For an Angeleno, director/producer Thomas Rigler is surprisingly animated when talking about walking. One reason is that he is the driving (intentional pun, of course) force behind City Walk, an ongoing, live-action KCET docu-series that spotlights memorable pedestrian activities in the USA.
Rigler wrangles indie animation rock star Bill Plympton in one of the recent City Walk segments. That particular tidbit inspires the LA Animation Examiner to dig deeper into City Walk as follows.
LA Animation Examiner: How did you develop City Walk in a town (LA) known for its ubiquitous motoring?
Thomas Rigler: City Walk started in 2011 as an extension of our continuing online campaign for EveryBodyWalk.org, a digital awareness initiative about the health benefits of travel by foot. While recording across the country, our crew realized that there’s a much bigger story: our cities are evolving away from the car and toward walkable communities.
Unexpectedly, we heard references from out-of-state planners and developers about Los Angeles as the capital of the walking future. LA is predicted to lead a national trend. Fascinating! When we returned to Los Angeles, we documented our own backyard accordingly. We uncovered a wealth of stories that contradict the cliché (i.e., Nobody walks in LA). Favorite cases in point are the local car-free extravaganzas CicLAvia and The Big Parade.
LAAE: Please say several words about your collaboration with Bill Plympton.
TR: A few months ago, Bill Plympton was in town to promote his latest animated feature film Cheatin’. We lured him to our Pasadena facility for a conversation. Bill arrived in his trademark khaki shorts and Oxfords with socks, and he took over one of our offices. It quickly became clear that Bill preferred to draw while being interviewed, and he wanted us to see what he was drawing.
We usually shoot City Walk interviews with two cameras, but we quickly added a third, fixed on Bill’s hand and sketch paper. We captured this beautiful monologue about Bill’s love of walking New York neighborhoods for animation inspiration. Before our eyes and lenses, Bill designed the four phases of a character walk cycle based on his leading lady in Cheatin’. He’s a true master! The video loop of this completed walk cycle appears in our finished product, which is posted on the KCET website.
LAAE: Besides Plympton, what other celebrities have contributed to the series?
TR: During season 2, Jonathan Gold, the Pulitzer Prize winning LA Times restaurant critic, describes what he loves most about Old Town Pasadena (he is a resident). Jillian Rose Reed goes from MTV’s Awkward to Disneyland. Penn & Teller appear inside their theater at the Rio Las Vegas. The Police’s Stewart Copeland discusses his passion for bicycling through Marina del Rey as he plays drums. Actor/writer Luke Wilson shares memories from trekking alongside Space Shuttle Endeavor toward its final destination at the California Science Center, an experience he also commemorates in his short film Satellite Beach.
LAAE: How did your show make its initial leap from the web to KCET?
TR: We didn’t really make the leap from web to TV with City Walk. Instead, we conceived the program as a multi-platform opportunity and a fresh, new take on the magazine format. It parallel launched online and on TV with KCETLink. The secret behind Internet video monetization is in generating an enormous amount of views. To accomplish this, we maintain corporate and non-profit alliances. This spreads the word and lends additional support to our effort. With partners like CityLab, The Atlantic and even Funny or Die, we manage to drive significant traffic to the webcasts as well as to the broadcasts.
LAAE: Speaking of fresh and new, how have you distinguished City Walk from other lifestyle series?
TR: Seven or eight stories in varying lengths comprise each half-hour episode. Every self-contained installment features strong music that drives the editing rhythm, bold graphics that obscure the frame and interrupt the flow, and a broad context of urban storytelling. City Walk is bright, colorful, and sometimes loud and poetic where it needs to be. There is no on-camera host. Instead, each segment’s through-line is a guide for the viewer.
Industry pioneers form much of our crew. Directors of Photography Arlene Nelson and Roman Jakobi bring their own signature styles of music documentary filmmaking (Arlene), high-end commercials (Roman), and Hong Kong action movies (also Roman) to the mix. Writer Steve Reich’s expertise with science programming like Nova, plus his quirky humor, are unforgettable. Additionally, our forward-thinking music supervisor Silvia Ryder regularly connects with unsigned LA bands who provide an ever-changing soundtrack.
Around this core of production veterans, we built a team of talented, multi-hyphenate, award-winning recent film school and art school grads. It is a very unusual staff who can pretty much do anything.
LAAE: Do you have big future plans for City Walk? It could be a great concept to license in other countries!
TR: We just completed season 2, and we are proud of our Emmy Award nomination announced last month. There are now 16 completed half-hour episodes on the air and streaming online. Our next step is to expand syndication beyond KCETLink – currently in 60 million homes – to include other PBS stations in large domestic markets. An international distributor is on board to take City Walk abroad, most likely to Europe first, and that will necessitate international production. We are looking at opportunities in several foreign cities as we map out season 3, which starts production in the fall.
For a witty precursor to City Walk, see Rigler’s 2012 FunnyorDie.com short Walk & Talk: The West Wing Reunion, which stars several familiar faces from the iconic Aaron Sorkin drama. To catch full City Walk adventures, steer toward http://www.kcet.org/shows/citywalk.
July 19, 2015
By Marlene Sharp