Rachelle Vinberg

Rachelle Vinberg Is Now a Writer As Well As One of the Skateboarding Stars of 'Betty'

In her 2016 short film "That One Day," the director Crystal Moselle follows an all-female group of skaters around a typical day at the park, capturing the young women as they find their footing, both literally and figuratively, in a culture heavily dominated by men. For Rachelle Vinberg, who reenacted a fictionalized version of her fourteenth birthday—her first time visiting a skatepark in New York City and finding a like-minded community there—the film came to mark a life-changing moment in more ways than one. Since that first collaboration, Moselle and Vinberg, now twenty-two, have worked together on the Sundance hit Skate Kitchen and two seasons of the HBO series Betty, all of them loosely based on the experiences of Vinberg herself and her friends in the Skate Kitchen crew, embodied by Nina Moran, Dede Lovelace, Moonbear, and Ajani Russell. Over the course of five years playing Camille, Vinberg has injected her own personality and perspective into the role and officially received a co-writing credit for the first time for an episode that aired earlier this month, the first step in what appears to be a promising future behind the camera. Earlier this summer, Vinberg connected with Moselle over Zoom to recount the twists and turns of their long friendship and the complications of filming a show in and about Covid-era New York. —Jonathan Shia

Rachelle Vinberg Hey Crystal!

Crystal Moselle What's up, how's it going? Hi Rachelle! So let's talk about the first time we met.

RV The first time we met, I was with Nina [Moran, who plays Kurt on Betty] and I was coming in from Long Island. Nina was a freshman in college and I was in my senior year of high school. I knew I wanted to go to school in the city, but she would take me around before I knew the city and actually because I didn't know the subway system, we would arrange a place where we'd meet up and then she would take me. We were on the train and we were talking and my memory was she was talking about an experience babysitting some kid that she was teaching how to skate. She was mad at the dad so she was recreating that and as she was doing that I remember we were sitting on those seats on the train in the corner and you were sitting right next to it leaning against the pole. Then you just got up and were like, "Hey my name's Crystal Moselle. I'm a director, I directed this thing called Wolfpack." We were just like, "Ok?" and then you were like, "Are there more of you guys? Are there more skaters like that?" What's crazy is that we didn't even get your number until we walked out.

CM I think we started talking on the train and then we walked out and continued the conversation. I remember watching you guys and you guys were having some funny conversation. I don't remember what it was about and just being like, "Crystal, you got to go after your instincts, you got to follow them off the train," because that wasn't even my stop. [Laughs] I was just like, "Just talk to them, just do it, just do it!"

RV You were recording us and I saw it. You were secretly recording and I saw you recording. There's actually a video you have of that, you recording, and you can see me look into the camera and smile. I knew you recording us.

CM [Laughs] Like four seconds long, I tried to do a little sly photo record thing.

RV It's really trippy. Remember you showed it to us two years later and you were like, "Nice to meet you girls," and it was just so distant. I was like, "This is weird." I thought we'd known each other forever. It was just really weird to remember that we just met on a train. We could've just passed each other by easily.

CM I think I was like, "Hey, would you guys ever want to do some sort of video project?" and I got your emails.

RV You emailed me. I was at work and I remember I was on my phone when I wasn't allowed to be and I saw it and I was like, "Nina, that woman that we met emailed us." Me and Nina had gotten stopped before by a casting person and nothing came of it. She was actually casting for Gotham and she stopped us on Go Skate Day 2014 and she took our pictures and she never answered us back, so we were like, "Is it going to be that situation again? We can't get our hopes up."

CM Yeah it's wild. Then I feel like right after that, you must've gotten stopped...I feel like the zeitgeist was hitting right then and then you got stopped a million times. Then we did that short film for Miu Miu. Basically, when I stopped you on the train I was originally thinking of doing a documentary but then I got hit up by this brand Miu Miu and they were into the idea of doing something on you and Nina and the girls. You came over to my house and we sat and talked about it.

RV We talked about the first time I went to LES Skatepark for my fourteenth birthday and I explained how my mom drove me and how I was really embarrassed because she was in the park. I was like, "Get out of here," and just the first time going to the city and being nervous because I was meeting kids that I never met and I was the only girl in the whole park.

