HBO's 'Betty' Director Crystal Moselle Talks 'Going Along For The Ride' With Real Skater Girls

In an interview with Newsweek, director Crystal Moselle talks about the inherent drama of being a teen female skateboarder in her upcoming HBO comedy, Betty.

Moselle directed the 2018 teen drama, Skate Kitchen, which followed the lonely and brooding Camille (Rachelle Vinberg), as she joined a gang of female skateboarders. After separating herself from her mother, Camille unexpectedly started bonding with her skater crew. That same year, the indie film made its premiere at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.

On May 1, viewers get to watch the pilot of Betty, which is a spinoff of Skate Kitchen. Five actors from the original film, including Vinberg, Dede Lovelace, and Nina Moran, join the cast of the HBO show. During the six-episode first season, Betty presents a diverse group of New York women as they steer through the predominantly male-oriented world of skateboarding.

Back in 2015, Moselle directed the documentary, The Wolfpack, which won the Grand Jury Prize award at Sundance. With Betty, Moselle segues from movies to television and explores relationships through her female-led HBO series.

During our interview, Moselle gave us the lowdown on the show's cinematic origins, filming the skateboarding scenes, and how the HBO drama addresses relevant topics, such as chauvinism and sisterhood.

Ardelia "Dede" Lovelace, Rachelle Vinberg. Photograph by Alison Rosa/HBO Alison Rosa/HBO

Tell me how Skate Kitchen led to the creation of Betty.

The project started from a short film that led to a movie, Skate Kitchen. Then HBO was interested in doing a TV show with all the same girls from the movie, the girls I met in New York City. I met them on the subway and turned them into actresses. The show is based on the experiences in their lives, but the theme is more of an origin story and finding your people, finding your crew. It's set in this sort of intimidating world for women and how they navigate through this subculture that's predominantly male oriented.

What were the challenges of moving from film to an episodic narrative?

It was actually easier! The girls and I have been working together for four years now. So every project that we do, we learn a bit more. I think that they learn their craft a bit more. I learned my craft a bit more because I didn't direct actors before this. I was a documentary filmmaker. But it was really cool to be able to explore more of their stories. The show is an ensemble cast, so there's not one protagonist. But just in general, it's a rigorous schedule. I think that they're not professional actors. They're not used to these long days and stuff, but other than that they're very professional and wonderful to work with.

During the season premiere, Betty starts off with Camille (Vinberg) introducing herself to Janay (Lovelace) and Kirt (Moran). The three instantly connect but Camille has some reservations. Tell me about portraying the chemistry between the ensemble cast on camera.

I really like to kind of go off the page and let the girls just step into their world, and talk about things that normally they would talk about. I think it was important for me to capture these conversations that you normally don't hear on television, what women talk about, and maybe what you're not expecting. So I think for me, my approach to them and their world is just letting them be themselves. They're intelligent girls. They understand the framework of the scene. They can really work with parameters, and they'll add in stuff that is nuanced and specific to that moment.

Tell me about the skateboarding scenes. It looked like those skating moments were shot in one take.

We had a skate cinematographer who would skate alongside them on a skateboard. We wanted to reference skate videos and the way to really feel like you are cruising through the city with the girls and with them. I think that that's really important to feel. I wanted it to feel like we're actually in their world hanging out with them, not observing. It's almost like we're along for the ride. Being able to kind of cruise along with them, seeing them in these off-moments were important to me.

Courtesy of HBO HBO

Camille and the others end up wandering the city on an adventure. New York is captured on camera through its diversity and working middle class. Tell me about filming in the Big Apple and avoiding recognizable landmarks, such as Times Square.

When I met these girls, I was ready to move out of New York City. I felt kind of bummed and I wasn't inspired anymore by the city. Meeting them really changed my perspective on what New York is and what it has to offer. I always say this, when people are like, "Oh, New York City's dead," my reply is, "You don't hang out with enough teenagers." Because they will show you a side to the city that you don't know about or forgot about. Just the way that they look at a building and the architecture of things, and the way that they interact with the city itself was really beautiful to me.

The city is a character in their world and it's important to them. It's such a big part of their lives, like being outside and interacting in the parks, or just like street culture. If there was a scene with them in the street and they're all talking, all of a sudden it just started to feel weird and staged. I would always be like, "Okay, just sit on the ground." And the minute they'd sit on the ground, it's like their connection to the pavement just felt more natural.

I noticed that the world of skateboarding is mostly male-orientated on Betty. Tell me about the show's social commentary about chauvinism and sisterhood.

When I first met the girls, there was not that many girls who skateboarded. And so the scene was incredibly intimidating. And they're walking into the park, they're the only girls. It's like they felt self conscious or there's eyes on them because they're the only girls. It's a difficult thing. It's intimidating. And I think that they are navigating this world. They're dealing with intimidation. They're pushing through and making space for women. And that's a big thing! I think that for a long time there was real competition between women. We wanted to show women making space for other women. It's not about being the only girl. It's about I'm going to make space for other women to be here as well.

Ardelia "Dede" Lovelace, Rachelle Vinberg, Nina Moran, Moonbear. Photograph by Alison Rosa/HBO Alison Rosa/HBO

What are you working on next?

I have a couple of things. One, I've been doing a documentary on this robot. This guy, David Hanson, who makes the robot. Her name is Sophia. That's a documentary I've been doing for the last two years, on and off throughout this project. And I'm collaborating on a script about my father's life when he worked at a mental hospital in the '70s.