By John Curley
I recently had the privilege to view the wonderful short film Midnight Of My Life. The film is a fictional account of a gig that the late Steve Marriott, the star-crossed former frontman of The Small Faces and Humble Pie, played with his band Packet of Three at a pub in the Putney section of London on July 13, 1985. That day, many of Marriott’s contemporaries were performing before a television audience in the millions at the massive Live Aid concert at London’s Wembley Stadium. Midnight Of My Life features Martin Freeman, who starred in the original BBC version of The Office as well as The Hobbit film franchise and who currently stars in the BBC series Sherlock (which airs on PBS in the USA), in the role of Marriott. The film was directed by the veteran British actor Phil Davis, who starred in the film Vera Drake, the iconic 1979 Mod film Quadrophenia, as well as the BBC’s Whitechapel TV series. The score of the film was done by Andy Bell, who has been in the bands Ride, Oasis, and Beady Eye. The film also features the actors Theo Barklem-Biggs, Jack Baggs, and Elliot Brown.
In a press release for the film, Freeman stated, “Marriott has been a huge figure in my life since my teens. I think he had a funny relationship with fame and being a pop star, which I totally understand. I do a pretty mean Steve impression on left-handed air guitar, but miming right-handed with the real thing was a bit of a challenge!"
In the same press release, director Davis said, “Steve Marriott was a brilliant songwriter, mean guitarist, and had one of the all-time great rock-and-roll voices. This little film is a fitting tribute to him and all the other talents who fell from grace but carried on playing because they loved it.”
I recently conducted an e-mail Q&A with Midnight Of My Life screenwriter Nina Gerstenberger about the film. The results of the Q&A follow:
GOLDMINE: What interested you in writing about Steve Marriott?
NINA GERSTENBERGER: I’ve been a Small Faces fan since I was a kid. When I read Steve’s biography, I felt that his life was not only incredibly inspiring but also extremely funny at times and sad and tragic at others. Steve was only with us for 44 years but he lived such an amazing life it would probably take a Lord Of TheRings-esque trilogy to tell it all on film!
The word ‘icon’ is often used inappropriately—but Steve was one. He was a Mod icon, one of the best songwriters ever, an incredible guitarist and, in my opinion, the best white soul singer ever. And yet, despite all this, he isn’t a household name around the globe as he should be. Film is a powerful medium, and I feel it can be used to introduce Steve’s music and life to a wider audience.
GM: There is a pair of very well-known actors involved in the film. Martin Freeman stars as Marriott in the film. And it was directed by the veteran actor Phil Davis. In addition, Andy Bell did the score. What was it about the subject matter that made them want to be involved in the film?
NG:Their love for Steve Marriott’s music. He's a hero to all of them, so it was a labor of love for Andy, Phil, and Martin just as it was for me and producer Hatty Hodgson and everyone else who worked on the project. According to Martin, he had always wanted to play Steve but as he got older he gave up on his dream because he knew he would be too old to play a young Steve. But then our script appeared on his table...
GM: Martin Freeman was your first choice to play Marriott in the film. Were you surprised when he agreed to do it?
NG:Because I knew that Martin is a Mod, I hoped that the script and story would interest him. But never in a million years did I really believe that we would get him. The worst part was when I heard that he liked the script and wanted to do it but wasn’t sure yet if he would be available. It was a waiting game and thanks to the great negotiations and organization by our producers, we were able to find a two-day window in April 2015 where Martin would be available to film in London. So we were extremely lucky!
GM: How did Phil Davis become involved with the film?
NG:Hatty and I felt that we needed an experienced director for the project as getting the financing for the film would be even more difficult if three ‘no-names’ were making the film. We also felt that it would be beneficial for the story if it would be someone who can relate to the Mod scene and understands what Steve’s music meant (and means) to people. Phil is an Honorary Associate of the London Film School, from which Hatty, Pamela Drameh (our co-producer), and myself have graduated from. Hatty had met Phil briefly at an LFS networking event and this enabled her to contact him and send him the script. He’s a big Marriott fan and felt this would be an important story to tell so, although he hadn’t directed in many years and hadn’t planned to do so, he was happy to come on board.
GM: How much time did you spend working on the screenplay?
NG:Not much at all compared to how much time I have spent /am spending on my feature-film screenplays! But then again, the script was only about six pages long. The story-finding process took a few months, but the actual writing only a few days.
GM: Why did you choose to focus on July 13, 1985, the day of the Live Aid concert, as the time frame for the film?
NG:Steve lived such an amazing life and there’s so many wonderful anecdotes about him that we were spoiled for choice. But a great anecdote doesn’t necessarily work as a film. We wanted to pick a moment from Steve’s life that would be poignant and meaningful and reflect positively on who he was and what he meant to his fans. But we also wanted to pick a story that would have meaning to members of the audience who are not familiar with Steve’s life or music. The irony of Steve playing in a dingy pub while his old mates perform in front of millions spoke volumes about his career and him as a person. We felt this setting had the potential to tell a story that was poignant but also moving and funny at the same time.
GM: What was the experience like for you to see the film come together and turn out so well?