CM The concept became that one day that changes you forever as a young girl and that's what the name of the film ended up being, "That One Day." [Laughs] That was cool. That was a really fun experience because we got to really play and have fun and there were no expectations that it had to be a real narrative-type project. For me, I was like, "Well whatever, it's so beautiful the way that they skate and everything that no matter what, it's going to be something." Then there was this one scene that was so incredible that blew everybody away in the room when we were shooting it. It was you and the other girls just talking about growing up and love and friendship and everything and some really strong emotions came out of you then.

Rachelle Vinberg Is Now a Writer As Well As One of the Skateboarding Stars of 'Betty'

RV In the film, it was that one day that a girl gets changed and it really felt like that because that was the first time I was really meeting other girls. They were new friends and I felt a shift in my life and it ended up being that. It was kind of weird. It was like, "Oh I actually have these women around me," and it felt real. The whole thing is real. Also that was the thing that changed our dynamic. After that we went to make Skate Kitchen and then Betty so that was one weekend that changed everything.

CM That was cool, it was directly connected to it all.

RV After we made it, we just went on. We bonded making that so then we ended up continuing to hang out as friends. Then through that we went through different things, you saw it all in front of your face because we were always coming over to your house. That's how Skate Kitchen came about. You saw more into the real world, because in "That One Day" you don't explore skate culture in New York. It could be anywhere. But Skate Kitchen's very New York and our direct experiences.

CM That was cool. We made that short film and we got all that great attention and there was like a full page in the New York Times, which was a big surprise for us. Then I was like, "We got to make this into a feature right now." [Laughs] I was like, "We have to shoot it next summer, these girls are in this pivotal time. We got to figure this out." So I went to Sundance that year and shopped it around and immediately got money and we shot it the next summer.

RV We were eighteen. We were all still teenagers at that point except for Moonbear.

CM It was cool because I got to spend a lot of time with you guys that year and I'd just write little notes all the time and you guys would give me ideas and things that happened, tell me funny stories and stuff like that.

RV I think I was more like Camille in the beginning in Skate Kitchen. Someone asked in another interview, "Are you guys like your characters? Did it stay that way?" and I don't know, I can't really see myself. What do you think? Do you think I'm like Camille? I think I'm a little different than her. I think she's more naive.

CM Yeah totally, she's way more naive.

RV She kind of stayed the same. I think I was like her when we shot Skate Kitchen but then New York kind of hit me a little more.

CM I think the difference between the characters in Skate Kitchen and Betty and you guys is that in Skate Kitchen and Betty, they didn't have a hit movie that went out into the world. [Laughs] That's a big, huge difference. They're not Instagram stars or whatever.

RV I think it doesn't feel like that...

CM But I think there's an awareness of traveling and being out there and being asked questions about yourself constantly. There's probably a lot of self-reflection and just growing up. In Betty, there's two seasons and they're supposed to be a couple months apart when it was really two years apart. You've grown up so much since then.

RV Yeah it feels like Skate Kitchen was, oh my god, so long ago. It was four years ago at this point. You also just naturally grow up a lot from eighteen. But the characters have grown too and I think that's one thing in Betty, that they're constantly growing continuously, growing up along with us. It's weird because they're like us but I still can't figure it out. In the beginning, remember we would get confused with what was real and what wasn't? We'd get into fights in Skate Kitchen and then actually be mad at each other. Remember when that used to happen? It would cause issues because we'd be confused like, "Wait, we're not actually..." I would feel guilty for being a bad friend and it was like, "Wait, that's just in the show." [Laughs]

CM [Laughs] It was very blurry lines between what is actually happening. [Laughs] How was going to Sundance with Skate Kitchen?

RV I loved the snowboarding part. I wasn't really into the partying part because I didn't think I was even at that stage in my life where I was into that yet. I think that happened after. I remember you guys all left me and went to a party and then hung out with Robert Pattinson and I was like, "What!" [Laughs] But it was really fun, that was so fun. It reminded me of Club Penguin. I don't know if you know what Club Penguin is but it's this online gaming thing we used to do when we were like ten. You're a penguin and you hang out in this village. I don't know, it looked like Club Penguin. How was it bringing us everywhere? Because you had to get us into parties. We were all still too young.

Rachelle Vinberg Is Now a Writer As Well As One of the Skateboarding Stars of 'Betty'

CM That's how Sundance is, everybody just cruises around to private parties in weird houses. It was fun. It was exhausting. From "That One Day" to Skate Kitchen and now Betty, how has our working relationship changed?

