We all know high school is hard, but it’s especially hard when you’re different. That’s exactly how outcast BFFs Astrid (Jana Morrison) and Lilly (Samantha Aucoin) feel every day of their lives on the new SYFY and CTV Sci-Fi series Astrid & Lilly Save the World, premiering Wednesday, January 26 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. The fun starts to happen though when the girls accidentally crack open a portal to a terrifyingly quirky monster dimension. They soon learn that things are going to get way more complicated, as they have to vanquish the creepy creatures they come in contact with in order to save the world. Will the girls be able to become badass heroes? Or will the horrors of high school get to them first?
Astrid & Lilly Save the World was written by Noelle Stehman and Betsy Van Stone and the first two episodes are directed by Jill Carter. Carter, who has directed on The Bold Type, Murdoch Mysteries, The Murders, and Private Eyes, recently spoke to The TV Junkies about her work on the new supernatural series. She describes how she became attached to the project, what it’s like creating a look and feel for a new series, and what she loves most about Astrid & Lilly, a show trying to show that there’s more than one type and look of hero.
The TV Junkies: You’re directing the first two episodes of Astrid & Lilly. How did you become involved with the project?
Jill Carter: The showrunners and producers were looking for a pilot director and my agent pitched me. I was sent the material to read, the first two scripts, and the show bible, and was asked to prepare a director’s look book/vision. I had a week to pull it together. We shared it with the team – I met with the showrunners Betsy and Noelle over Zoom, along with Sam the producer. We had a really great conversation, they put me forward to SYFY. I met the executives there and the rest is history, as they say. I was very excited to get the job.
TTVJ: Along those same lines, what was it about the show that really made you want to be involved?
JC: I wanted to be a part of Astrid & Lilly for so many reasons. First, I really loved the material. I thought the friendship between the main characters Astrid and Lilly was lovely, their support of one another, how they build each other up and lean on one another. I thought there were a lot of positive messages being told – embracing the things that make you unique even if it means not fitting in when you desperately want to and projecting body positivity, that everyone is worthy of love, regardless of shape, size, or color, just to name a few.
Also, the scripts were fun, funny, and playful, with a lot of heart. It felt like to me Betsy and Noelle took the best elements of the film Booksmart and TV shows like Sex Education, Pen 15, and Buffy and put them together to create their own fabulous version.
TTVJ: Directing is always a big task, but directing the first two episodes of a series is very important. You’re coming up with the entire look and feel of the show. What was that process like on Astrid & Lilly and what were some of the bigger, more important, decisions you made with creators and executive producers Noelle Stehman and Betsy Van Stone?
JC: Part of my pitch when I was interviewing for the show was to give the monsters the girls contend within each episode a color. I wanted the monster color to coincide with the girls’ emotional journey in each episode and tonally/emotionally for the episodes overall. So together with Betsy, Noelle, and some key creatives on the show, we came up with a list of colors for each monster in every episode. Ann Tipper, our fabulous cinematographer, and I wanted these colors to be more illuminating, in the neon family and used mostly in monster spaces.
I wanted to lean into creating more intimacy in the friendship between Astrid and Lilly by using longer lenses and over-the-shoulder close-ups when shooting the coverage with the girls. As well, I wanted visually to create a subtle barrier between the girls and the rest of the kids and world to highlight how the girls felt and didn’t fit in. But also, to have that barrier be less present and blend the styles as things in the series evolved.
Betsy and Noelle are very open and collaborative, so together with Ann, our production designer Helen Kotsonis, and our producing director and producer, we came up with a game plan that incorporated these ideas.
TTVJ: You mentioned Buffy, and even in just watching the trailer you get a real Buffy vibe. In fact, the trailer even references Buffy. Can we also expect that Buffy mix of humor and the action and drama of saving the world?
JC: Yes, definitely. This show is fun, funny, silly, scary, and full of teenage drama. And at its core, it’s about enduring friendship and learning how to believe in yourself and take ownership of yourself.
TTVJ: What was it like working with the two leads of Astrid & Lilly, Samantha Aucoin and Jana Morrison?
JC: Jana and Sam are both newcomers, in fact, this is Sam’s first-ever television show. I loved working with them! They were so open, willing, energetic, and natural. What we asked of them on a daily basis, some veterans would find challenging and they rose to the occasion every time and blew us all away.
TTVJ: Representation is so important when it comes to the stories being told, and Astrid & Lilly is definitely showing that heroes don’t just come in one size. What is it like being part of a show that is actively working to shift the paradigm of what type of heroes we get to see on screen?
JC: It was wonderful to be a part of a show that is trying to shift the paradigm. Most of the key creative positions were held by women and non-binary people and that was really driven by Betsy, Noelle, and Samantha Levine our producer. It started with the show and characters Betsy and Noelle created but also filtered through many of the hires and choices made for the show as a whole. It feels like the business is definitely shifting in this regard. There is still a lot of work to be done but shows like this help strengthen not only varied representation on screen but behind the scenes as well. It is great.
TTVJ: What did you enjoy most about working on Astrid & Lilly Save the World?
JC: Astrid & Lilly was a very fun and ambitious show to work on. I loved working with Betsy and Noelle – they are smart, funny, collaborative, and supportive showrunners. I was always very impressed with them and their ability to creatively solve solutions, handle all the pressures that come with creating and producing your own show. And the fact that this is their first time made it all the more impressive.
It was so much fun to work with Ann Tipper our cinematographer. She and I gelled immediately and I loved creating images with her. Helen [Kotsonis], our production designer, was endlessly creative and energetic and created a wonderful palette to play in. And the whole cast was fabulous. It was one of the best experiences I have had working with an ensemble. They had wonderful chemistry, were always prepared, ready to play and they had a lot of respect for each other. I think that shows in their performances.
TTVJ: Do you have any other upcoming projects we should keep an eye out for?
JC: Later this year I hope to be shooting an anthology feature film called Moving Day. I can’t say much about it yet, except that it is another project that will be featuring a lot of women and LGBTQ people in key creative positions. I am looking forward to being a part of it and bringing my section to life.
Astrid & Lilly Save The World premieres Wednesday, January 26 at 10/9c on SYFY and CTV Sci-Fi.
Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.