NG:It was one of the best experiences in my life, and definitely the best I ever had in my filmmaking career. I will always treasure the two days I was able to spend on set, which was the most rewarding experience ever.
The experience of making this film will hopefully continue to inspire me and give me strength to keep on working hard to make my feature projects happen.
GM: The film uses some video and audio of The Boomtown Rats performing at Live Aid as well as audio of Marriott performing a rip-roaring live version of The Small Faces’ “What’cha Gonna Do About It?” Was it difficult to get the rights to use those songs and the Live Aid video?
NG:I think it wasn’t difficult to get the rights but we knew from the outset that only using short clips of those songs would cost us a lot of money. Hence, the music licensing was a relatively big junk in our overall budget. (And so was Martin's wig, by the way!)
GM: I really enjoyed the film, and I thought it was quite poignant. Since the film has been shown at film festivals in the UK, I was curious about the reaction of audiences to it. Are you pleased with how it’s been received?
NG:Coming back to your previous question about what the experience was like for me to make this film—the audience reaction is also a crucial reason why making this film was so fantastic and rewarding. We couldn’t have hoped for a better reaction. People love the film, even those who are not familiar with Steve. Many of his fans feel that the film is making a poignant statement about the music business. It was also great to hear from people who actually saw him live in the 80’s, or even met him, that we captured Steve—and the time—perfectly. I’m very happy and proud about the positive reaction from the fans. And what’s more, they’ve supported us from the outset—with words of encouragement—or by donating to our crowdfunding campaign. This film wouldn’t have happened without Steve’s fans, so I’m very happy that we could meet their expectations.
GM: Despite being an incredibly talented vocalist and frontman, Marriott never seems to get the credit that he deserves. That is particularly true in America. Do you hope that the film can raise Marriott’s profile and make viewers recall what a fantastic talent he was?
NG:Absolutely. This is one of the main reasons we wanted to make this short film (and want to make a feature film about him, hopefully, as well). Friends of mine who’ve seen Midnight, and who are not familiar with Steve, have said to me that now they want to check his music out and find out more about him. That’s wonderful and exactly what we’ve set out to achieve. If Midnight Of My Life can help to raise Steve’s profile and introduce his music to younger generations, then we know we’ve done a good job.
GM: Are there any plans to screen the film at film festivals in America? If so, which ones?
NG:We have submitted the film to various film festivals in the US. Some of them have already rejected us, others we still are waiting to hear back from. So hopefully we’ll get into at least one American festival and have a proper ‘US-premiere' of Midnight, which would hopefully help to introduce the film to American audiences.
GM: Will the film be submitted for short-subject consideration by the BAFTAs and/or the Academy Awards?
NG:It was shortlisted for a BAFTA but didn’t receive a nomination in the end. As far as I know, your film needs to win at least one award at a major film festival to be eligible to submit it to the Academy Awards. As this hasn’t happened for us, we weren’t able to submit Midnight to the Academy.
GM: Could you discuss the crowdfunding effort that provided the financing for the film? How long did it take? And how much did you raise?
NG:As we didn’t receive any funding from the official film-funding bodies in the UK, crowdfunding was our only hope to get this film made. We used a site called Crowdshed, and our aim was to raise £12000 (approximately $15,689 US—Ed.). Funders were able to pledge any amount they chose to in return for rewards such as posters, T-shirts, or the opportunity to be an extra in the film. The actual campaign lasted six weeks if I remember correctly and if we wouldn’t reach the £12000, all the money already pledged would remain with the funders. So it was crucial we reached the £12000. We did a lot of social-media promotion during the campaign and also (at least in my case) harass family and friends to give as much as they could! It was a slow start but towards the end it really picked up and we ended up with being ‘over-funded’ and made about £15500 (approximately $20,265 US—Ed.)!
GM: Are there any plans to make a feature-length version of Midnight Of My Life?
NG: Yes. Hatty and I are currently at very early stages of the script-development process of a biopic about Steve. I hope very much that we will be able to make this film. After all, that was the main reason we made Midnight—to attract interest in a feature film about him. From an audience POV, we have succeeded—the fans want to see more of Steve, that’s for sure! Now we have to convince the people who give the money as well! And by that I don’t mean another crowdfunding campaign. For a feature, we will need the support of official film-funding bodies and production companies this time.
GM: You previously made a documentary, We Are The Mods, about the Mod culture in the UK. What is it about Mod that speaks to you?
NG:I wouldn’t class myself as a Mod but I love everything about Mod culture – the music, the fashion, the scooters, the clothes, the attitude towards life—to enjoy and make the best out of it! Everything about it is simply wonderful and I’ve made many friends who share this passion thanks to making We Are The Mods and Midnight.
GM: What will be your next project?
NG: Hopefully the biopic about Steve and also my script about Non-League football that's already written and just needs a director now to take the project to the next level!
Midnight Of My Life can be purchased for viewing worldwide at http://midnightofmylife.vhx.tv/.
The trailer for the film can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-EUiH_sHLY.
Additional information about the film can be found at http://www.midnightofmylife.com.