RV We always were kind of collaborative since the beginning. I always told you everything. I always felt very comfortable telling you things.

CM This whole project was based on our collaboration. What is cool now though is that now you're writing on the show. Do you want to talk about your writing past a little bit?

RV Ever since "That One Day" and Skate Kitchen, I was always really interested in the scene part and the behind-the-scenes part and the storyline part. That was always fun to sit with you and talk about stuff. We would just do that in your living room like, "What if this happened? What if this happened?" and we've always done that. Then you did Betty and I remember we were invited to the writers' room, all of us were and I'd never been in a room where it was more than just us or one other person coming with ideas. It was like seven, eight people hashing out ideas and pitching things and I just immediately felt comfortable and I was like, "Oh this is fun." Also knowing that I know the world, a lot of the other writers are really great writers but they don't know the world as much as I do because I live in it so I felt comfortable to say things in that way. That was when I was like, "I want to do this, this is fun." Also, I was in school for screenwriting. Actually when we were writing "That One Day," when you were sitting and writing it, that was right when I was about to go to school and I didn't know what I wanted to do. That's when I was like, "Oh this seems like something I would want to do," because we did that short film. Then season two came around. Remember in season one there was that one scene we couldn't figure out and I just straight up wrote it and sent it to you?

CM Yeah that was great. For me, I need to ask you what you think about everything because I trust that you know the world so well and you understand storytelling. I think that's something that you're talented with and you have so many cool projects coming up and you're going to be shooting your own film soon. You have two film ideas that are very special that I'm excited for you to make.

RV Thank you. One thing that was cool on Betty in the writers' room is one of my teachers actually happens to be your childhood best friend and also one of the writers and producers on Betty now. I didn't know he even knew you till halfway through the semester.

CM [Laughs] You were like, "I have the coolest new screenwriting teacher," and I was like, "Oh yeah, what's his name?" "Oh Ben Snyder." I was like, "What, that's my old friend." I have to thank you for bringing Ben's name up because I was like, "Oh yeah, Ben, he's amazing." I brought him into the writers' room after that. I was like, "He's incredible with story, we should bring him into the room," and now he and I are writing two other scripts together, so it brought us back together because of you.

RV That's crazy, I didn't even know that. [Laughs] So filming in New York during the pandemic, what were our biggest difficulties?

CM I'd love to know your point of view because I keep talking about this.

RV The biggest difference is that we had to be isolated and we couldn't hang out with other people, which is fine because we were lucky to be doing what we were doing. We were constantly reminding each other of that. I think it was annoying to have that mask on. It was so sweaty, skating with a mask is so nasty. That's the one part that sucked. It wasn't even not being able to see your family or people, it was just skating with a hot box on your mouth. That was the only thing that I complained about.

CM Also we shot so much longer, so many more weeks because we were only doing ten-hour days. Moving around was different, there was so much testing, there was a lot of factors.

RV And you couldn't hang out. One thing that I loved about shooting Skate Kitchen and Betty season one was if we weren't in the scene, we'd still be hanging out in the corner and stealing the food and hanging out in skate parks and just walking around. For Betty season two, we just had to stay in the trailers or go home. There was no interaction.

CM It was less social. Usually, the crew hangs out after work. There were a lot of rules and stuff.

RV It just felt like you were constantly doing something illegal the whole time. [Laughs]

CM Then every single week we would have these talks where it was like, "Ok everybody, everybody's got to be safe..."

RV "Curve's going up" and just anxiety.

Rachelle Vinberg Is Now a Writer As Well As One of the Skateboarding Stars of 'Betty'

CM It's a pandemic and you never know. Then I'm the one that got Covid so there you go.

RV Can I say my perspective of that? We're all freaking out because someone might get Covid and we have to handle a bunch of skater kids and there were a lot of extras. Me and Nina were online checking everyone's story, all those skater boys. We were being like security guards. I would find someone and then be like, "Nina, talk to this person," because they were all scared of her. We were really careful. We were worried about the boys if we're being honest and all the extras and like, "This person's been weird, they posted this." Then they'd post something and then immediately delete it because they knew that we would say something. People were talking to us a lot and being like, "You guys have to be responsible, you guys have to be responsible," so we were. Then finding out that you got it, it was like, "What?" It also sucked because of all people...if I got it they could've not filmed my scenes for two weeks but we needed you. And then you got it.

