People-Watching in NYC

Filmmaker Crystal Moselle is always on the lookout for characters.

My favorite thing to do in New York is to ride my bike with no plan. There is constant stimulation in this city. When you lose inspiration, just go outside. Exploring places in New York I’ve never seen before is a fun challenge, but also very meditative for me.

In the past, I have put a lot of meaning on places and things, but recently I’ve been working on letting go of that. It seems like things are moving so fast these days, you can’t invest too much meaning and emotion in a place, because you never know what’s ultimately going to happen to it. So I just continue to ride my bike around and observe it all.

I’m obsessed with details. I can sit in a restaurant for 10 hours and just guess what people’s lives are like. I’m always noticing people’s shoes and their hands. I also love being in a train station, or anywhere where I can observe a constant flow of people. I’m not looking around and thinking, Oh, my gosh, look at this beautiful building! Instead, I search for people. I might pull up on them and take their picture and get their number.

I think I have a sixth sense about people. A lot of filmmakers start with the story instead of the characters, but all my projects start with the person, and then I build a story around them. That’s what truly interests and excites me. There was a time when I was stopping people on the street and taking photos every day. I’ll go to extreme lengths to connect with someone if I think they’re interesting and could be part of a future project. The idea for Skate Kitchen, came along when I ran after a group of girls who were talking on the train. My current project is with my neighbor, who is now going to be my husband. If I know there’s something there, I’ve got to just figure out what it is.

New York-based director Crystal Moselle is a storyteller of both documentary and fiction films. She is best known for her Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning documentary The Wolfpack which was later distributed by Magnolia Pictures. After the success of The Wolfpack, she met a group of female skateboarders on the train, who would become her main collaborators and subjects on three projects. The first was a narrative short That One Day which premiered at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival. Shortly after that, they expanded the film into a feature, which Crystal co-wrote and directed named after the infamous group Skate Kitchen, which premiered at Sundance 2018 and was later distributed by Magnolia to critical acclaim. In the same year, Crystal was nominated for the Breakthrough Director Award at the Gotham Awards for her direction of the film. The third collaboration is the upcoming HBO series Betty, which premieres on May 1. (Picture by Brigitte Lacombe.)