SXSW Film: Stuart Murdoch and 'God Help the Girl'

Belle & Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch talks about his directorial debut

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of (by Marisa Privetera)

Belle & Sebastian singer Stuart Murdoch has been working on the God Help the Girl project for nearly 10 years. The project finally saw the light at Sundance, and now premieres in Texas at SXSW. We spoke about his film influences, casting, and some new B+S album tidbits.

AC: What are some of your favorite films, and who are some favorite directors?

Stuart Murdoch: My favorite musical film is A Hard Days Night. You can't really get better than that. They invented the rock & roll movie. There's a British film called The Railway Children which is from the Seventies. The gang in that film is kind of like the my gang, except my gang is growing up, and doesn't know what to do with their lives.

AC: Did you have any guidance learning to direct?

SM: A Scottish director named Paul McGuigan, who does Sherlock and is a friend of mine, gave me some good advice. Barry Mendel, the producer of the film, kept me straight. We worked on the script together.

AC: What about casting? Was it difficult putting faces to these characters you'd conceptualized for so long?

SM: The most important thing about this kind of film is casting. Hannah Murray, who plays Cassie, is one of the smartest people her age that I've met. She's pretty formidable.

AC: Speaking of her, did it bug you that her character had the same name in the show Skins? Did you consider changing it?

SM: That's funny. You're the first journalist to ask me that. I didn't expect that question from an American, because that show is so British. The names and qualities of the characters were already formed in my head before Skins even aired, but yeah, I did notice that. I thought the characters personalities were different enough that it was okay. Cassie in my film is very on it, upbeat. I hear in Skins, she's more morose. Back to the other two: Olly Alexander made every bad line that I wrote work. The script just wouldn't work without someone as perfect as Olly. He just bends the lines and works it. There's some pretty wimpy stuff in there, but he does it just right. Emily is super busy all the time. She lives in an actors pod all year from city to city. We were really lucky to have her. She was at the first auditions, and we didn't get back to her 'til six months later, and by that time, she thought we weren't making the movie anymore. We all had a great time making it.

AC: Did all the actors do their own vocals?

SM: Oh yeah. Absolutely. Everyone who auditioned had to sing as well as act. Everybody sent me a song. Olly sent me one of his own songs which was pretty bold. He's super musical. He has his own group now. We recorded most of the vocals, or at least scratch vocals, before we started filming. A lot of the vocals in the film are recorded live while filming. I knew that would make them feel like the characters.

AC: What can you tell me about the new Belle and Sebastian album?

SM: Well, we're here in Atlanta recording. We're on day five, and we're doing a song a day. It's been about three or four years since the last one. I love recording. About every 10 years we have an album that it seems a lot is riding on. Stevie (Jackson) is doing avant garde recitals, like spoken-word recitals inspired by the songs. He's been sort of rapping away which is different but I like 'cause it's pretty left-field. A couple of the songs have a hi-NRG quality, a Euro-disco Eighties sort of vibe.

God Help the Girl plays at The Paramount Theatre today, Saturday, March 15, 5pm.

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