Star Apps: Alex Karpovsky

Between season three of the hit HBO show "Girls" and his own film "Red Flag," Alex Karpovsky chats with Download.com about his favorite apps, his parents, and how tech innovations saved the indie film industry.

Technology, software in particular, has taken us places never thought imaginable. So it wasn't surprising when a conversation about apps took a turn into a deeper dialogue about art, childhood, and deep-seated insecurities. The aforementioned discussion took place between Download.com and Alex Karpovsky, in late July, in San Francisco, while he was on a promotional tour for his film "Red Flag," a smart satire about...a moviemaker (Alex Karpovsky) on a promotional tour (his 2008 film "Woodpecker," following a brutal breakup).

Karpovsky, best known for his role on the hit HBO series "Girls" chatted with Download.com about his favorite apps, how his parents have informed his relationship with software, and how recent tech innovations have helped the indie film industry.

Alex Karpovsky, in full effect.

(Credit: Tribeca Films)

In "Red Flag," your character is someone who wears a watch, makes phone calls, and writes down notes. Why doesn't he rely on his phone's clock, and text and type?
I think that's less a reflection of who I am and more of what I find cinematically engaging. I just don't want to see too much text and e-mailing in movies. I'm just not personally, visually, or aesthetically drawn to that and I think it's more interesting to tell the story that way. But I text and e-mail all the time -- compulsively.

Your character in "Red Flag" is on a promotional tour, yet we never see him using any type of GPS system. I'm curious, on your current tour to promote this film, do you use apps like Google Maps?
Yeah, I use Google Maps all the time for directions. But whenever I look at Google Maps, I never look at the list; I just look at the map and then try to see how to get there. I use it a lot to see how far one thing is from another, to spatially orient myself.

In the film, there's a scene where your character asks someone, over the phone, whether they use Gmail or Yahoo. What purpose does that serve?
In reality, he hasn't talked to this person in a long time, so he's pretending that there was some sort of snafu, that he had sent something to someone's old e-mail account. He's bullshitting, but it's his way of getting out of a jam.

But it's gotten to the point where there's a sensibility woven into all these gadgets you use and specifically to what e-mail provider you're affiliated with. And in a high-tech, fast-driven world, you rely on these things to make judgments quickly, to put people in this categorical box, which is where I think this line came from. But when people are using Yahoo now, it's largely for retro effect, so that already tells you something about that person.

"Red Flag" has a terrific score. Did you use Spotify to locate music?
I had a composer and he did all original music. But when we were editing it, we did a lot of temporary tracks, just to get into a mood and see visually what kind of song would work here, eventually. And we did do Spotify. But it's dangerous to fall in love with your temp music, which I do all the time, because then, when you do, you tell your composer to do the same thing and then change it a little bit, which never works.

This film was made on a shoestring budget. Were there ways that technology helped in cost cutting?
Yes, I think it's an incredibly exciting time to be a filmmaker, because of the two technological advances that have happened very recently that have really created a paradigm shift. One is the DSLR camera, which you can get for only $1,500; and with the right lensing and right lighting, you can create an image that the average civilian can't tell the difference between it and studio fare.

Another important advancement for independent filmmakers, like myself, is Kickstarter and Indiegogo, because even if you have a nice camera and people are willing to work for free, you still need a little bit of money to feed people, and find locations and get it off the ground -- and with crowdsourcing, it's so much more accessible.

Do you use it?
I haven't used it. I personally think it's weird if you're on a TV show to ask for money. So between those two things, more movies can get made and that's going to lead to movies that are much more weird, personal, and experimental, and ultimately I think that's going to make for a wider, more engaging spectrum of cinema. If you want to be a filmmaker right now, your excuses are running out.

How hands on were you with the post-production of "Red Flag"?
I work with an editor always, but I play a pretty aggressive assistant role. Initially I try to pop in once a week or once every two weeks; but as we hone in, I'm there more and more. At the end of "Red Flag," we had another editing bay, and I would tackle a scene and they would tackle a scene.

Do you ever get your hands dirty?
I do, but only when I feel that I can't express what I want verbally and want to show him. I worked for five years as an editor before I ever did filmmaking, so I know how to do it technically, but sometimes I feel it's easier to push a few buttons.

What's your preferred software?
Final Cut Pro.

How did your father's position as a computer engineering professor inform your relationship to software?
I don't know if it did or it probably did and I just don't know how yet. My dad teaches computer science, but he can barely use a computer because he teaches hardware. I think he teaches motherboard stuff and he knows very little about software, so he's not a computer savvy guy at all, in terms of interface. I often try to teach him how to communicate with the printer, update your scanner driver. So I don't feel like he was ever a techno guide for me in any way.

While his character in "Red Flag" [pictured] may be more analog, Karpovsky says he embraces tech, specifically software -- a response to his upbringing.

(Credit: Tribeca Films)

You know, my parents are immigrants, and they haven't really tried too hard to integrate themselves, socially or culturally. Russia was a bit behind technologically and when they came over here they kind of detached themselves from Russian society, but didn't integrate themselves into American society, so they surrendered to a liminal limbo cultural identification. They even further lagged behind, technologically.

When you're a kid you don't want to be different and my parents were very different, so I think that as a kid there was a natural tendency to...I felt like I wanted to not be like my parents. I felt that they were dinosaurs, technologically, so I became very interested in computers and elements of technology around when I was in high school. So it was compensatory measures.

I notice your iPhone and iPad lying next to you. Did you get those as soon as they came out?
My iPad is my dad's and a hand-me-down from when he got a new iPad. This iPhone is not the newest one. So I'm a little behind the times, myself.

