Florian Habicht delivers band history, a 3-hour concert and a city in the 90-minute Pulp: a Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets. For the Auckland and Wellington premiere screenings, Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker will join Habicht at the post-film Q&A sessions via Skype.
Despite the film being about a British band and entirely shot in the UK, at the heart of the film is the work of Kiwi trio, Habicht, editor Peter O’Donoghue and DP Maria Ines Manchego: “our own little band” as Habicht puts it.
The three worked together on Habicht’s 2011 NZIFF-opener Love Story which, Habicht notes with a smile, is still playing festivals three years on. It picked up an Audience Award in Amsterdam at the Pluk de Nacht Open Air Film Festival, played Polish music film festival Open’er last week and will shortly play Helsinki (alongside Pulp).
Working on the “If it ain’t broke …” theory, Habicht put the core team behind Love Story back together for the UK-set film.
A longtime fan of Pulp’s music, Habicht used Love Story as his calling card to get an introduction to the band, inviting them to see his film when it was playing the London IFF in October 2012 – eight weeks before the concert around which Pulp: a Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets would be built.
Meeting with Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker before the LIFF screening, Habicht said he “wasted no time getting down to business” and pitched Cocker right off the bat. Serendipitously, Cocker was also thinking about making a film about the band, and to a fair degree was thinking about “a similar film with some of the same ingredients” – which is code for “not your average concert film”.
The finished film expertly treads the line between being enough of a music film to satisfy fans of the band, something that’s comprehensible and enjoyable for those with little or no knowledge of Pulp, and stylistically familiar enough to satisfy fans of Habicht’s oeuvre to date.
The only thing the two initially disagreed about was whether or not they could pull it off in time, with less than two months to the band’s final concert of the tour in their hometown of Sheffield and only six weeks before Habicht wanted to start shooting other material in the city. But, since the concert was not something that was going to be repeated, there wasn’t a lot of room for a compromise solution.
Habicht contacted Alex Boden, a UK-based producer he’d become friends with while they were both at the Binger Writers & Creative Producers Lab in Old Zealand in 2005. Boden came on board promptly and set about finding money to get the film made.
Habicht had to prepare a treatment for the film to pitch to potential funders, which was the biggest work of fiction he’s created in some time – inventing characters who would appear in the documentary and pitching a plan for the concert footage.
“You realise if the band don’t like it, that’s the end of the film,” said Pulp’s manager of the treatment which didn’t include much of the live concert, wasn’t a chronological telling of the Pulp story and avoided some of the things Pulp is most famous for, such as ”the Michael Jackson incident”.
Luckily the band gave Habicht’s proposal a solid “alright” – and the rest was sheer hard slog. Regional film fund Screen Yorkshire came on board and a pre-sale was made but, by the time of the shoot, there still wasn’t a lot of money confirmed even if there were plenty of rejections.
In a Skype call a couple of days before shooting the concert, the NZFC turned Habicht down, with the film not able to get over the NZ content line.
The only encouraging thing about the rejections were that many of them were simply because the time frame was too tight.
Out on the Streets
Habicht is very at home working in a guerilla way. Those who enjoyed his encounters on the streets of New York in Love Story will be equally well rewarded by the characters from the streets of Sheffield.
That guerilla style of shooting is a world away from a 12-camera shoot to capture a concert where there are no second takes. How was that part of the process?
Habicht pulls a face. “It wasn’t my favourite part of the shoot.”
Manchego ran a lot of the concert shoot, which she’d convinced Habicht needed to be a big production using high-quality gear. (The concert was shot on RED cameras.)
Berlin-based NZ filmmaker Adam Luxton joined the party to shoot some of the concert. Habicht appeared in Luxton and Jeremy Dumble’s micro-budget feature We Feel Fine, which had played the NZIFF five months before the Sheffield shoot.
One part of Habicht’s pitch to the band and investors which he hadn’t intended to be fictitious was that the concert would run for 2 – 2.5 hours. It was on that basis the planning for the concert had been made. When the band played on and the data cards started running out – well before the climax of the show – there was a considerable amount of scrambling. The team had to download data on to laptops and erase the cards before backups were made so the cards could be used to capture what was left of the night.
