There are some opportunities that only come around once in a lifetime. This is something director Jill Carter fully recognizes and knows that she just had one during her time working on the new Citytv series The Murders, airing Mondays at 9 p.m. ET. Carter directed four of the series’ eight episodes in Season 1, including the first two and last two episodes of the season. Carter, who had never before directed a pilot episode, worked closely with showrunner Damon Vignale to establish the look and style of the police procedural that follows rookie Homicide Detective Kate Jameson (Jessica Lucas) as she works to overcome a fatal mistake.
Carter worked as a very successful script supervisor for over 20 years, but made a shift in her career path after discovering her love of directing. Once that passion was ignited in her, Carter went full out to get the directing career she wanted and has since directed episodes of TV on shows like Murdoch Mysteries and Private Eyes before landing the job to direct half of The Murders Season 1. She recently spoke to The TV Junkies about landing the job on The Murders, as well as what the experience was like being a part of decisions that would be so critical to the series going forward.
The TV Junkies: You worked for many years as a script supervisor on some very successful shows. What was it like making the shift and how did you go about it?
Jill Carter: I’ve never worked in an industry or job that has been a “full-time position.” So I wasn’t worried so much about leaving something financial behind and it was driven by gut, need and desire. I knew I wanted to be creative and in the arts in some way, but had no idea when I was a kid what positions like script supervisor or director did. When I started script supervising, I found out it’s a great job and you learn a lot about film-making. I was then making a short film with a friend, calling in favors from everyone, but realized I had no friends that could direct. So I thought ‘I’ll just direct. I know the story we want to tell.’ The minute I started thinking of it from that perspective I realized it’s exactly what I wanted to do. It was literally that light bulb moment.
From that point forward, I looked at every script supervising job as an opportunity to learn about directing. I did everything I could to make it my reality. I did a couple other shorts and just kept pushing and pushing. You keep at it, spend your own money, do fundraisers and make films that actually go somewhere and people slowly start to take you seriously. If you aren’t willing to invest in yourself then it’s hard to get other people to invest in you. So I just did everything I could to put myself in a position to direct — whether that was creating something, networking and meeting people or talking about it. Eventually things started to happen and a producer I knew offered me a couple of episodes on a show called Mud Pit.
I then got episodes in the third and fourth season of Beauty and the Beast and shortly after an episode of Murdoch Mysteries. I quit supervising then because for me, I just felt ready. So since then I’ve just been hustling and pushing, then I’d get opportunities and do a good job so the word starts to get around and you get half a season and a pilot to direct.
TTVJ: Once you get that first foot in the door then the ball seems to get rolling, but how did the opportunity specifically for The Murders come about?
JC: Honestly, it was my Canadian agent who knew Damon and she kept on dropping hints in his ear. They had to go through an entire process though because it’s not one person’s opinion. One day I was directing a Hallmark movie [Season for Love], it was the last day and this huge fair scene with 150 extras and she calls me as I’m driving home saying I had to get on a call right away. They had finally agreed to meet me and I got the bible and pilot script.
I heard Damon’s reference for The Murders was Marcella on Netflix so I looked at that, scoped other shows I liked that were offering something interesting, and then let my imagination do the rest. Our call went well and they wanted me to do a look-book, a visual representation and description of what I wanted to do for the show. In two weeks I whipped that up with the help of a graphic designer. I submitted it to the producers, they wanted to change one small thing and then I had the job!
TTVJ: Directing the pilot episode of a series is very important because you’re establishing the whole look. What were some of the most important decisions you all made for The Murders?
JC: The most stand out decision was what we wanted our police station to look like. I loved working on the show and with Damon because he’s a very generous collaborator. We saw very similarly the show that we were making and wanted to make. The police station was something we really leaned into and when we were location scouting in Vancouver they’d show us ones that looked like every other station. We wanted a station that stood out, was different and tells you it’s different visually and makes you want to lean in and engage with our detectives. We found a great space that was in an empty building in an amazing spot in the downtown of Vancouver with Stanley Park to the west, the downtown buildings to the east and mountains when you were on the rooftop. Where we put our bullpen, you could see traffic and life behind it which was really a unique visual element to the show that I personally really loved. It gives it a more lived in and authentic quality.
We also framed close-ups in a way where we wanted things to look more cinematic than your traditional television show. We pushed the envelope in terms of how we framed things, but then also just really wanting to live in Kate’s head since she’s the rookie. So we shot things off speed with her and tried to really lean into her point of view by sitting with Jessica/Kate because she’s a very emotive actress. She can say a lot with very little just from her face. We just wanted to be in her head space and try to figure out what Kate is thinking and feeling.
TTVJ: A lot of times as a director you’re brought in for one or two episodes of a series, but you got to really work with this cast for half a season. What was that like?
JC: As you start to understand the actors you’re working with you definitely start to tweak things towards their strengths. It’s hard because in the first two episodes you’re still figuring out what’s working and that we’re telling the story we want to tell. The other thing that was great is that I got to work with the other two directors, Andy Mikita and Kristin Lehman, and help them understand what we were doing and have conversations about what was working. We shared what we thought worked and what didn’t, as well as what we wanted to keep doing visually. It was fun to get to meet them and be a small part of helping them adjust to the show.
For the cast, it was a nice bookend since I was there in the beginning and then interesting to see where they had come from the first to last block. It felt familiar and good in all the right ways.
TTVJ: It sounds like a really neat and rare opportunity to get to come in on the beginning and end of a season like that.
JC: Honestly, I feel like I got the best four episodes. Who, as a director, doesn’t want that? It’s really amazing and I feel very lucky.
TTVJ: Is there anything I else I missed that we should touch on about the show?
JC: The other thing that I’m proud about our show is that it was Damon’s first series as a showrunner, our producer Misha Soloman’s first time producing and my first pilot. So for the three of us it was a really unique experience to all be newbies together and something we’ll never forget.
The other thing I love is that we have a lot of women at the top. Damon’s right hand writing partner is Karen Hill and she’s definitely his co-partner. She was very instrumental in developing the show and the writing room was predominantly women. Then six of the eight episodes were directed by women. I really appreciated that we leaned into that. I wasn’t a part of those decisions, but I think it’s cool that it happened that way. It’s obviously something Damon believes in and supports, as does Muse and Rogers, but it was just really great to be a part of a show that was giving opportunity to women and diversity.
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.