Free Locations: Alex Karpovsky on Red Flag and Girls

The star of the hit HBO series dishes about his latest film as a director, about a groupie stalking him.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

By now you probably know Alex Karpovsky as Ray Ploshansky, Shoshanna’s live-in boyfriend on “Girls.” Like “Girls” creator Lena Dunham, Karpovsky is a writer/director/actor in his own right. We saw his film Red Flag at the Los Angeles Film Festival last year and got to speak with him by phone after the fest. As festival coverage goes, we held the interview for the release, which is this week. Tribeca Films is releasing Red Flag and Rubberneck, Karpovsky’s previous film, as a double feature. Red Flag is about filmmaker Alex Karpovsky going on a speaking tour with his film Woodpecker and meeting a groupie stalker who continues to attend his screenings. That should have set off a red flag.

CraveOnline: How was your experience at the Los Angeles Film Festival?

Alex Karpovsky: I had a good experience at the festival. I had never been to it before but I had a very positive experience.

Were there some Q&As and any interesting questions?

The Q&As went great. I’m trying to think of an interesting question. None immediately leap to mind but it felt like an engaging Q&A and I’m glad people stuck around after the screening for it. I liked how centralized everything was at the festival. I guess they moved locations in the last year or to to a different part of town and it was nice that everything was in one place. It helps foster this notion of a festival, the community and that people can bump into each other. It keeps everything nice. That was really good. The parties were fun. I met a lot of cool filmmakers. It was a really positive experience.

Is Red Flag really a backdoor advertisement for Woodpecker?

I guess indirectly I was hoping we could move some units through it, but based on the website traffic that Woodpecker has received recently, I don’t think it’s going to translate to many sales.

What was the idea to build off that into your next film?

I made Woodpecker a few years ago, then last year this organization put it on the tour. It just seemed like a very solitary and lonely thought, to go drive around for six hours every day by yourself and present at these small venues and stay at these rinky dink motels. The whole thing felt kind of sad to me, so I thought it would be more fun to try and have some friends along and see if we could maybe make a movie out of this tour and this experience. So that’s sort of the initial catapult. It didn’t have to be Woodpecker. It could’ve been any movie that was on tour and I feel like Woodpecker plays a pretty small role in the actual narrative of Red Flag but it was basically just a cover to have friends around and try to come up with a movie and story and characters around that itinerary of the tour, and if it didn’t work, it didn’t work. The movie cost so little to make that I feel like if it didn’t congeal in a way that I liked, I don’t think I would have shed a tear if it just went away.

The Alex in this movie has some commitment issues, but where do you find relationship minded brunettes because that’s my type?

[Laughs] You know, if you look hard enough, I think you’ll find them. I think that’s all I’ll say on that subject. The film is autobiographical in many respects but it’s probably most fictitious in its relationship stuff.

Yeah, are there actually screening groupies?

No, I don’t think so. Not for me. Maybe when James Franco makes his films and shows them, I’m sure he gets groupies but not this fella.

Is the toe stimulation thing real and where did you hear about that?

Apparently, it is real. There’s certainly a rumor that is mentioned by some people that it is an erogenous zone for some people. They really do do this surgery where they take the toe and put it there, and there is debate on whether or not it’s because the toe has the right physical mold to replace the clitoris, or because it actually has erogenous significance. I feel it’s just because it has the right shape. But yes, there is a theory that, I don’t know, in the reflexology world that it might have [stimulating properties]. Every part of your body, every emotion, every nerve center has a root in your feet, is what a reflexologist might say. Certainly your sexual organ would be represented there for sure.

Did you actually check into hotels and just shoot there?

Yup, absolutely.

Did you tell them you were shooting?

Yeah, we did. My policy has been to be honest, but also be vague. You don’t need to tell them a million things and usually they won’t ask. We’ll just say, “We’re doing a low budget road film. Can we shoot a few things here and there?” And they’re like, “Yeah, as long as you don’t get in the way of the guests and are inconspicuous, yeah, don’t worry about it.” And some people said no but the vast majority said yes. Everyone was pretty friendly. People are a lot friendlier in the south than they are on the coasts, has been my experience. It was pretty easy to take care of stuff, and we also had some girls with us which never hurts when you’re trying to get free locations.

