Elizabeth Marcus & Kurt Engfehr
On ‘No Manifesto – A Film About Manic Street Preachers’
September 2009
Feature & Questionnaire: Steve Bateman

“In 1991, a band from South Wales with the unlikely name of Manic Street Preachers came on to the British music scene proclaiming their ambition to make one album, sell 16 million copies of it, and then split up. 18 years, nine albums, one missing member, and many controversies later, they are still here. In No Manifesto, this colourful and contentious band faces off with their equally colourful and contentious fans in a verité multimedia mash-up experiment that will turn the traditional rock ‘n’ roll documentary upside-down and shake it until all the change falls out of its pockets.

For the making of No Manifesto, the Manics provided unprecedented access. For the first time ever, they allowed cameras into the studio while they were at work, creating their 2007 album Send Away The Tigers. The film will take a fascinating look at the band’s creative process, showing their working dynamic and illustrating how a song evolves from lyric to demo to final mix. Also included are interviews given exclusively for this project and candid scenes of the day-to-day lives of the band members both at and away from work. Featuring footage shot at rehearsals, recording sessions, performances, band members homes and a variety of other locations combined with archival materials, plus interviews in which fans provide commentary, lore, criticism and praise, No Manifesto smashes the rock-cliché candy shell to get to the creamy human centre of one of Britain’s most confounding bands.” OFFICIAL NO MANIFESTO SYNOPSIS


Directed by Elizabeth Marcus and Produced / Edited by Kurt Engfehr (Pollywog Travesty LLC / Wibbly Wobbly Productions), who worked as a Sound Editor / Archivist and as the Editor / Co-producer on the Oscar-winning Michael Moore film, Bowling For Columbine, respectively. No Manifesto is the long-awaited documentary about the Manic Street Preachers, which after being diligently and painstakingly researched, and having had a lengthy gestation period, is now thankfully nearing completion and soon-to-be-released. Understandably (and coupled with Nicky’s recent promise that he has a stockpile of lyrics for the Manics’ tenth studio album, bandying about ‘Heavy Metal Tamla Motown’ as a potential musical concept), this is an extremely exciting prospect for every MSP Fan. And for anyone who knows anything about the band at all, they will no doubt be aware of just how important / opinionated their fanbase is and how it could even be said to now exist separately from the group itself. As it’s an all-inclusive faction that revolves around values, principles and belief systems. Which in the Manics’ early days, drew a large number of female followers due to the band’s sensitivity towards women and even saw the group’s chief spokesmen and obsessive letter writers, the inseparable Richey and Nicky, embracing / celebrating their feminine sides with ‘A mess of eyeliner and spraypaint. DIY destruction on Chanel chic’. An antidote to the despondency the four-piece felt inside and a tradition that The Wire (along with his acidic tongue, feather boas, glitter, leopard-print, lipstick traces and tiaras), proudly carries on onstage to this day! Genuinely believing that art could change the world and preaching to young minds through ‘Culture, Alienation, Boredom and Despair’ – with the intended purpose of making people think. At the time, John Robb wrote an impassioned article for Sounds entitled, ‘Sex, Style and Subversion’, which detailed the band’s firebrand politics, bravado and kohl-eyed raging fury, undoubtedly attracting many a curious music fan into the MSP fold, and for some, even providing an emotional refuge.

Fully conscious of this well-versed and ‘devouring’ fan culture, the New York-based Elizabeth and Kurt went straight to the source as early as 2002, by posting messages on related Internet Forums and actively seeking disciples who would be interested in getting involved with the No Manifesto project in its development stages. As the initial phase of the project, interviews began on the Forever Delayed Tour that same year and continued right through until 2007, when filming finally wrapped. In total, Elizabeth and Kurt spoke to over 75 fans, conducting on-camera interviews with every fan who they could either travel to, or who could travel to them – shooting in Holland, Germany and America as well as in the UK. In February 2007, they also posted the following message on Internet Forums, “We are looking for questions to ask the band during a series of special fan-question-based interviews and encourage you to e-mail WibblyWobblyProductions@yahoo.com any questions that you would like to ask band members individually, as well as ones that you would like to ask the band as a whole. Feel free to be as concise or as wordy as you like, and ask as many questions as you want. We are looking for the widest possible variety of kinds of questions, from the serious to the frivolous.” Fans were also asked to submit original photographs and cover versions from all eras of the group’s career, for possible inclusion in the final cut of the film.

