Betty’s HBO skateboard stars first fought sexist trolls
Crystal Moselle is the creator and director of “Betty,” a show about skateboarding in New York City. Its second season starts June 11 on HBO and it’s even better than the first, which made it one of the best shows of 2020 if my own top 10 is something to do.
A show about beauty – as well as friendship, community, sex, power, empowerment, and correctable silliness of guys – “Betty” is beautiful herself. (You can turn the volume down and still be moved by the skating, by the faces.) It’s not long on the plot, but a lot does happen in each six-episode season without appearing busy, rushed, or left by the wayside. It’s involving without being expressly dramatic, exciting without telling you to be excited – flying fiction, built on the experiences of a street casting that can no longer be called unprofessional.
“I want to create stories that really make people feel like they’re immersed in the characters of the moment, being with them, being a part of this world,” Moselle said recently by phone from New York, where the native from California lived. and has worked since graduating from the city’s visual arts school. “I was interested in video art before cinema, on the more experimental side of things. I went to a summer program at Otis College [of Art and Design], a video art program – I tried to do all of these shorts where I planned and wrote a script and they always ended up … trash. And then I started to take the camera with me and capture moments. “
After years of anonymous commercial work, Moselle burst into public view in 2015 with “The Wolfpack,” a Sundance Prize-winning documentary about six brothers who grew up in isolation in a tiny apartment in lower Manhattan, guarded by their father against corruption from the outside world but watch and recreate movies like “Reservoir Dogs” and “The Dark Knight” in their small apartment. She had seen them moving in groups on an early foray into the street and, curious, had hired them. The road to “Betty” started in the same way, when the Moselle crossed the path of skaters Nina Moran and Rachelle Vinberg in the metro. “They were funny and there was an aura of charisma around them,” she recalls.
Moselle introduced herself, and when fashion label Miu Miu asked her to make a short film for her series “Tales of Women” – other directors have included Ava DuVernay, Miranda July and Agnes Varda – she made contact with the pair, who came in touch with other skating friends. The result was “That One Day” in 2016, which led to the 2018 feature film “Skate Kitchen”, which led to the TV series “Betty”. (The title ironically reshapes a term for girls hanging out with boys skating.)
“I think as the collaboration goes on, they become their characters rather than themselves,” Moselle explained. “It’s more like ideas and things happening in their world, people they know we’re bringing. Season 2 is certainly not inspired by their personal lives; what does it talk about could happen.
“When I was doing the Wolfpack documentary, I didn’t feel completely in my comfort zone; I wanted to collaborate more – I wanted to work with people rather than stand out from them. I didn’t want to observe. I wanted to talk with people and for them to tell me their ideas, how they wanted to add to it. “
The scenarios are evenly distributed among the five stars of the series. There is Camille (Vinberg), who is serious and a little innocent; Kirt (Moran), a sort of distracted mystic; Janay (Dede Lovelace), who thinks big; Honeybear (Moonbear), who makes art and rides the Staten Island ferry; and Indigo (Ajani Russell), who seeks to become independent from a wealthy and critical mother. Some have girlfriends, some have had boyfriends. Some work. Some just seem to be skating.
“There are real scripts, but the girls are really good at getting out of the script – I only work with people who are comfortable improvising. But we do a lot of rehearsals, and if during this process things don’t go well, I’ll change. It really depends. Some scenes have more room to go crazy and crazy. And we always plan, like, “This scene, we’re going to have a little extra time” – we call it “Let the girls do their thing”. And they’re so good at doing their thing.
Season 1 was a summer romance. This year is a fall story – Halloween arrives in Episode 5. The colder weather doesn’t prevent skating, but it opens up new visual possibilities and makes finding a place to skate indoors. a point of intrigue. And where many series made over the past year inhabit an alternate world where the pandemic never happened or a future in which it is a vague memory, “Betty” unfolds in real time from COVID-19, which she acknowledges with refreshing laid-back frankness; masks are worn inconsistently, as in the world, but there are masks.
“I think the pandemic has created all that kind of community outside that usually doesn’t exist in New York City, with restaurants and parks,” Moselle said. “In one scene we have this guy, Master G, he’s an old house DJ from the Paradise Garage days; he was on his Instagram, he gave an address, [there’d be] a giant loudspeaker, and everyone was dancing from a distance. And I put it in the series. I think there was that respect, trying to be responsible for the pandemic; I wanted to highlight the positive aspects of what happened and how a lot of people came together for various reasons, for [Black Lives Matter] and supporting each other, taking a little break from our crazy world. I think the pandemic brought this new energy – there was something really liberating and unique about that time.
Compared to many television reports and films about young people, in which granularity is often mistaken for realism and titillation takes the place of truth, “Betty” feels oddly healthy, if not innocent. You could say it’s positive for life. (It’s also positive for sex, but not positive for everyone who enjoys sex.) His characters make mistakes because that’s what people do, and they get forgiven because that’s what. kind of show: socially responsible and a comedy at heart. Moselle captures the quantum state of being young and not being so young anymore, oscillating between melancholy and joy, when time begins to interfere with timelessness. Bad things almost happen.
“A lot of us in our youth, we live this way which is maybe a little chaotic and a little bit destructive, and maybe we just don’t think clearly about what we’re doing, and we’re about to to have a lot of problems, ”Moselle observed. “And of course people get in trouble and things happen – I can count 10 times when I was so young, I almost got arrested, I got in trouble, I almost seriously hurt myself, I ‘ve taken too many drugs. … But I was fine. And I think there are lessons learned that way.
“I don’t think I’m the kind of filmmaker who kills his characters,” she continued. “I actually wrote a screenplay and one of my characters died, and I just changed her where she doesn’t die.” Moselle laughed. “I thought I could do it and I couldn’t do it.
Much of the first season has to do with the girls getting together and the real challenge of carving out a place for yourself in a male-dominated scene, but this season focuses more on relationships, maturity, cooperation and co-operation. possibility. (“They hang out with great guys,” Moselle said, “so let’s give some examples of great guys.”)
In a scenario bordering on the fantastic, a wandering remark sets Kirt on a quest, amplifying her natural sense of mission, and she becomes something of a guru, helping to turn the boys she knows into better men. But because the show is so grounded, it feels natural. “Even though it’s magical realism,” Moselle said, “it’s still realism.”
“The girls had so much hate,” Moselle recalled of their first collaboration. “It was even posted on my Instagram pages sometimes. It was very sexist. But now the world of skateboarding is so diverse that it has hit the LGBTQ community so hard. It’s still a bit on the fringes of society, because skateboarding is not a team sport, it’s an individual thing – anyone can pick it up and have their own version of it. It has been completely commercialized for a while. I have the impression that now it has regained its authenticity.
Of his cast and subjects, Moselle said, “They’ve grown so much. They were all 18 when I met them. They were so young and totally curious about growing up, and now they are growing up and thinking about their place in the world. They have grown so much as actors; they are more and more involved in what we do every season. They are the sounding board for realism: “Does it happen as if it happens in your world?” Vinberg and Moselle even co-wrote an episode this year.
Was there anything she learned from them?
“When I first met them, one thing I found really cool was that their immediate reaction to meeting new women was always with open arms. This competitive position was never discussed; it really is about style, personality and community. It’s not like they’re trying to be the best. It’s almost like they’re trying to do a dance, their way. Being a director – for a while, it was as if a “director” occupied that space in a predominantly male-dominated world; there was a small space for women and you had to make your way through it. And once you’re there, you better save your space. Now, I feel like there’s more room, there’s room to make more room for women, so that we can all be there with the men too. They really helped me see this, that there is endless space for all of us. And we can all hold it together. “