How a Kiwi ended up making a film about Pulp

MICHELLE DUFF
Last updated 15:29 22/07/2014

Kiwi director Florian Habicht collaborates with Jarvis Cocker for documentary Pulp.

Pulp
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FILM-MAKER AND HIS SUBJECT: Florian Habicht and Jarvis Cocker on the red carpet.

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How do you wind up making a film about one of Britpop's biggest bands? Just flick them off an email inviting them to the movies.

New Zealand film-maker Florian Habicht was set to premiere his critically acclaimed Love Story at the London International Film Festival when he thought it might be cool if Jarvis Cocker came to see it.

"I sent him an email inviting him to Love Story in London because Pulp are one of my favourite bands and I thought they would like this film," Habicht says.

"As I wrote the email I kind of thought, 'Oh, it would be so interesting to collaborate with Jarvis Cocker'.

"I planted the seed in the email, that I thought we could come up with something."

Cocker not only came to the film, he was also keen to work with Habicht on a documentary about the Brit rockers and where they'd come from.

Pulp: A Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets premieres in the New Zealand International Film Festival at the Civic Theatre in Auckland on Thursday, before heading to the rest of the country.

It tells the story of the band who brought us Common People and This is Hardcore from the perspective of people in their home town, Sheffield, in the fly-on-the-wall style Habicht has bought to previous films Kaikohe Demolition and Love Story.

"The crazy thing was when Jarvis told me his idea for the film, it had the exact same ingredients as what I wanted to do, or what I had up my sleeve," Habicht says.

"Basically it was that it's a film about people. It's a portrait of Sheffield, not just a band, and it's not a standard rockumentary where the band are like rock gods - they're more on an even playing field."

The only hiccup was that Cocker wanted the centrepiece of the film to be a gig - billed as the band's last - that they would play in Sheffield only six weeks away.

It seemed impossible, but Habicht was determined to make it happen.

"I had to drop everything else, I dropped my other film projects and my life and went to Sheffield.

"I guess that's where my kind of Kiwi ingenuity or being an independent film-maker came in ... I'm used to starting projects quite fast."

BURNING THE MIDNIGHT OIL

Habicht had one meeting with Cocker before he left London. The songwriter went through his book, Mother, Brother, Lover, underlining placenames and scribbling notes in the margins.

One of these was "Castle markets - worth a visit".

This was the first place Habicht and producer Alex Boden went, and where he found a newspaper seller who appears in the film.

"Like lots of my docos it was spontaneous, it wasn't like researching beforehand and finding people - it was more meeting them on the street or in the pub, that kind of thing. I had this vague map of Jarvis', or Pulp's Sheffield, and we pretty much just had the camera with us.

"In real life I'm a real scaredy cat. Like crossing the road I always cross on green, but when it comes to film-making I can make a film without having a script, I'm happy to go on that ride."

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Habicht's 2011 film Love Story was filmed on the streets of Manhattan. In it he approaches New Yorkers and asks them to dictate the scenes of a love story starring him and Russian actress Masha Yakovenko.

In Pulp, he speaks to kids, football teams, old-age pensioner choirs, and anyone who has an opinion about the band on the street.

Was it difficult to approach people?

"I always love talking to strangers, it's one of my favourite things. I can be really shy too but by having a camera in your hand it's a bit like having a few drinks, it's easier to talk.

"I definitely don't have any problems approaching people and I think people like it, you can have these kind of special human connections with people you wouldn't usually meet."

He connected with the English rockers instantly, describing Jarvis as "incredibly prolific", and driven with dozens of projects on the go, but also a lot of fun.

It was weird working with a band that he had always admired, he says. One minute he'd be annoyed at one of them because they didn't reply to an email straightaway, and the next he'd be hit by the gravity of it.

"There were definitely moments, as a Pulp fan ... there's a song called Live Bed Show and Jarvis performed the song on the actual bed that the song is about. It was just him playing me the song and I was filming at his house and we were getting great footage and then I thought 'Oh this is pretty special, getting a solo concert'.

"I saw Pulp play in New York two years before that, and if someone had told me 'You're going to be making a film about them' I would have just been like 'No way'."

THE HARD ROAD TO PULP

Habicht was born in Berlin and raised in New Zealand, attending Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland.

He won best digital feature at the New Zealand Screen Awards in 2004 for Kaikohe Demolition, his heartwarming portrayal of Kaikohe's demolition derby.

Winning the Harriet Friedlander New York Artist Residency took him to New York in 2009.

While there, he was gutted to be turned down for funding by both Creative New Zealand and

The Film Commission for Love Story and a sequel to Kaikohe Demolition.

"It was like, 'Oh my God, I've been making films for like eight years, working my arse off, and now both my projects have been turned down. I was a bit heartbroken and then I just thought, 'Oh, I have to do something while I'm in New York' so I just started shooting Love Story.

"It's just a reminder of how hard it is. It gave me a sort of a fighting spirit to make it really good, and that's how Love Story came about which as a film I'm really proud of."

He's back in New Zealand for his latest film's opening and has just been granted Film Commission script development funding with director Peter O'Donaghue for a project he describes as a "musical of sorts set in Japan and New Zealand".

Pulp will also take him back overseas, for screenings at festivals in Europe and at New York's Lincoln Center.

While film-making doesn't get any easier, he feels like some of his hard work is starting to pay off. And if he has any advice to give to young film-makers, it's to hold on to an ethos that Jarvis Cocker and Pulp also work by.

"Work with people that you love, rather than people with flash credits. Pulp really stick to their guns and they're a really honest band and they don't compromise and they don't believe in b........

"You've just got to stick to your instincts and your guns. And don't always believe the experts, because the experts aren't always right."

Pulp: A Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets opens at the Auckland NZIFF on Thursday. For all other locations, dates and times, go to www.nziff.co.nz.

- Stuff

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