How an odd dancing movie became a phenomenon

<b style="color:#900;">45 Minutes on IM</b> Jacob Krupnick's film "Girl Walk // All Day" was made in the middle of, and with the help of, a community. And it'll leave you smiling for hours.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
7 min read
In Girl Walk // All Day, actress Anne Marsen spends a day dancing her way around New York City. The film was made mainly in public spaces--in the middle of crowds--and was funded by a community of people eager to see it. Girl Walk // All Day

If it's hard to imagine how a film with just three lines of dialogue (and in subtitles, no less) could leave you smiling so much your jaw hurts, then you haven't seen "Girl Walk // All Day."

The brainchild of filmmaker Jacob Krupnick, the movie is a 71-minute music video that showcases the joyous dancing of actress Anne Marsen and a few others to the frenetic (and admittedly often profane) mashups of the Girl Talk album "All Day."

It's a concept that doesn't readily lend itself to a feature-length movie, but in Krupnick's hands--and with the help of Marsen's engaging dancing and that of Dai Omiya and John Doyle--it works in a big way. Perhaps it's because the film takes place right in public: Most scenes were shot in the middle of public places in New York City, with Marsen and her fellow dancers doing their thing in and around whoever happened to be there while they shot. And that makes it easy as the viewer to feel like you're right there with them.

'Girl Walk // All Day' director Jacob Krupnick Courtesy of Jacob Krupnick

What makes the film more interesting--and frankly, possible in the first place--is that as word spread about the project, countless fans decided to get directly involved. And so "Girl Walk // All Day" became one of the first films produced thanks to funds provided by the Kickstarter community.

At the same time, the entire film is based--and synchronized to--the music from the Girl Talk album. Released a year-and-a-half ago with a Creative Commons license that allowed other artists to use its wide variety of samples, the album itself is a test of whether or not mashups can be fair use.

Yesterday, Krupnick sat down for a CNET 45 Minutes on IM interview to talk about the making of the project, the importance of Kickstarter in filmmaking, and how creative types need to embrace the idea of campaigning.

Q: Thanks for doing this. I loved the film, but I have to admit, when I first heard the idea, I didn't get it. What made you confident this would work as a full-length film?
Jacob Krupnick: I'll admit I had no idea if "Girl Walk" would work. I never made a full-length film before, much less tried to tell a story wordlessly. And I've worked very little with dance. But I'm very inspired by music. I'm thinking constantly about how songs correspond to real-life situations, or could serve as the soundtrack to certain kinds of movement. But I didn't know if the film would be able to sustain anyone's attention span for the duration of the Girl Talk album. That was the big gamble.

Throughout the film-making process, I imagined it might just work as background visual material at parties. Or perhaps something that would only work in a nightclub setting. But as we filmed in the street, and the performers brought life to the characters, I started sharing bits of it with people around me, and eventually started to feel confident that it would hold up as a feature-length work.

We live in a world with $100 million action films with massively expensive special effects. How does a small film like yours end up being so intriguing?
Krupnick: I have a pretty strong aversion to heavy-duty special effects work, actually. I'm just not a fan of fakeness. With "Girl Walk," there are a bunch of layers of reality. As the viewer, you know it really happened. You know the dancers performed their routine; they're not marionettes.

We wanted to create a film that would be constantly engaging, and totally immersive, so that you'd feel like you were on a custom roller coaster, swimming through the city in pursuit of these wily, unpredictable dancers.

We also use the crowd in ways that are unusual for a film. It was crowd-funded, for one, but we also use the public as background material. It's a very inclusive film, and people feel like they have some small ownership in all of it, just by virtue of having supported it, or by living in New York, or even just by having visited and recognizing some of the sites.

How surprised were you about the positive response from the Kickstarter community?
Krupnick: We had a golden experience with Kickstarter. The film is far better than it would've been if we'd raised less, or tried to make the film without support. But the human support counted infinitely more. To have cheerleaders, and people expectantly waiting for a finished film was invaluable. It definitely gave me cojones that I did not start out with to make "Girl Walk" my life's priority.

