Celebrity Interview - Director Crystal Moselle Talks on Skate Kitchen, Making the Doc Switch, and Life

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Skate Kitchen Director Crystal Moselle, who is garnering rave reviews for her first narrative feature, sat down with the folks at Magnolia Pictures for a in-depth interview on the making of the film, Jaden Smith and life.

Magnolia Pictures: Skate Kitchen is a real skateboarding collective, and the cast is made up of real skateboarders. How did you meet them?

Crystal Moselle: I was on the train and I was listening to them just chat, and they were super interesting and they had skateboards, and I asked them, "Would you guys want to do like a video project, something?" We exchanged numbers and when we met up we just started hanging out and chatting. I just was super inspired by them. I didn't really know much about being a female skater and how much intimidation they go through. I gave them the opportunity to do this short film with Miu Miu (That One Day) and I pitched them to do the short film. That went to the Venice Film Festival. From there it started to get a lot of attention and gain a lot of traction.

MP: Why did you decide to make a narrative film instead of a documentary about them?

CM: I was originally going to do a feature documentary film, but after doing the short, and hanging out with Kim Yutani, who is one of the programmers at Sundance, she was just like, "Why don't you do a feature version of this?" I was like, "Yeah, you're so right." I figured out a writer to work with. That January, we didn't have a script or anything. We kind of just had a summary of what we wanted it to be. We went to Sundance and just started having meetings and financiers, and got the budget.

I was doing these workshops with the girls and we eventually created a script, and that was maybe like a month before shooting. But before that, we would do these kind of improv classes where we would create these different scenes and ideas. I got super inspired to take notes from all those classes just talking with them and watching them and most of the things that are in the film actually happened in real life. But we wrote them into a script and they actually reenacted it; that being said, this film wasn't improv. It wasn't vérité, it was scripted. And, I think that's an important part about the film because a lot of people think that it's just more like me just sitting back and watching, and it actually isn't. The girls are incredible actresses, and they've taken on these personas that are inspired by their own selves, but it's actually like something that we've worked together for six months.

MP: How much of the main story was based on something that happened in their real life?

CM: That was a contrived storyline. We made that up. Everything with Jaden Smith is made up. The girls are all friends and they all hang out together. The boys are all friends. Everybody in the film is friends with each other.

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 MP: Who did you collaborate with on the script?

CM: There was a certain point in time where we had to shift the story and simplify it a lot more and Aslihan Unaldi came in and worked on it every day for like three months. We completely re-shifted the whole thing. She was really my collaborator on this, but it was all my ideas, and I wrote a lot of the script. I've never written a script before and we had to make this happen so quickly, because we had to shoot this film before these girls grew up, because right now they're already too old for the film.

MP: How did Jaden Smith get involved with this project?

CM: One day he hit Rachelle Vinberg up on Instagram! He just thought she was cool because she skateboards and he skateboards and we were like, "Oh, he should be in the movie." I randomly know his agent, so I was just like, "I have this film idea that Jaden might be into," so his agent got me a meeting completely separate from Rachelle. And it was months after that. And then I showed him the short film and he was like, "Oh I know that girl." We wanted his character to really authentically lead into the subculture of New York City skateboarding.

MP: How much time did you spend with the girls and how did you get involved in their world?

CM: I completely immersed myself into their world for a year. The girls lived with me at my house for quite some time. Rachelle Vinberg lived with me for the entire summer. I got to know the boys through the girls. We made Jaden come and hang out too. I put together a group of boys just to be friends with him. Now they're all friends and he comes into town and doesn't call me, he calls them now. They ride for his skate brand, it's pretty cool. There was this kid Alex, he was like the honorary Skate Kitchen boy. He's in the film as Charlie. We ended up hiring him as a cultural interpreter, because he would literally sit and help Jaden with his skater accent. They all have the craziest slang that nobody knows besides them. We wanted it to feel authentic to their world and the way they talk and stuff.

MP: How long did you shoot for?

CM: We shot for 37 days in the summer. It was mainly a rigorous 12-hour day, five days a week. Sometimes six days a week.

MP: What were the biggest challenges of making your first narrative feature?

CM: The script was like 110 pages and our rough cut was four hours and forty-five minutes. So, I think that next time I would have a better gauge of what parts of the story are necessary and not necessary. We had to cut a lot out and change it a lot in the edit, which is something that I'm used to as a documentary filmmaker, so it was fine that it happened. I should have listened to my instinct. I didn't need to shoot 10 endings to this film.

MP: Even though your last feature was a documentary, Skate Kitchen feels very similar to The Wolfpack in a lot of ways. How would you describe your interests in filmmaking?

CM: First I just get attracted to the characters. That's usually what draws me in first. And then, figuring out the story. I like coming-of-age stories and young people that are incredibly passionate. I like people that are a little outside of society, a little different. I like strong women flipping the switch. I like breaking rules in a way that isn't hurting anybody.

MP: Were you looking for a story for your short film when you ran into the girls?

CM: No, I don't look for stories. I've never looked for stories, they just come to me. They approach me afterwards.

MP: I'm guessing the skate park is where the girls actually hang out. What about their bedrooms and other locations?

CM: Yeah, all the locations are the actual places that they skateboard. All the interiors were production designed.

MP: How would you describe the group Skate Kitchen to the uninitiated?

CM: It's a group of skateboarders in New York City that empowers people to skateboard. It's especially inspiring for women because it's pretty intimidating to get out in the park and actually learn. Because when you're learning you fall a lot, and it's inspiring to see these girls that just don't give a fuck and do their own thing. Also, they're not your traditional skateboarder chicks, not all of them are tomboys. They're very diverse, which I think is very cool. They're really just super open-minded. They're not mean girls at all, which to me is probably the coolest thing about them. I feel like we've kind of hit a new stage with women where women are here to support each other rather than compete with each other. There's really not a competitive aspect of their world. I mean, there is, because of the skateboarding, and every sport is to some extent. But, they're there to support each other.

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MP: Out of the group of girls, how did you decide to make Rachelle Vinberg the main character, Camille?

CM: She and I bonded over her story from the short film. But also she's in film school, she's interested in the process of filmmaking and we've been collaborating and bonding over the story. And also they helped me keep the entire thing authentic. I was constantly asking their opinions on things. They were always on set and giving me notes.

MP: Could you talk about the importance of social media in your film and how that mirrors what they do in real life?

CM: Yeah, social media is something that's really big in their lives, and that's how they communicate with the skate world, and how they communicate with each other. It's a big part of bringing their world together so we definitely had to involve that. Nina Moran and Rachelle actually met from YouTube. They were commenting on each other's clips and now that they have Skate Kitchen, which has a ton of followers. So they build their online presence, and they have a really huge community of people that follow them and everything they do. So, it was an important aspect of the film to include the world of Instagram.

Skate Kitchen is playing in select theaters. Check local listings.

Interview provided by Magnolia Pictures and included in the films promotional notes to media.


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