Interview: Alex Karpovsky

karpovsky

Art by Kellie

Last week Alex Karpovsky spoke to a packed audience at Tribeca Cinemas, giving his two cents on “The Future of Playing Every Role”. You might know him already from HBO’s Girls or Tiny Furniture, and you’ll soon know him from the upcoming Coen brother’s film Inside Llewyn Davis. What you may not know is that Karpovsky has worked on a laundry list of other projects. According to IMDB he has acted in 25 different films, written 4, directed 5, and produced 4. IMDB also says he worked as a camera operator on an episode of 16 and Pregnant – awesome.

Karpovsky studied visual ethnography at Oxford and never once set foot in film school. He spent ages living in his parents’ basement, painstakingly editing his first movie, which ended up taking him nearly 3 years to complete. He also met Lena Dunham by chance in a car at SXSW in 2009 – a meeting that would result in a productive friendship. (They have worked together on more than just Girls and Tiny Furniture).

Karpovsky is a quiet force, and it would be fair to say that his abundant career has been the result of a lot of hard work, some faking it, and a bit of luck. (Also, lots of emailing.) Karpovsky spoke of “aggressive emailing” tactics he used in the early days to get the attention of anyone he wanted to work with.

After his talk at Tribeca Cinemas, I wanted to know more, so I (only slightly aggressively) emailed him to talk a little more about the ever-changing role of the filmmaker and his career at large.

inconnu: Filmmakers like yourself are more and more often wearing every hat and taking more control over their films. Is this purely due to the advantages of new technology, or would you chalk it up to something bigger?

AK: Largely technology. With the new DSLR cameras and the arrival of Kickstarter, it’s much easier to make aesthetically “presentable” films. It also allows for much smaller and more personal stories to be told which aren’t necessarily made by individuals with a lot of familiarity with the technical and production sides of filmmaking, and so they’re forced in some cases to wear a bunch of hats just to get their stories told.

inconnu: Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved with the Coen brothers?

AK: The script had a character named Marty Green. His description was something along the lines, ‘extremely Jewish looking man’. “Karpovsky” was quickly called in to audition.

inconnu: Just when people think they’ve pegged the type of movies you make and the type of character you like to play, you come out with something like Rubberneck. How do you go from films like Woodpecker and Red Flag to a dark, psycho-sexual thriller? Why now?

AK: I love slow-burning character-driven psycho-sexual thrillers. It’s my favorite genre as a viewer. I’ve always fantasized of making one, and the itch to do something different coincided with me befriending Garth Donovan, a filmmaker in Boston with whom I wrote the script. We started throwing ideas back and forth and a tale of unreciprocated obsession set in a pharmaceutical lab began to solidify.

inconnu: Tell us one “inconnu” (unknown) thing about yourself.

AK: I used to be a carny. My ride was the Tilt-A-Whirl. I only last a few months.

inconnu: At your talk you touched on the fact that you didn’t go to film school, and have learned mostly through friends and on your own. In your early days of making films, obviously you had the stories to tell, but hadn’t quite mastered the technical side of things. To what degree did you “fake it till you make it”?

AK: When I was making my first film, which took several long and difficult years, progress was very incremental. I would write, shoot, and edit a scene or small cluster of scenes at a time. Without any training as a director, or screenwriter or actor or producer, I was faking things across the board. I’d then show a scene or sequence to some friends, get critiqued, and then try to fake it better next time, and on and on again until I was finally satisfied with the way a given section played. More broadly, I think you can learn 95% of the technical stuff in about a week, if you’re genuinely enthused about learning it. The remaining 5% will probably be something you chase for the rest of your life. Perhaps the ones who retire feel like they have nothing left to learn or explore, and so they shut it down. Steven Soderbergh comes to mind.

inconnu: If you could have five people over for dinner, dead or alive, who would they be and what would you eat?

AK: Paul Harris, Merrill Graf, Ian Gilmore, Ray Ploshansky, and Nick Berger. We would eat the charred corpse of mumblecore.

Two of Karpovsky’s most recent films, Red Flag and Rubberneck (both of which he wrote, directed, and starred in) are now out in select theatres. Whatever he works on next, we’re keeping a close eye. Check out the trailer for Rubberneck here:

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About Joanna Harkins

co-founder and editor-at-large of inconnu

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