When Belle & Sebastian lead singer Stuart Murdoch put out a cryptic call online for singers to bring his ‘60s pop girl group-inspired side project “God Help the Girl,” to life, he surely didn’t know he’d be getting a film producer in return.
“I sent [an e-mail] care of the band’s Web site, not knowing if he’d ever get it,” said Barry Mendel, whose eyes darted to fine print that seemed to suggest a film was in the works. After penning a heartfelt message about how the band’s music never seemed to leave the frontlines of his iPod, he was pleasantly surprised when Murdoch wrote back, “Well, I have a similar relationship to the films that you’ve produced.”
Mendel, the producer who helped shepherd the feature directorial debuts of Drew Barrymore ("Whip It") and Joss Whedon ("Serenity") as well as tended to some of the best work of Wes Anderson, M. Night Shyamalan and Judd Apatow, and Murdoch are now counting on other fans of the band to help with a Kickstarter campaign, so that filming can get underway in Glasgow next summer.
That would mark the culmination of a nearly five-year journey for the pair who have been developing the film on and off across the Atlantic, the basis for their tongue-in-cheek pitch video. The story for “God Help the Girl” actually began back in 2003 when Murdoch found himself writing songs not with his falsetto in mind, but in the voice of Eve, a wayward twentysomething girl whose independence has come at the expense of distrusting others until she lands at the hospital and begins to recover with the help of two fellow aspiring musicians, James and Cass. Murdoch had to set the project aside on occasion to tour with the band, but eventually the songs became the foundation for the “God Help the Girl” album in 2009, for which Belle & Sebastian provided backup to a group of unknowns (Dina Bankole, Catherine Ireton, Celia Garcia, and Brittany Stallings) that he found in the open casting call that caught Mendel’s attention.
“There’s all kinds of different approaches to using music in film and this combines elements of each,” said Mendel, who describes the film adaptation being told in a mix of styles from the singing-to-the-camera approach of “Grease” to the naturalism of Lars von Trier’s “Dancing in the Dark” during one specific dream sequence to “Hard Day’s Night”-esque montages. “One of the things I think is unique here is I can’t remember a time when a pop music artist wrote, directed and created the music for a musical film.”
While that may make “God Help the Girl” sound like a risky proposition for traditional film investors, it’s one ideally suited for the true believers on Kickstarter. A fair share of the money will be raised through traditional channels – international presales, tax rebates and private investors – but as Mendel notes, besides the financial need, “The whole way Stuart works is very collaborative and he likes to have a group around him, so the idea of having people involved with us and on the team makes it more fun. It makes it feel more real.”
It also only makes sense after Murdoch has gone to such great lengths to keep fans involved in the film’s production since 2009 on the film’s Web site. The first-time writer/director has kept a comprehensive diary, posted cover versions of songs from the album and fielded countless queries in a Q & A section as to when the film will come out, as well as more serious matters like “the best advice for getting over someone” or “do women always look much hotter in black and white?” While the latter stumped him (given he’s colorblind), Murdoch’s been game to answer anything with honesty and a rapier wit, which is just one of the reasons why Mendel is convinced he’s going to make a great filmmaker.
“I find when I’m working with him on something and we talk about a creative problem, the way that he thinks about it or his answers to my questions surprise me and make me think,” said Mendel. “Without trying to be outside the box, the way his mind works naturally is consistently challenging and refreshing. I haven’t had that experience and to this degree since I was doing the early films with Wes Anderson. They’re very different creative types, but it’s one of the ways in which you know there’s genuine originality at work as opposed to someone trying to be original.”
That originality extends to turning to crowdsourcing, which if successful could serve as a model for more larger-scale indie productions to seek out a piece of its initial budget rather than the whole on sites like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. However, the creative team behind “God Help the Girl” is only concerned with getting their story in front of the cameras this May, which should surely be incredible if it's anything close to the one that's happened behind the scenes.
To back this project and see Stuart Murdoch's personal pitch video, visit the Kickstarter page for "God Help The Girl" here. And follow the film's progress on Facebook, Twitter, and its official site.