The sound for the entire concert was also being recorded without back-ups, through the mixing desk.
On Love Story Habicht suffered the experience of a data card with key footage being accidentally erased, so it was a nervous time. He slept better a few nights later once there were three copies of everything backed up in different locations.
After the concert O’Donoghue returned to his base in Sydney with one set of back-ups and set to editing. During post-production Boden made more sales and brought on a number of private investors to complete the film, which is produced by his Pistacchio Pictures.
On the road again
The world premiere for Pulp: a Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets at SXSW might have been Plan B but it turned out to be the right thing to do. The team had tried to get it ready for submission to Sundance and Berlin, but hadn’t been able to hit the deadlines. The film was completed after both festivals had run at the beginning of 2014, two weeks before it screened in Texas.
SXSW’s combination of film and music festival was a perfect mix for launching Pulp. As well as presenting the film and doing Q&A’s with Habicht, Cocker was able to present a songwriting masterclass in the festival’s music programme. The reviews, from both the film and music press, were enthusiastic at worst and pure fandom at their most effusive.
And, for Habicht, there was also the chance to cross paths with other Kiwis, as Housebound and What We Do in the Shadows and Paul Neason’s short Queenie also playing the festival.
In the audience for Pulp was a representative from New York’s Lincoln Center. The film will now close the Lincoln Center’s Sound & Vision series on 6 August before playing NY’s al fresco festival Rooftop Films the following night and returning Habicht to the city where he shot Love Story.
While Pulp (the band) might not have been as well-known in the US as Habicht originally imagined, two of its American fans at SXSW headed up a film distribution company. Consequently Pulp (the film) was picked up for US distribution out of SXSW by Oscilloscope Laboratories, owned by the Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch.
Pulp has also got a very strong fanbase south of the border. It’s playing in South America, including at this month’s Guanajuato Festival in Mexico, where the film was “presentado por Mark Webber, guitarrista de Pulp”.
Once the deadline for the Berlinale had been and gone, the destination for the film’s European premiere was never really up for debate, and duly took place at Sheffield’s Doc/Fest in June. Not only did the festival have to move into City Hall to accommodate the crowds for the opening night screening of the film, it also simulcast the event (including the film) into cinemas across the UK, breaking a few attendance records in the process. The film’s UK theatrical release ran from the Doc/Fest opening.
Pulp: a Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets had its video release in the UK last week. The BluRay and DVD contain additional concert footage, the editing of which have kept Habicht and O’Donoghue busy since the SXSW premiere.
There might be another release of the more straight concert film hardcore fans hanker for, delivered in time to fill Christmas stockings. O’Donoghue will edit that but Habicht’s involvement will be much more limited.
That’s fine by Habicht; he didn’t set out to pitch The Last Waltz. Even so, the ‘concert film’ credentials got a tick from The Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Dalton who said, “The group’s comeback shows felt like a triumphant lap of honor, and Habicht’s film certainly captures that feeling.”
Habicht has other projects to move on with. He’s been “jamming” with another Berlin-based NZ filmmaker, Gregory King (A Song of Good, Christmas), kicking around ideas for a feature project. Once Habicht has presented Pulp here, in Melbourne and New York, he’ll head back to Berlin until the end of the year.
He’s also working with O’Donoghue on an untitled feature script which the NZFC has just awarded Early Development Funding. It will be set in Japan and New Zealand and, said Habicht, “be a musical of sorts”. He expects it to be the next feature he shoots.
While he and O’Donoghue are writing, Manchego has gone to the US to study cinematography which, with two features and a multi-camera concert shoot in the bag, some might suggest is a case of bolting the door.
Pulp: a Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets screens in the NZIFF at the Civic on Thursday 24 and Friday 25. In Wellington it plays on Tuesday 29 July. Habicht will present the film at those screenings and do Q&A afterwards. Jarvis Cocker will join the Thursday 24 and Tuesday 29 screenings via Skype, NZ internet permitting.