“I always start with personalities, and they had this charisma that always gets me,” says Crystal Moselle, co-writer and director of Skate Kitchen. The film, which opens in theaters this weekend, tells the story of a female skateboard collective The Skate Kitchen.
Moselle and cast members Rachelle Vinberg, Nora Moran, and Kabrina Adams are gathered in the Volcom Garden in Austin, Texas, an apparel shop that caters to skate culture. At first glance, the cast looks like they’re dressed as they’re characters. In reality, the characters just happen to dress like the actors.
“They’re real skateboarders. I met them on the train,” explains Moselle. “They’d never acted before. I was originally going to do a documentary, but I got an opportunity to make a short film with them. So I started hanging out with them and started writing stuff down. It became a little narrative that was based on their lives, but they acted out versions of themselves. Then that expanded into a feature film.”
Despite being a movie starring almost exclusively first-time actors with a distinct documentary vibe, Moselle’s process was fairly rigid. This included the screenplay, written by Moselle, Jen Silverman, and Aslihan Unaldi.
“Everything was scripted. We had a very tight schedule. We worked very hard for six months beforehand to create these scenes that felt like a hangout movie. We wanted it to feel vérité, but that [scene] where they’re talking about tampons, I think I made them do that scene about 30 times. And the Mandela effect…”
“I’ll never forget what the Mandela effect is now,” adds says Vinberg, who plays the film’s lead character, Camille.
“It’s kind of this obsession I have with realism,” resumes Moselle after chuckling. “Trying to recreate it, so you don’t know if it’s vérité or not. They did a really good job.”
The documentary feel isn’t an accident. Moselle’s feature debut, The Wolfpack, won Best Documentary at Sundance in 2015. But with Skate Kitchen, she wanted to push past the limits that are inherit to documentary filmmaking.
“There’s this movie called All These Sleepless Nights. They call it a hybrid film, where it’s real people, but following them around their lives. That film really inspired me to do exactly what I felt like doing, rather than ‘Well, I have to do documentaries, I have to step back, I can’t influence their lives, and I’m just gonna do this thing.”
Making Skate Kitchen, Moselle was free to tell a story in a way she hadn’t been able to prior. “I was able to collaborate with them. That’s what I felt like I wanted to do. I wanted to collaborate. I wanted to workshops scenes with them.”
“I guess the only prepping we did was telling her our experiences and our stories,” Vinberg replies. “It just felt like real life.”
Moran agreed, but said the formal acting classes helped shape their skills. “Since we’d never acted before, it gave us a good perspective into what acting was like, and it made it much easier for us to do the film.”
“I liked what I had to do,” adds Adams. “I’m not really into acting, but it helped me a little bit.”
Like Skate Kitchen’s characters, many of the film’s spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment scenes took their inspiration from The Skate Kitchen, the collective. One such moment features the girls skating down a busy New York sidewalk before swiping a UPS driver’s hand truck and riding away with it.
“That happened in real life,” Moran says enthusiastically. “We have a YouTube of that, then [Crystal’s] like ‘We gotta put that in the movie.'”
“I did a side-by-side video at Sundance for a panel I did. I would show things that happened in their lives and then how we filmed it for the movie. They have a YouTube channel, and I was like ‘I have to put this in the movie.'”
“It’s all in good fun,” says Moselle.
“We would’ve kept that thing, though,” adds Vinberg, almost immediately.
“Someone ratted on us,” says Adams. “We were so far away and he still found us. Someone had to tell him.”
Granted, any movie has hours of footage that never gets seen. When Moselle started to put Skate Kitchen together, it was no different.
“Our assembly cut was four hours and 45 minutes.”
“Some of those scenes we worked so hard on,” says Moran. “There was this one where we took over a whole spot, this house in Brooklyn, and we had to skate so hard in front of everybody in New York City, basically. And it didn’t get put in.”
“I think 250 people were there,” says Moselle, adding that “the day we were shooting that, the DP looked at me and said ‘Why did you write this scene in the movie? I think we’re in film purgatory.’ It was the worst day ever. Then, I was, like, ‘Sorry, we cut it! No biggie!'”
“Was it a good scene, though,” asks Moran. When Moselle replies simply “No,” she says nonchalantly “well, that’s why they cut it.
With a film based on their everyday lives now out in the world, the cast doesn’t seem too phased by seeing their fictional selves on the big screen.
“Watching it, it feels like watching something we do all the time,” says Vinberg. “It feels very natural.”
“We threw some plot twists in there that didn’t happen,” Moselle adds, specifically referring to the film’s romantic subplot.
“Yeah, we’d never fight about boys,” Vinberg replies.
Jaden Smith plays the love interest, Devon, a rival skateboarder and aspiring photographer. He landed the role after contacting Vinberg on Instagram asking for a part.
“We were talking about him being in the movie,” explains Vinberg. “[Moselle] was nervous that people would think it was his movie, and we were just in it. But, it was the opposite. And it’s good that people are recognizing that.”
When preparing to bring Smith onboard, Moselle sought out some advice on how to work him into the story in a way that wouldn’t be distracting.
“They said ‘Oh, honey, you don’t got to worry about the real people, you got to worry about the actors. You have to make sure they immerse themselves in your world.’ So, I hit up Jaden’s people and said I want him to be in this film, but he has to come hang out with us. We curated this group of boys that they’re friends with to basically take him out and show them their world. And he totally did it!”
With her film completed, complete with Hollywood royalty in a supporting role, Moselle is happy with how her first narrative feature had come together.
“I thought it was important to tell a story about women doing something that they normally think they can’t do, or are supposed to be. So, good story, good characters. That’s all you need, I guess. Then I work my magic.”
Skate Kitchen is in theaters now. Get tickets here.