beautiful drama that made people cry and laugh every week, but you take it to the network and that’s not what they want to buy.

So really it’s … I think it’s … Not to say that it’s less driven by what people want to make, because I’m not suggesting that Damon’s intention wasn’t to create a police drama. And obviously I connected to the material and felt like it was strong, so I wanted to be a part of directing it. But it’s also what people are willing to buy. So it’s not always driven by us.

You could have brought them three things, and the only one they wanted was the police drama. I’m not saying that that’s the case, but only to say that it’s less sometimes driven by our desire in terms of what we want to tell, and more by what they think is going to sell. Again, it’s down to business.

But I do think that people are curious. I don’t know. I mean it’s why everybody slows down when there’s a car crash on the highway. I mean for whatever reason, it’s human nature to be curious about bad things or terrible things. And yes, I don’t disagree that sometimes we’re highlighting or giving a voice to people that don’t deserve a voice, and sometimes that sees into peoples ideas about how they want to behave out in the world. But hopefully there’s enough … And I think we do this as much as we can in the show when we present challenging ideas or thoughts, either what happens to Kate(e.g. Kate Jameson portrayed by Jessica Lucas), or her colleagues, or the situation she finds herself in, that you present another side, or you recognize that what’s happening is not favorable and that you want to make a different choice, or you want to find a different way.

But I don’t know. I guess it’s hard to defend the ability to show people that … to glamorize serial killers. Obviously that’s not a good thing to do. But I think hopefully in the presentation of those things, that people give … creators give the opportunity for audiences to have second thoughts, and have the opportunity to see that it’s not an existence that is favorable, and this is something you don’t want to do, and if you do it bad things will happen. You’ll go to jail, and hopefully have to pay for your sins.

But yeah, I mean we definitely have a lot of police stories, it’s true. And I would happily welcome directing something like This Is Us as a drama. I love that show. So I would welcome doing that.

MOVIEMOVESME: Why do you like directing films or TV shows? Why did you choose this career?

Jill Carter: So I didn’t realize I wanted to be a director. I worked for a long time as a script supervisor. So I basically sat beside the director for years watching them work and didn’t realize until a made a short film, that that’s exactly what I wanted to do. I ended you directing that film. And the minute I started to think about it from that perspective, I was like, “This is what I want. Oh, I’ve finally found it.”

And I love it because it’s challenging. Directing film and television encompasses all of the arts, which I’m a big fan of the arts. You have photography, literature storytelling, music, fashion, theater, it’s everything all rolled into one. And I love the fact that you can never learn or know everything about this industry, there’s always something new happening, it’s always evolving and changing. And you can never, ever, ever learn everything, and I find that exciting.

I love working with actors and helping them when they need help. I think it’s amazing what they’re able to do. I love the collaboration between actors and directors, and also working with a writer. I think it’s incredibly hard to sit down and look at a blank page and start writing and come up with something that is compelling and that people want to talk about, or engage with, or see. And I love that collaboration.

And working with the cinematographer, I’m a huge visual person, so I love visual storytelling. And I don’t know, I don’t think there’s any other better job out there. You get to play all day, and collaborate. There are times where it’s exceedingly difficult, but out of those challenging moments sometimes come beautiful happy accidents. And you’re always learning about yourself as well. And it’s great. It’s the best job in the world.

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