Elizabeth and Kurt have continually stressed, “The creativity of the Manics’ audience will be a crucial part of No Manifesto. This is not going to be the typical Manics documentary with the same set of journalists, music industry people and Manics ‘insiders’ saying the same things as they have in just about every Manics programme that has ever been made. The fans are to be an integral part of this project. The purpose of this film will be to illustrate the history and future of the Manics, and the colour and vitality of their fan community from a different perspective than has been offered by just about all of the band's past media coverage.”

Continuing, “With a contentious fanbase and a music press that have historically displayed towards them a bizarre combination of reverence, contempt, admiration and hostility, their fundamental message of encouraging independent thought and ideas has often been ignored in favour of a more literal interpretation of their name. In their early days, the band gained notoriety more for their aggressive self-promotion tactics than for their music. They were vocal in expressing their ambitions, and outspoken about their political beliefs. A perception was created that has remained to this day; that this was a band that intended not so much to entertain as to educate their followers. Upon examination of their history, however, it becomes quite evident that, despite that perception, Manic Street Preachers have never espoused a hard-and-fast set of beliefs. They have pursued whatever interested them at the time, and have shared those interests with their fans through their music and their interviews. Although many would insist that they have taken stances and then betrayed them, the Manics through their history have never told anyone what to think or how to think, only to think, full stop. When the Manics took a quote by Aneurin Bevan to title one of their albums, it wasn't simply a snappy line, but rather a statement of their attitude towards living and learning: This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours.

Often almost forgotten amongst all these other issues is the music itself. In many ways, the Manics have never really been taken seriously as musicians, but they are indeed very dedicated to the music itself. They started out with a reputation for being “the band that couldn't play,” but with unwavering effort they have developed their musical talents and expanded their scope. Their catalogue presents a band that is musically fearless, unafraid to try different styles, unwilling to tailor their sound to what the fans, the press, the record company, or indeed anyone but themselves wants or expects from them. In the words of Sean Moore, “We get bored easily… and we're always trying to take things to the limit of our abilities. We don't get it right all the time, but at least we're there, pushing our frontiers.” We intend with this film to present a well-rounded picture of a controversial band that through all its ups and downs, its negative and positive views and experiences, its successes and its failures, has continued to grow and change, to inspire discussion, debate, admiration and derision, to fulfil that stated ambition to make people think and become aware, and above everything, to make memorable and meaningful music.”

As the years have passed, a privileged few have been lucky enough to view the film in embryonic form, firstly during work-in-progress test-screenings at the ‘Cardiff Screen Festival’ in November 2006, and then at the ‘Sheffield Documentary Film Festival’ in November 2008. But outside of this and away from Internet Forums / Blogs, very little is still known about No Manifesto. So, anxious to find out more, I contacted Elizabeth and Kurt, who then graciously agreed to answer an Exclusive Q&A about the film (also coinciding with MSP’s first North American Tour in 10 years) and their continued commitment to capturing the Manic Street Preachers on celluloid. A documentary that is certain to encapsulate the group’s dignified and humane songs, their intellectualism, their melancholia, their iconoclasm, their manifestos, their iconography and their mythology, not to mention their many re-inventions, self-contradictions, sound-bites and sincerity, highlighting just how much they have always believed in what they do. And for newcomers, it will unquestionably open up a portal to a whole new world of art, bands, books, films, political figures (how many other groups can lay claim to having dedicated an award to Arthur Scargill?), history… the list is endless! Something that James astutely likened to the Manics’ own experiences growing up as consumers of culture and being affected by musicians as, “A philanthropic chain letter.” In fact, the four friends were a driven and focused “band before they’d even picked up guitars,” albeit a bedroom one to begin with.

In conclusion, Nicky once said, “Every generation has a defining moment – we are yours.” A bold and confident statement for sure, but one which when enforced with the group’s records, a compendium such as ‘Everything’ by Simon Price and No Manifesto, could well turn out to resonate with future generations alike. Particularly given the fact that the Manics have that vampiric desire, where new blood remains so vital to their very existence! And hopefully, this documentary will also help the band inspire a wealth of new groups, which is something that they still feel they are yet to achieve. As one journalist put it, “Manic Street Preachers stand for something that stands alone,” with Nicky’s own take being, “All you can do is leave clues throughout history towards something better – towards progress.”

Rendered in microscopic detail, it goes without saying, that No Manifesto is set to paint an intimate and unique portrait of a very unique band…

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

1. When did you first discover the Manic Street Preachers and what was it that drew you to the band and their music?
“Elizabeth discovered the Manics in early 2001, when an online friend recommended This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours. The initial attraction was to James’ voice, then she became interested in the lyrics and the band's story. Kurt wasn't impressed by the Manics at first, but through prolonged exposure was eventually won over.”

