Director Jill Carter talks Astrid & Lilly Save the World

Director Jill Carter has had a wide and varied career. She’s been behind the camera on Beauty and the Beast, Private Eyes, Spiral, Heartland, Murdoch Mysteries and The Murders. But her latest gig, on Astrid & Lilly Save the World, might be the most interesting and well-received so far.

Airing Wednesdays on CTV Sci-Fi Channel, media on both sides of the border have been universal in its praise for Astrid & Lilly Save the World, celebrating its cast—led by Jana Morrison (Astrid) and Samantha Aucoin (Lilly)—co-creators Noelle Stehman and Betsy Van Stone, and plot. Combining the horrors of high school with monsters, a portal to another dimension, humour and regular-looking characters has drawn comparisons to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but Astrid & Lilly is definitely a unique beast.

We spoke to Jill Carter about joining the show, her cast and what goes into creating the world Astrid and Lilly are in.

The last Newfoundland-shot supernatural series I loved was Surreal Estate, which was, sadly, cancelled. I’m thinking that Astrid & Lilly Save the World is going to fill that hole. I really enjoyed the first episode.
Jill Carter: Thanks! We definitely had fun making it. I had been to Newfoundland but hadn’t worked there. It was a really wonderful experience and obviously a very beautiful province.

Actors audition for a project. How does it work for a director on something like this?
JC: I have an agent in the U.S. and an agent in Canada, and they have a pulse on everything that’s happening, either that’s already in production or things that are coming into production or in development. They will either pitch their directors or writers or whoever before there’s a call. There are variables that can go into how you are pitched a project or how they pitch directors on a project.

And then they just go through the rounds of meeting who they think might be the type of person that could deliver the type of show that they are looking to deliver, and also might bring some new ideas to the table. They were meeting with people and my agent pitched me and they liked the idea and, I think, the fact that I had just done the opening two episodes of The Bold Type.

I was sent the first two scripts, the ones that I ended up directing, and the show bible. Immediately, on the first three pages in, I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is so fun.’ Their writing was so clear, there was a clear POV and you really immediately understood who these people were, the dynamics of the characters and what was happening.

Jana Morrison (left) and Samantha Aucoin. Image courtesy of Jill Carter.

It was so nice to read something that was so strong and had a clear perspective and was also highlighting things that all of us as human beings have been in high school. It doesn’t even happen to happen in high school these days, where we haven’t felt like we’ve been able to be our full selves. We’re judged unfairly or we aren’t able to fully be the unique people that we are for a multitude of reasons. I think it’s a throwback or a fun trip down memory lane.

The show is built on that friendship and they’re very unique girls. Their friendship is so important to what makes the show relatable. I was very charmed by what I was reading and the ideas that were being put forth and then getting to play in a dimension that I actually hadn’t had.

Other than Beauty and the Beast, I hadn’t really done a lot of work in that area. It was fun to have the opportunity to play with prosthetics and visual effects in that way and create a fun language around it.

Being the director of the pilot episode, there’s that added responsibility of helping to build this world using colour. I’m imagining it must be a collaborative process between yourself, your cinematographer and the two co-creators as well.
JC: That idea was something I pitched when I was interviewing. It was a thought that came to me as I was reading the material and trying to figure out what would I want to see. Being a teenager is such an emotional time in your life, navigating feelings, and the colour wheel kind of popped into my head. I started thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to have each monster, because of the nature of how the monsters were being presented, and how they were capturing their prey?’

They were going after people that they wanted to ultimately kill. Our first monster preys on people’s sadness, so what does that look like in a colour and how can you subtly infuse the story and make it stronger without hitting people over the head? Working with Betsy Van Stone, [producers] Danishka Esterhazy and Samantha Levine and Anne Tipper, our cinematographer, our production designer, Helen Kotsonis … working with the key creatives to say, ‘OK, this is the idea, this is what we want to do.’

Jill Carter (left) and cinematographer Ann Tipper. Image courtesy of Jill Carter.

Is this a first for you, working with key creatives who are all female?
JC: It’s definitely up there. I think this is the first show where we’ve had non-binary and women in every key position.

Both the leads are relative newcomers to the industry. What was it like working with Jana and Samantha?
JC: I cannot say enough good things about both of the girls. Day in and day out they blew me away. On Day 1 we had a big steady cam scene that was covering two, three pages through the hallways of the school. I was literally saying, especially to Sam, because she’d never done this before. I’d be asking her to do these things and talking to her, and she was unbelievably natural. I actually don’t know that I’ve ever worked with an actor who was that natural.

They were lovely, lovely human beings, very open, very curious, unbelievably prepared.

Astrid & Lilly has been positively reviewed by Canadian and U.S. media. That must be gratifying.
JC: It’s really exciting. I love the fact that despite the fact that the girls are struggling in high school and trying to figure out how to fit in, one of the things that are so amazing is that they really do like themselves. Everybody has moments of insecurity, but they really are genuinely who they are and you don’t meet characters like that very often. I don’t feel like their struggles are presented in a stereotypical way. It’s very positive messaging that the show puts forward.

Astrid & Lilly Save the World airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. Eastern on CTV Sci-Fi.

Featured image courtesy of Bell Media.