CM The whole production went down for twelve days. Also, I'm pretty sure I got it on the Staten Island Ferry while we were shooting, the only thing I can think of. I don't know, who knows?

RV It was sad though, you were crying.

CM Yeah it was upsetting because I'm like, "I'm trying to regulate all you all," and then I'm the one that got it. It was pretty depressing but then I was like "We're in a pandemic," and then also I got to rest for two weeks which I needed so badly. [Laughs] We really went after it, we were going hard to shoot. But it is what it is, what else could we do? And we kept going.

RV And you were fine.

CM But I was the only person that got it! That was just crazy. So with co-writing the episode, I had an episode that I had given myself to write. I felt like it was a perfect opportunity for us to write together and it was really fun and HBO was into it. It wasn't just random. You submitted screenplays that you'd written that I showed HBO and they read it and they confirmed that you could write on the show. It was really fun. We just sat at my house I feel like for three days straight.

RV It was the summertime, it was in August. It was actually on my birthday when we submitted the thing. It was really fun. I would just skate to your house in the morning. It was funny, we had a different kind of setup. I liked writing in the morning and you liked writing at night. And I'd go on skate breaks. I'd be like, "I need ten minutes to skate really quick."

CM Or you'd just fall asleep on the ground. [Laughs] That's something you guys are known for, just falling asleep anywhere, like on the ground.

RV We're floor sleepers, floor people. I remember at your house back in 2017, 2016 we would bring like ten people to your house and we'd all sleep on the couch and floor. The whole room would just be littered with skater kids.

CM [Laughs] Littered! Littered with skater kids.

RV I remember I was always the first one to wake up and I'd just look at it and be like, "Wow, this is really funny." They would just sleep in weird positions.

CM Especially when we were shooting, we'd just all come back and pass out and then get up at like 5 in the morning the next day again. Shooting is crazy.

Rachelle Vinberg Is Now a Writer As Well As One of the Skateboarding Stars of 'Betty'

RV How has skating culture changed since we first started? When you first met us, you hadn't even really seen other girl skaters. At the time, me and Nina...we weren't the only girls in New York but we were kind of the only girls our age. There were some girls who were older than us and some girls who were a lot younger than us. That's why me and Nina drew towards each other, just because we were the same age and there just weren't girls at the parks normally. Now you see girls skating down the street and I don't know even know who they are. I'll see girls in the park and I won't know them or recognize them. I was in Washington Square Park the other week and I saw two young girls just skating slowly around the park together, like twelve years old. That was never a thing. It is becoming more mainstream I think because of Instagram and maybe Skate Kitchen and Betty and TikTok. There's so many people just seeing it now online, it's becoming normalized.

CM What is your favorite thing about Betty season two?

RV I thought the whole season was hilarious, but I loved that we shot during and kept Covid incorporated. It was really accurate to how Covid really felt during shooting. During that whole summer of 2020, that's what it reminded me of, the whole spring and when it first happened. It was just accurate to the times.

CM It was fun. I definitely think season two got more absurd, a bit weirder, which I love, more imaginative, some magical realism moments.

RV Didn't we say like, "Oh, this show is weird, we need to make it more weird"?

CM Yeah, like, "We're weird, we need to be more true to who we are."

RV Like, "Things don't necessarily need to make as much sense." I think by not making sense it made more sense.

CM Yeah, it was fun. We had some good cast members.

RV Also I loved how we tried to represent guys in a more positive way because there are a lot of guys who are really great, like most of them are really great. This season, we were like, "Let's show that. Let's show the different dynamics between guys." My favorite storyline is Kurt's, my favorite personally because it's just so funny and the idea of her having this guy cult and being the leader of it where they're all obsessed with her is so funny. In many ways it's true. When we were on set she was the one making sure they were following the Covid regulations.

CM It's a funny storyline. It's very absurd. I liked the sugar daddy parts. When you go on the sugar daddy date, that's pretty funny.

RV Remember when you didn't recognize me?

CM Yeah I was like, "Who's that? Oh, what?"

RV I was standing in front of you and you just didn't even know who I was.

CV Was that fun to transform into something completely different?

RV It was fun, but I couldn't see because I didn't have my glasses on so I felt blind. It was very disorienting, I was like, "What is going on?" But it was fun.

Betty continues on Fridays on HBO.

Rachelle Vinberg
Rachelle Vinberg

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