Last year you helped launch The New Yorker app with a hilarious promo. How did that come about?
The New Yorker wanted Lena [Dunham] to come up with this idea and she asked Jon Hamm and me to help her execute it. And it was very quick and fun and weird and I'm quite proud of the way it ended up.

Do you use The New Yorker app, yourself?
No, I don't, actually. No.

So which apps do you use on your iPhone?
Spotify, Netflix, Twitter, even though I don't tweet but I look at other people's tweeting, Facebook, and Voice Memo is the one I use most often, probably.

To get ideas down?
Yeah, yeah. Oh, and iBooks -- I read a lot. I don't really read books anymore, unfortunately. I just read scripts and stuff. I just read a script on my way over on my iPad, using that app.

Anything else?
I just got a great app called Camera Vault. I like that app a lot, because my phone is not password protected, because I think it's annoying to have to type it in every time, and the only thing I'm embarrassed about people seeing are photos. Camera Vault is password protected, so if your phone is lost, you don't have to worry about any photos getting seen. Not that they're that racy, just more goofy and embarrassing than anything else.

Returning to Twitter, why are you only retweeting?
I am not interested in tweeting right now. I'm on Twitter largely to follow people that I'm interested in, and if people say something involving me or my films that I want to share, I'll retweet it. I'm just there to read, mostly.

A lot of celebrities consider it an obligation to be engaging on social media. Why do you choose not to do that?
Well, maybe I don't have as many opinions as these people. I find it exhausting to always be sharing your sensibility and world view with these people. Maybe I don't think highly enough of my opinions. I don't think I could do it in a way that'd be interesting to people. Lena, and certain other people, have a real gift for it. But I don't think I'm in that space now.

When I googled your name, the first two things that come up are "lip" and "age." Why are people so interested in those things?
It's news to me that they are.

Maybe it's because there's no age on your Wikipedia or IMDB.
Well, there's your answer. [laughs] I feel like age is a medical condition. It's like me asking you a medical history question, which I would never do in an interview setting. I feel like, for me, when I know someone's age, the first thing it does is nurture a comparison, like where was I when this person was growing up, or what about other people, what did they accomplish up until this point? And I don't like thinking that way and I don't want other people to think that way about me.

Why are people so obsessed with your mouth?
Because it looks different than the mouths they're used to, probably.

You mentioned in a previous interview that you were raised by the television set. I'm curious. Do you ever watch TV shows on Netflix?
I watched five episodes of "Enlightened" on my iPad, on the flight over here, which I really liked. I saw "Top of the Lake," recently.

I grew up with immigrant parents that I had nothing in common with, culturally. I had no f*ing friends. I lived in this weird part of town where there weren't a lot of people around, so I didn't have a lot of friends, so I spent a lot of time watching TV. It was the thing I enjoyed most and it was mostly sitcoms.

You've been called your generation's Woody Allen. What goes through your mind when you hear that?
When people compare me to Woody Allen, of course it's flattering, but more than anything I hope I'm doing something different and hoping that I'm doing something very personal and specific. No part of me wants to feel derivative.

There's a certain neurotic Jewish male archetype that Woody Allen made famous and that we still keep seeing in films. Do we have room for a greater variety of roles?
Yes, I think we do. I definitely want to try and explore something unfamiliar and try and carve out some semblance of originality in the pursuit. I think it's a fun thing to think about -- the notion of false, misguided, or delusional confidence is something that could offer something surprising and unexplored. A lot of these guys that immediately, reflexively come up -- Woody Allen, Larry David, and Jerry Seinfeld -- people who are writer/performers that play amplified versions of themselves -- their neurosis and insecurities are at the forefront. And that's fun. And I do that to some extent, too, maybe.

But the element of being a little bit confident, on the surface, but then realizing that it's all a really elaborate fa├žade, is something that could be a lot of fun. Something that's a cross between Larry David and Elliott Gould from his heyday. He had this sort of Jewish bravado, a sort of Jewish charisma that was confident. It might be a fun place in the Jewish terrain to explore.

You're perhaps best known for your role on "Girls." What's the update with the show?
We're more than halfway through shooting season three. I think it comes out early next year. And it's going to be a really weird, funny, dark, surprising season.

Do you watch "Girls?" on TV or on a laptop or iPad?
If I have a TV, I'll do it on TV, but I generally end up watching it on my laptop. I watch it once and am usually distracted the whole time, because I'm filled with memories. Oh, that's the day that this happened or this happened; so I'm not even focusing on the show, because it's six months ago, nine months ago. And then I never watch it again.

I don't like looking at myself and I don't like hearing my voice. I can only take it in small amounts, because I don't want to see my ticks, my mannerisms, my tricks; I don't want to be too conscious of them, because I feel that then when it comes time for a performance, I'll be over-thinking it.

Karpovsky would rather not watch himself on TV or the silver screen.

(Credit: Tribeca Films)

"Girls" has incited such polarizing reactions from people. Some people think it's feminist and others find it anti-feminist. What is your opinion?
I try not to think too much about it, because there's this concern that if you think about it too much, then it'll jinx it or you won't be loose when you have to perform; so there's a necessary need for detachment. So I really try not to think about its socio-political implications -- is it good for women or setting women back -- I don't know and I choose not to think about it. Maybe when the show is over, I'll choose to look back , but right now I just want to stay loose and present.

That said, I'm happy that people have an opinion and care about it enough to get into these discussions. I'm glad that it's zeitgeisty enough to be polarizing. That makes me feel like we're doing something right, because I think that the worst thing that could happen is that people be apathetic.

You've said that you want to be famous like Spike Jonze is famous. What does that mean to you?
Certainly in terms of facial recognition. Spike Jonze, if he walked down the street -- and I certainly think he's one of our greatest directors -- how many people would recognize him? Only the coolest people. So that's fun, to fantasize about just being recognized by the ultracool.

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