Ahead of tomorrow’s special preview of GOD HELP THE GIRL – which includes a special live set from indie-pop titans Belle & Sebastian streamed live via satellite – the band’s co-founder Stuart Murdoch talked to Kiri Inglis, marketing manager at Greenwich Picturehouse, about his directorial debut.
GOD HELP THE GIRL tells the story of Eve, who absconds from a Glasgow rehab centre and seeks redemption for herself and her friends through music.
Kiri Inglis: All of your songs have a very filmic quality – you’re a born storyteller. How long have you been thinking of telling a story through film?
Stuart Murdoch: Good question. Sometimes I used to get frustrated when people came along and did a video for one of our songs. They always missed the plot of the story and made something abstract. I thought to myself that I’d love to make films of my own songs, where what you see in the film is what actually happens in the song. It kind of just went from there.
KI: How did you find the transition from songwriting to taking on the very weighty task of both writing and directing your first film? Did anything surprise you about the process?
SM: Well, the thing is, these things never seem weighty at the time; it’s almost like starting out in a new relationship where everything’s great, it’s the honeymoon period. You don’t get into a new relationship thinking: “Oh my God I’m going to be with this person in 20 years’ time and it’s going to be a real drag and we’re going to have mortgages together.” It seduces you. The ideas come first of all – you get a couple of songs coming along, then the character of Eve came along. They all sort of seduce you, and you think: “Well, I should have a go at writing a script.” It didn’t get heavy until it actually came to raising money and casting the thing.
KI: I understand the casting was quite a lengthy process. I’ve been following the film’s website, and saw that you had a few ideas for actors in the beginning, and they’ve evolved over time. Why did you decide to cast English and Australian actors, rather than Scottish ones?
SM: I’ll tell you why – because they were the best, and any fledgling director would probably have the same answer. When it comes down to it, you’re quite happy to adapt the script and your characters to the circumstances when the people involved are the best. Originally there were meant to be two Scottish and maybe one English or one American characters, and it ended up being two English and an Australian – I never planned that. Those guys were the best people.
KI: Was there any temptation to ask them to put on a Scottish accent?
SM: They all tried! Emily [Browning], bless her, what did she sound like? I don’t know, something out of Brigadoon or something! Honestly, I gave her about three-and-a-half minutes, and then said she didn’t need to, it was ok.
KI: So she was let off the hook on that one.
SM: Yeah – then Hannah [Murray] tried an American accent when I suggested that Cassie might have been American. It was a fine accent, but I just didn’t believe it, just couldn’t swallow it – so I didn’t think the audience would swallow it.
KI: Was it always going to be a musical? And have you always been a fan of musicals?
SM: It was always going to be a musical – otherwise I would never have made it. The music came first, that was the major force that inspired me to get into this. I would never have made a film unless the music was cajoling me the whole way. I’m not a big fan of musicals per se. I remember, as a kid, not liking musicals that much, and being bored between songs. But I guess, with a certain amount of hubris, what you imagine is “I can make a musical, I must try to make a musical that I would like.” There aren’t many musical films that I like. I love films like GREASE and CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY – films that have music in them – but not so much CAROUSEL or SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS – you know, all the old Hollywood stuff.
KI: Was there a lot of serendipity throughout the filming process? Did you have to think on your feet a lot?
SM: On the very first day, I thought it was amazing. On my first day as a director we were doing part of the dance where Eve and a ballet dancer go down a dark lane to pick up drugs from these guys while they’re singing. They sent us two extras that looked like English Literature students, they were completely wrong – and I said that. We were in the lane thinking what to do when these two guys climbed over the wall and said: “Aye, what’s going on? What are you up to? You making a film?” I just turned and said, “Get them, use them” – and we put them straight in! They were absolutely fine.
KI: Where did the story come from? Have you drawn a lot from your own experience?
SM: I have. From quite a long time ago, the world I knew in the late ‘80s or the early ‘90s, and the people I knew around then. It’s the most confusing bit that I’ve used.
KI: Did you enjoy the scriptwriting process?
SM: I remember when I was first writing the script and I was letting the characters talk, I was having the time of my life. I was having a break from the band and I was free to do it – there was amazing freedom. I took my bike out every day and took it easy. But then getting down to it, finalising it, being criticized and being pulled around is tougher. I’d still go through it again. It’s like pregnancy – my wife had a hellish time giving birth, but she still wants to have another! You forget about it.
Join us for this special preview of GOD HELP THE GIRL, followed by a live set from Belle & Sebastian themselves – broadcast via satellite from Edinburgh’s Corn Exchange, and featuring songs from the film as well as the band’s own material. Saturday 16 August. Click here for booking information