Rooftop Films presents the free screening of Girl Walk // All Day by filmmaker Jacob Krupnik on July 30th on the Coney Island Beach. Girl Walk // All Day is a narrative documentary that follows a comically spirited girl who transforms a city into her own stage by dancing around the crowded buildings, subways, and streets of New York, using popular mash-up DJ Girl Talk (Gregg Gillis) as the soundtrack. Rooftop Films had the chance to ask Krupnik of the shooting process and his future projects.
Rooftop Films: You are a photographer as well as a director, as evidenced by your shots that showcase New York City and small details like dancing feet in motion in Girl Walk // All Day. Did you have all of the shots specifically planned out prior to principal photography, or did you discover some moments and images as you shot on location?
Jacob Krupnik: I’ve been a photographer for most my working life, and Girl Walk // All Day is my first proper film. As I started to imagine what it would look like, I was listening to the music closely and constantly, and thinking of dramatic, almost hyperreal ways of using it to tell a visual story. I’m anything but a dance afficionado, so it took a lot of thought and practice to figure out how to do all this, both in terms of equipment, but also in terms of narrative style — and in the end, there was a huge amount of improvisation on the street.
My second cameraman and I would spend days practicing with our equipment, then go visit locations and rehearse our movement through them. We worked with a tiny crew — usually just the two of us and an assistant — and with a pretty limited range of gear. By establishing a pretty consistent visual style, we were more able to improvise with the plot, locations, and dance throughout the filming process.
RF: You shot in tons of locations around New York City. What kind of hoops did you have to jump through to clear your locations in pre-production? Did you find people here in New York were supportive of your vision when you shared it with them?
JK: New York has become incredibly touchy about public and private space, and a place with a spectacular amount of arbitrary rules. Girl Walk was conceived of as a celebration of public space, and because film-making is generally such official biz, I thought it would be significant to try and make a film without seeking permits, but while also staying below the radar. In the end, we sought a few permits, but were granted none. I think because our motives were so earnest and good-natured, and our equipment incredibly minimal, we were met with good vibes pretty consistently throughout the filming process.
RF: It was amusing to see some of the double takes of passersby. What were some challenges and surprises of shooting in highly public places with lots of people around?
JK: The challenges of shooting in public space are many: nothing is controlled, and your productivity can be derailed the moment the light changes, or the crowds aren’t doing quite what you wish of them, or someone has to pee. The initial surprise was that we’d written several crowd responses into the script, and hardly anyone paid attention to what we were doing — this was the first lesson of working in public: nothing is guaranteed.
RF: How did you decide to use Gregg Gillis’ aka Girl Talk’s All Day for the music for the film? It sets the entire tone for the film. Did you have that particular joyful, energetic sound in mind before you started filming?
JK: The first time I heard All Day, my gears started turning about using the album as a film score. It’s a total live wire, insanely evocative and referential, and I had the loose idea to make an extended music video in the city streets with Anne (The Girl). At the beginning of “Jump On Stage,” there’s a mashup of Portishead and Big Boi, and it’s incredibly sexy and sort of timelessly cosmopolitan, and that was the moment I knew the album was right. The energy of the film came from letting the music take my brain on a trip; it wasn’t really a joy bomb from the beginning.
RF: Did you have any previous experience working with dancers and choreographers? How involved were you in overseeing how the dances in the film would look like?
JK: I met Anne Marsen (The Girl) and John Doyle (The Creep) a few years before filming Girl Walk while working on a video project for a fashion show; they were willing volunteers for the only other dance project I’d done before this. That couldn’t have been more hands off: for the raw material, I asked people to show up with a track to dance to, and dance alone in a studio.
The dancers all have really distinct ways of going about training, conceptualizing the music, and they all get full credit for making their characters thrilling to watch. We worked together on creating the story lines, and I’d advise them on how I’d imagine they’d dance — but really, I have the dance imagination of a two-year-old. They’re the dance brains.
RF: Why did you choose the medium of dance for your first feature film?
JK: It sounds ludicrous, but I really didn’t see any alternative. The thought of making Girl Walk “a talkie” never occurred to me — the medium just suited the mission.
RF: Given Girl Talk’s mashups, this film is a distributor’s worst nightmare in terms of music rights. You’ve been screening across the country in the last year and finding alternatives to traditional theatrical distribution, and have been well received by audiences. What kind of future do you see for Girl Walk // All Day and other independent films like yours?
JK: Firstly — I’d say that I don’t see too many films like ours in terms of narrative structure, legal issues, and distribution style. So my answer is a little more particular.
Girl Walk // All Day has been an experiment in making something collaborative, crowd-funded, and engaging. From the beginning, it was more important to me to make something fully-realized than it was to make money, and this meant working quickly and seizing on our momentum. The result is this film that everybody loves and nobody can buy — an interesting piece of art that’s more a public good than a private commodity. It’s taken my wife and I an insane amount of work to coordinate screenings all over the world — but the result is that they’re all singular experiences that unify people in a memorable way.
Still, I wish this was a more scalable operation because we want it to be a sharable experience. We’re working on it, and trying to figure out how to start off in a simpler place with film number two.