Alex Karpovsky wears many hats. The triple-threat writer, director, and actor is best known for his work on Lena Dunham’s HBO series, "Girls." But on Wednesday evening, Tribeca Films hosted a special screening of "Red Flag," a project that is entirely Karpovsky’s own. Held at the Landmark Theatres Sunshine Cinema, the event brought together a receptive audience of indie film insiders to view the sharply hilarious film.
Though his script is in no way autobiographical, Karpovsky admits that as the film’s central character, he plays a caricature of himself. “I tried to amplify my own fears and neuroses, delusions, for comedic effect,” he explained. Red Flag begins in the throes of a difficult breakup. Paralyzed by the fear that marriage will cause him to stagnate professionally before reaching his full potential as a filmmaker, Alex ends his long-term relationship with Rachel (Caroline White). Faced with the prospect of touring alone through the South with his latest film, "Woodpecker," Alex begs several friends to join him on the road to no avail. One night with a crazed groupie, Rachel (Jennifer Prediger), only magnifies Alex’s loneliness and earns him a stalker. When the downtrodden director is joined by his friend, Henry (a hilariously good-natured Onur Tukel), the unlikely trio embarks on road-trip for the ages.
In "Red Flag," Karpovsky has created a film within a film; as the protagonist travels from town to town to promote Woodpecker (an extremely low-budget account of one town’s search for an endangered bird), the themes Alex presents to his audiences become the framework for Red Flag itself. He raises the question of whether or not we deserve a second chance even when we haven’t necessarily earned one. Each of the film’s four main characters grapples with loneliness and a need for human connection. All this may sound like a recipe for one depressing movie, but the actors avoid this trap with their incredible comedic chemistry and wit. Actor Onur Tukel chalks the film’s best moments of comedy up to Karpovsky’s willingness for the cast to improvise: “I had never done this [improvised] so I was just throwing bullsh*t lines out there, and Alex was so intuitive and so astute, he would catch on something that was funny, and say, ‘Let’s explore that a little more, what else have you got?’”
The event continued at post-screening party at Cocktail Bodega, where guests including 30 Rock’s Judah Friedlander and Girls’ Adam Driver mingled with the cast. Graffiti-decorated walls and dj-spun pop rock tunes set a celebratory tone in the basement bar. Indeed, Karpovsky has good reason to celebrate—his star is on the rise. “I’m writing a few scripts, so once we’re done with "Girls" maybe I’ll hop onto one of those projects,” he mused. Red Flag will screen again this Friday and Saturday at Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center as a double feature with Karpovsky’s 2012 drama "Rubberneck."
Check out our interviews with the cast:
Q: Obviously this film is a comedy. Are any of the points taken from your own life, is this in any way autobiographical?
ALEX: Not too much of it is autobiographical; I mean, the movie is about a guy on tour with his movie, and I really did make the movie within a movie, so that’s truly autobiographical, but what I try to do basically is create a character that is a caricature of myself, so I tried to amplify my own fears and neuroses, delusions, for comedic effect. So some of the underlying, uh, roots of this character are true, but it’s deeply exaggerated.
Q: Now how do you feel about directing yourself in a film? Is that a challenge for you?
ALEX: It depends on the movie. I’ve done a few movies, I’ve directed a few movies that I haven’t put myself in because I feel like there are some things I’m not that suited for. But, if it’s you know, a jerk kind of going on a road-trip, I feel like that’s in my wheelhouse, I can do that, and I cast myself.
Q: Obviously you write, and you act, and you direct. Is there any facet of the industry that you lean towards? If you had to choose one of those roles to do for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
ALEX: Gosh, I would love not to choose. I mean, look, I think if I only acted or if I only directed, I would be really, really, really unhappy. I think it’s the fact that I’m juggling the two that I have any vestige of mental health. You know, if I only acted I think I’d be really frustrated that I’m not expressing my own creative sensibility, and I also would be uncomfortable surrendering my destiny, my fate to other people. That loss of control would make me uneasy. On the other side, if I only directed, I don’t think life would be quite as much fun. And I think the vain and narcissist part of me would feel like I’m not getting enough attention, and I need it!
Q: Now, obviously you’re on the show Girls, which I watch and I love, and to me your character sounds kind of like a young, contemporary Woody Allen. How do feel about that? Are you a fan of Woody Allen?
ALEX: Oh, I’m a huge fan of Woody Allen, and any comparison no matter how remote, indirect, or peripheral is something that I definitely embrace.