Would you then still stay the night at the hotel?

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yes, it was a totally functional, multi-functional location. We’d shoot there, we’d stay there. Everything was kind of real. A lot of the places where we’d eat, we’d try to shoot there as well. We’d try to maximize the resources as much as we could.

What is Rubberneck about?

Rubberneck already came out. It’s about a love triangle between three scientists who work at a pharmaceutical group up in Boston. It’s a psychological, character driven kind of story. We premiered it at the Tribeca film festival back in April.

How did you weave into the Lena Dunham world that’s now exploding?

Well, I met Lena at South by Southwest a few years ago. She was there with her first film and I was there with a project and we just got along really quickly and easily. We didn’t see each other’s films so we kind of stayed in touch. We did some DVD swaps, we hung out once or twice in New York and then she said, “I’m writing a little movie that’s kind of a low budget independent film. If you want, I’d love to have you be a part of it. There’s a role that I think you’d be great for.” So later in that year, November of that year, we shot Tiny Furniture and I really got to know her much better hanging out with her over that movie. I stayed at her apartment where the movie takes place, so that was really nice, comfortable. We just stayed friends and then when “Girls” started to come together, she asked me if I wanted to be a part of that as well.

Has it been an organic feeling where you and all your filmmaker friends have been getting discovered around the same time?

No, no. I mean, “discovered,” that’s sort of a general phrase. Some people get to a position where they can make their next movie with greater resources and that’s a great thing, but that doesn’t happen to most of my friends. I think it’s highly, highly competitive and a lot of my friends have a hard time balancing their artistic pursuits with commercial viability. You need to, I think, do that balancing act if you want to make your next movie with more money, with greater budgets. Some people are really not able to take that step. Most of my friends continue to make low budget independent films that they have complete control over, and can blissfully disregard commercial viability and that’s okay with them. I respect that.

Since your work both as an actor and director has been getting seen, are you getting more commercial opportunities that appeal to both your commercial and artistic sensibility?

No, no, not really. Maybe that’ll come along at some point but at this stage, I’m still sort of working on my own projects and working on “Girls” which I think are very nice for me anyway, between a very daring and courageous, funny artistic endeavor but also I think people are watching. I think there is some relatability and commercial viability you could say. But no, outside of “Girls” and my own projects, I’m not really doing anything else.

Is it a lot different being in a season two with everyone knowing that they had success?

No, that’s one thing that was really great is when we all came back, we started shooting season two just a few weeks after the show started airing but nobody seemed very different than how I remembered them. I didn’t see them for a few months since we wrapped last season in September, but everyone’s kind of the same person, very humble, for the most part very unchanged which is wonderful.

What funny stuff is happening for Ray?

I can’t talk about season two in detail.

What is the next movie you want to make?

I have no idea.

How does the process usually start?

I have sort of a folder on my laptop that’s got about 40 or 50 ideas. Some are just a paragraph long and some are dozens and dozens of pages long. Then I just kind of go through that folder and see what kind of mood I’m in and where I feel I might have faith that I can nurture enthusiasm for months on end. Then I hang out with that idea. I try to give it more detail and flesh it out, and it usually works.

Did you jump right into filmmaking on your own, or did you try to ease into the business in other positions?

Well, I just jumped into it. I was working as a video editor for this small post-production house and they had their own equipment. They had sort of a pro-sumer video camera and some microphones and some lights. Not much, but a small little package. They very generously allowed me to use their equipment so I just hopped right into it and started making my own movies. I never made short films. I just hopped in and started with my first feature, The Hole Story. I never worked on real movies and tried to climb the ladder. That wasn’t my path.

What was the name of the post house?

Spot Creative.

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind The Shelf Space Awards. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.