The press during fundraising and production was tremendous, but that can also be the kiss of death: reality hardly ever meets our wildest dreams. What's surprised me the most, I suppose, is how little dissenting opinion there's been. Maybe if I had all these laurels plus a new Ferrari, it would inflate my ego a bunch. But my wife and I are hustling unbelievably hard to help bring the film to audiences all over, so really, we're just grateful there's a demonstrable demand for it.

What does your success story say about the future of funding small independent films?
Krupnick: Kickstarter's proven to be an unbelievably influential force for funding films. Film is their most popular category by a big margin.

What gives me pause as a creator is whether I could produce something that requires less crowd-calling. I've embraced every aspect of the crowd with this film, but I worry that projects might wind up spending too much energy on campaigning. That worked wonderfully for our project, but isn't necessarily the ticket for quieter projects. The lesson for an independent filmmaker is that money is just half the battle. Arguably, the bigger one is finding your audience. Kickstarter helped get us both of these.

What specific advice would you give to filmmakers trying to navigate those waters?
Krupnick: Creative people need to be good campaigners nowadays--you need a blog, Twitter, and a Website. The free and cheap tools for sharing your work and disseminating your message are endless. The difficult part is figuring out which are right for your project and which integrate into your work in a way that doesn't bog you down, that doesn't distract you from your mission, and that isn't too redundant.

The days of being the lone creative, working in seclusion and presenting only finished work, are pretty much finished. So reach out, seek collaborators, keep track of your ideas, and surround yourself with people you respect and who will offer their honest opinion without ego or jealousy.

Did you have music playing while you were filming, and how did you sync it up in post-production?
Krupnick: We had a dinky sound system that met all the requirements: it was light, held an iPod without letting it tumble, was battery-powered, and had a handle. But it wasn't very loud.

The dancers had to know the music--the beat, the arc, the lyrics--inside and out because we didn't want to play it loud and aggravate police or passersby. A lot of the time, I'd beatbox or sing a cappella while operating the steadi-cam, since I could sing louder than the sound system. In a bunch of situations, there was no music. Anne is playing the music straight from her brain while dancing at Yankee Stadium and coming off the Staten Island Ferry.

There was a ton of recombination in the edit process. I found tons of situations where moving the dance around a little or a lot would work well, or better, or brilliantly to a different part of each track. The editing was a huge joy--all playing. Serious, repetitive play--but still, for grueling work, it was a f-----g blast.

Since you don't have rights to the source material, how are you able to get away with promoting the film online and selling tickets at festivals and screenings?
Krupnick: The music rights are another fascinating chapter of this project. Gregg Gillis (Girl Talk) waves the fair use flag, and so do we. His work, and distribution, has paved a wide path that we certainly walk in, and if it weren't for that, I wouldn't have had the courage to use these music samples.

Has there been much pushback from the record companies given that the film has gotten a lot of publicity. It's not like you're laboring in secret.
Krupnick: "Girl Walk // All Day" is a film shot in public, and I view it as a film essentially for the people. The good grace definitely resonates from the project, and I think that's actually a currency that still exists.

We've had no pushback from anyone frustrated by what we've been doing. And Girl Talk has had no settlements or lawsuits, and is far more prominent. So again, I think our work exists as a small speck in his large shadow.

Why did you make the film available online in chapters?
Krupnick: We knew the Internet would be a home for the film, since that's our chief tool for sharing our otherwise difficult-to-distribute film. But attention spans online are pretty low, or pretty challenged.

We thought we'd release the film in small, easy-to-digest chapters so people could watch during their lunch breaks, or at home, and be able to make it through a full chapter.

Last question: What kind of support do you offer for folks that want to host public screenings of the film?
Krupnick: When people approach us about screenings, we figure out what kind of environment they're trying to create--generally it's either more like a theater, or more like an immersive, multi-projector environment. We have advice for setting things up, and sometimes come and help.

A lot of organizers take on the project as an opportunity to create something stellar out of their own imagination. Next month in Philadelphia, a theater is hosting dance classes, a dancing parade down the block, special cocktails, and performances in the lobby. We love that people are seeing it as a chance to make something big, special, and unifying. Corny as it might sound, it's all about bringing people together.