Q: Do you, you know, bounce ideas off Lena in terms of writing? Do feel like there’s a mutual inspiration between the two of you?
ALEX: Well I admire her and respect her so much. Maybe because of that, I don’t, I’m not involved in the writing process. I just wear the acting hat on the show. But the writing to me is very clear, it has a lot of depth and sincerity, humor, subtlety, courage, that I don’t—I feel like it’s pretty damn good and it doesn’t need my two cents.
Q: What’s your plan for next, are you looking to direct again in the near future?
ALEX: Well I’d like to keep doing both if I can. "Girls" is going back into production in about a month, so that’ll last for 5 or 6 months and I’m writing a few scripts, so once we’re done with "Girls" maybe I’ll hop onto one of those projects.
Interview with Jennifer Prediger
Q: So tell me, how did you get involved with the script and the project?
JENNIFER: I met Alex Karpovsky at Sundance in 2011. I was there with a Joe Swanberg film called "Uncle Kent." And we met and became friends, and a week later he called me and said I’m making this road-trip movie, and I’m going on the South Arts Tour with my film "Woodpecker," and would be interested in playing kind of a nutty character? And we really had an in-depth conversation about this sort of unhinged groupie that I ended up playing. And it was an amazing experience, and Alex is an incredible director, writer and actor, and I had the time of my life getting to act, create fiction in non-fictional realities. So it was this wonderful hybridization of reality and fiction on the road from Alabama to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And it was madcap, and one of the best times of my life, and there was such a synergy between all of us because Onur, Alex and I, we all met at Sundance. And then, like 3 weeks later we were all on the road and it was like an instant family, and we were fighting and yelling at each other within, like, a day. And every day we would meet in the morning and yell and figure out what we were going to do that day, and we would just act! And so most of the time it was me, Adam, Alex and Onur. Adam Ginsberg shot and edited the movie, and so it was just this wonderful, tight-knit group and we had the most fabulous time.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add about the project?
JENNIFER: It was a dream come true! Alex is an incredible filmmaker and I just am so excited about what he’s going to create next. And I hope that we all get to work alongside him in the process.
Q: What’s next for you that you can share with us?
JENNIFER: I just acted in a wonderful movie directed by Dan Schechter. It’s a Jennifer Aniston movie, it’s an Elmore Leonard novel—it’s the prequel to Jackie Brown. I get to play Will Forte’s secretary...Jennifer Prediger meets Jennifer Aniston.
Interview with Onur Tukel
ONUR: [On improvising in the film] So Alex had an outline, and I’ve never worked with an outline before, I usually have a script. But he would tell us the talking points we were supposed to talk about, then we would speak and every now and then funny things would bubble up. And then you know after that take when Alex would kind of hear funny things, he would remember these things and say “talk about that or elaborate on that”.
Q: Did you go on location? Were you in Louisiana or Arkansas?
ONUR: Yeah we were in all those places. When he was actually doing his tour, it was actually like us going on this tour and just in the car figuring scenes out and shooting things on the side of the road or in the hotel.
Q: What was your favorite scene to shoot?
ONUR: They were all so much fun. There’s an obnoxious song that we all sing in the car, and we made that song up and we were making up the lyrics. So it’s like, that was a lot of fun because Alex was like “I like that, what is that from?” and we were like “We’re just making it up!” and we were just fine tuning it again and just having fun with it.
Q: And what’s your next project you can share?
ONUR: I wrote and directed a movie called "Richard’s Wedding" that Jennifer Prediger is in that’s now available online. And I’m right now working on two projects. I’ve got a children’s book coming out. I’ve got a book being published by Amazon Starter Press. So Amazon is going to release it in June, it’s called Rainstack! And then I’m doing 13 music videos for a guy named Block who’s a New York musician and I’ve directed all 13 music videos for his album. And I’m prepping a movie right now called "Catfight," which is a female ensemble comedy with a big girl fight at the end of the movie. What we’re hoping to do is take all these great New York indie actresses that haven’t broken out yet but are on the verge—Jennifer being one of them…so many great actresses—and trying to do a project with them.
Additional guests we spotted at the screening included Jonathan Ames, Project Runway's Samantha Black, Anna Boden, David Call, DJ Matt Creed, Hannah Fidell, Ryan Fleck, Boyd Holbrook, Billy Magnussen, John Cameron Mitchell, Tanya Mityushini, Singer/Songwriter Negin Djafari, Britne Oldford, Krysta Rodriguez, Whit Stillman and Eddie Kay Thomas