Going into this film, I only knew Kate Nash from GLOW, and a couple of her songs from the early 2000s. After watching “Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl,” directed by Amy Goldstein, I deeply appreciated the honest look of a girl following her dreams. It’s not sugary sweet following your dreams. It’s bitter-tasting at times, and the film portrays this with unflinching honesty, while reinvigorating one’s own sense of purpose. I could definitely see parallels between Kate’s journey and my own, but also between her journey and those of female filmmakers.
It was so refreshing discussing all of this with Amy Goldstein, we talk about the parallels between being a female filmmaker and a female music artist in the music industry, filming and telling her subject’s story in an empowering way, and the collaborative efforts between herself and Kate Nash in making this documentary. You can find the film streaming on the groundbreaking virtual cinema platform ALAMO ON DEMAND. Watch here.
REBECCA MARTIN: What brought you to this project?
AMY GOLDSTEIN: I was researching making a film about women filmmakers fighting for a chance to make films in Hollywood and how not only the narrative but reality could be changed. I was part of the EEOC investigation into the studios’ systematic discrimination of women filmmakers. But as I began to talk to other filmmakers, it felt too close to home, too personal. I was introduced to Kate Nash by our mutual hairdresser Julie Rea. She was making Kate’s hair a luminescent pink to match the vaginas Kate had built for Coachella, as her independent career was taking off.
It struck me that many tragic films about women artists in music dying were being released at that time (“Amy”, “Janis: Little Girl Blue”, “What Happened, Miss Simone?”) sending the message that in order to affect the world, you must self-destruct. I suspected that we could shift the narrative and make a film about a woman in music living and thriving, so we set out to do it.
How did you collaborate with Kate when approaching how to tell her story? I love how you integrate her songs with the story, with the lyrics flying around.
I gave Kate a camera set-up that was welcoming and asked her to record her dreams and nightmares but also the commonality of everyday life. I have done this in all of my documentaries. And on my budgets, there is no other way to make these films.
Kate took to filming. This was our unspoken collaboration. We never discussed what she filmed. And oh, did she film. It is very different for people to explore their world in an unfiltered manner with their own camera rather than always dealing with the energy of others (typically me as the DP and my producer Anouchka van Riel, who is also recording sound). Kate had a lot of fun with the camera. And went into rooms and spaces where we were not permitted.
As we have made a vérité film, Kate’s story unfolded on camera and we figured out how to condense it down into a filmic structure.
Kate was writing songs as the story unfolded, about what she was experiencing, and we used her lyrics as part of the story, including them graphically into the spaces in which she was writing and performing the songs, in a hybrid approach.
I feel Kate’s story is a microcosm of what it’s like to be a woman in the industry. One of my favorite lines is when Kate says women can’t scream in songs, but men can rap about “raping bitches”. Could you share your thoughts comparing being a female filmmaker to being a female musical artist in the industry. How did you personally connect with Kate’s story?
Yes, Kate’s story is a painful example of what it is like to be a woman in the music industry.
In film school I was free to metaphorically scream in my films. My thesis film at NYU is a lesbian vampire musical “Because the Dawn” where the French vampire screams against her invisibility (French just because everything sounds better with a French accent and I was lucky enough to cast a fabulous French singer for the part). Since school, it has been very challenging to get films financed that I am passionate about. I have written for the studios and the networks. They hire me to write stories where I am allowed freedom and outrageousness but they have never greenlit them. So, I guess being able to scream/be outrageous in movies in my work is very personal. As there is less financial risk in documentaries, I have been more free to express myself, though unable to make a living wage from documentary filmmaking.
How did you go about piecing together the snippets of Kate’s story onscreen? What was the narrative you were trying to develop through this doc?
I worked with editor Caitlin Dixon who is incredible at her craft. There would not be a film without her. She brought the story into focus, built it, paced it, made magic out of snippets until finally we had a film. When I set out to make a documentary I don’t know where the story will take me. This is why I make them. To find out, to find it. When you make documentaries, you have to stay very open to where the story takes you, and be very patient. I shot hundreds of hours.
In light of the #MeToo movement and the continuing imbalance of gender equity, I thought revealing the truth about Kate’s ex-manager was important. Can you comment on how that part became integral to Kate’s story and her becoming an independent artist through Kickstarter?
At the height of the #MeToo movement, Kate hit bottom as a result of betrayal by an industry that famously mistreats artists. There are many issues that specifically impact women in the music business: stereotyped, sexualized, and shut out (a terrific and exhaustive report was published on this issue by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative). We witness all of this in the film through Kate’s trajectory. But it was also very important for me to show that women can be in a position of power in this business and empower other women. We were lucky to film with Kate Craig Labrel who is VP A&R at Warner Records and was of tremendous support to Kate Nash throughout the film.
In order to create on her own terms, Kate went directly to her fans and asked them to fund her next album and tour on Kickstarter. She did a kick-ass campaign. And they funded her. In this extent, this film is an ode to artists who seek to create on their own terms, regardless of gender. It is the hardest thing to achieve in the arts based on my own experience.
How has your past work inspired your work in this documentary?
I have always made films about my heroes: lesbian vampires in “Because the Dawn”, hit women killers with a heart of gold in “The Silencer,” alternative families in “East of A,” (hula) hoopers in “The Hooping Life,” and the magazine Original Plumbing in “Self-Made Men.”
And music plays a really important role in all of my films. I directed music videos early on in my career, which was an amazing opportunity to tell stories purely through song. I wrote songs for “Because the Dawn” with Dan Licht (Dexter) that were performed by the underground French chanteuse Edwidge Belmore. I worked with Carol Pope (of Rough Trade) to score “The Silencer” like a B movie rock opera. And as “East of A” took place on a single day each year over a decade… I had to identify and clear an iconic song from each year that brought you back. My first feature documentary is about the cutting-edge movement/subculture of hooping. It was only when the electronic British duo Basement came on that we were successful at making the movie whole.
Music has been a very organic part of my films, and getting to score with Kate’s music for “Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl” was a dream and a privilege. She makes songs that are incredibly cinematic, and I make films that are always music-driven. A match made in heaven!