Interview with “Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together” director Wendy Jo Carlton

Fortunately or unfortunately, most of us have fallen hard for a friend. Sometimes it works out but many times it fails to spark because the other party was oblivious to your attraction, the timing was off or they just weren’t that into you. Suffice it to say, when writer/director Wendy Jo Carlton set out to make a new movie, she found her inspiration at (where else?) a Chicago Dyke March when she noticed the extreme closeness of friends Jacqui Jackson and Jessica London-Shields. The two actresses were closer than close and were often assumed to be romantically coupled but, in reality, they were nothing more than good friends. Take that story, cast your inspirations as the title characters, put a musical spin on it and you have the indie film Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together.

While traveling around the country to the various LGBT film festivals – most recently Outfest in Los Angeles – the film has been garnering accolades from audience and critics alike for it’s blend of comedy, music and, above all else, love. (AfterEllen.com gave it a glowing review.) To find out more about the inner workings of this queer tale of love set in Chicago (with an all-Chicago cast), AfterEllen.com sat down for a chat with Carlton, who discussed crushes, how the death of her father sparked a creative fire and her thoughts on last year’s lesbian portrayal in The Kids Are All Right.

AfterEllen.com: Everyone has had crushes on friends and some happen and some don’t. Is that where the story came from?
Wendy Jo Carlton: I think it’s very common for folks to fall in love with a best friend or think they’re in love with their best friend and I’ve personally had that experience when I was younger. There’s something about that gray area, that I’m interested in — that gray, organic moving area of intimacy between two people and the closer they get, you can get confused about attraction and sexual attraction. In the movie, for example, they have no problem rubbing each other’s feet and you can be lovers doing that and not lovers doing that but it’s sensual and it’s physical and it’s personal so you have to be pretty comfortable with that person to rub their feet.

I’ve always been attracted to the fluid, gray areas of intimacy between people and, yes, I’ve personally had the experience of being in love with a friend and, this is maybe not particular to lesbians but since I am one and have been for quite awhile, I have multiple experiences with different other women who are my exes. Your ex-lover situation, there’s a gray area there, too, if you maintain a healthy relationship and you’re friends, know about each other and hang out. A lot of people who are looking from afar think you’re together and that’s where that idea came from. I was in love with a friend who I never did sleep with.

AE:  Insert “Dammit!
WJC: [laughs] We did kiss, though, and sometimes a kiss is enough, and I mean that in a good way! Sometimes a kiss is enough and you can have the best of all the fantasy and never have reality get in there and muck it up, you know?

AE: Did making this a musical make the film an easier endeavor or did you make it twice as hard?
WJC: I call this a romantic musical or a romantic comedy with musical numbers because I have created a hybrid of the genres. I didn’t want to make a musical, per se, in a classic sense like West Side Story and Grease. In terms of production, I created much more work for myself and the actors but it was a big challenge, we met the challenge [and] I was super inspired to do it once I started writing the songs.

AE: How did you go about incorporating the songs in the script?
WJC: I wrote the overall script story first knowing the moments Jesse would start singing and what it would be about and when Jamie would start singing and what it would be about. So I had a list and went back and wrote the songs. There’s a lot of magic in this movie, as corny as it sounds. I wrote the screenplay last July and August and we shot mid-September through the first week of October. In between there, at the end of August or September, I was in the studio recording the music because we had to record the songs so that during production all the actors could lip sync to themselves.

AE: So it was a very quick production, right?
WJC: Very quick! I have to say, my father passed away almost a year ago and when he died, I was already writing this script. I was a month into writing Jamie and Jesse Are Not together. He passed away in Michigan and I came back on fire in terms of being inspired to make the film I wanted to make, tell the love story I wanted to tell and make a movie that is an experience of love and the confusion and a celebration of the confusion as opposed to what is often kind of minimized where it’s “Ohhhh, lesbian drama.”  But it was more like “Excuse me, I got something to say!”

First of all, it’s not just lesbians who have romantic drama. Everyone does. But I think women in particular, if you put two women together and if they happen to be more expressive or sensitive emotionally or combine those elements with being young, yeah, there’s going to be some drama there but I’m interested in lesbian drama as going deeper. Get into the complexity and the gray areas and the personalities of it. That’s what this story was to me.

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