2. Do you have a favourite Manics era / any favourite songs, albums, artwork and videos + had you ever seen them playing live prior to embarking on the No Manifesto project?
“We like things from all eras of the Manics, but had not seen the band playing live before starting the project.”

Kurt’s Favourite Manics things…

Freedom Of Speech Won’t Feed My Children
Faster – but only live!

Know Your Enemy

Anything that’s not by Jenny Saville

Kevin Carter and Faster in a dead-tie

Elizabeth’s Favourite Manics things…

Anything she listened to on headphones in the middle of the night to unwind, in various lodgings around the UK and Europe during her two years as a one-person crew.

She finds The Holy Bible, Everything Must Go, This Is My Truth, Know Your Enemy and Lifeblood all equally great.

Faster/PCP and Revol singles

A Design For Life
Kevin Carter

3. Can you remember when you originally had the idea of making a documentary on the group, and in your minds, did you know exactly what you wanted to achieve?
“We originally had the idea for the documentary in the fall of 2002, when discussing our dissatisfaction with the fact that many people seemed to think that Richey stories were the only interesting ones there were to tell about the Manics, and that crazy Richey fan stories were the only interesting ones to tell about their fans. We felt that James, Sean and Nicky, had been treated by books and documentary programmes as little more than Richey’s supporting cast, and that the fans had been portrayed as risible nutters. We felt there was a lot more to this band and their fans than that, and we wanted to do a film that would show aspects of the Manics and their fans that were different to what had been shown before.”

4. To date, MSP have gone on record as saying that they don’t feel any medium – from books to TV programmes etc. – has ever truly “got through to their essence.” Was this something that you were conscious of and did it put any additional pressure on your shoulders?
“No, we were not conscious of that at all. They liked our vision and told us to make the film we wanted to make, and so we didn’t feel any pressure other than what we put on ourselves.”

5. How did you first approach the band and their management – were they open to the idea early on, or did it take a while for you to get the go-ahead?
“We didn’t initially assume that the band would participate in our film themselves. We hoped that they would, and sent a treatment for the film to Hall or Nothing, but we also thought that we could make an interesting little film using fan interviews and archival materials. Our plan was to start making that film, and see what happened, and that’s exactly what we did. The band wasn’t interested in participating at first, but then we caught their attention with a 20-minute trailer that we cut in 2003 that gave them a better idea of what we were trying to do. They liked the trailer a lot, but had to go away and think about whether or not they wanted to commit to a major project. During that time, they wrote and recorded Lifeblood, and we continued work on the interesting little film that would not require their participation. Their decision to get involved fully came in late 2004. With that came an increase in scope for the film, and a whole new set of needs and schedules to take into consideration, and our interesting little film became the major production that is now nearly finished today.”

6. You were extremely fortunate to be given unprecedented access to James, Nicky and Sean – is this what you had hoped for, or were you surprised when this was made possible, and can we expect any major revelations in the film?

“We intended to make a film regardless of whether it would feature that kind of access to the band or not. We did dream of making a film with the full co-operation of the band, and prepared for it, but we also prepared to make one even if all we could get from them was an hour on camera or a written interview like this one. We are gratified that through our hard work and our dedication to the project, we were able to earn that access. As for major revelations, well, we suppose that depends on what you think you know about the band!”

7. What were your first impressions of meeting James, Nicky and Sean + how would you describe each of them as interviewees?
First impression of Nicky – He stands up straight when tall people are around.

First impression of Sean – He understands and respects what we’re trying to do.

First impression of James – He’s anxious but willing.

Nicky as an interviewee – A pontificator.

Sean as an interviewee – Surprisingly gregarious.

James as an interviewee – He’s anxious but willing.

8. Has No Manifesto been shot on film or digitally, and what was the timeframe from the day filming first began right through to its completion?
“No Manifesto has been shot primarily on professional high-definition video. It has taken seven years.”

9. Why has the documentary taken so long to finish – was this intentional or were other factors involved?
“We started this project out of personal interest, not knowing exactly what to expect and up for an adventure. When we set out to make it, we didn’t think it would take more than a couple of years, but once the band got involved, we had to work around their needs and schedules. Given the break they took to make and tour their solo albums, plus their family commitments and the complications we faced in scheduling overseas shoots, it took longer to gather all the material we would need for a full-length film than we had thought or hoped it would. Additional delays have been caused by the fact that we have financed this project entirely by ourselves, and so have periodically had to suspend production to take some time to earn money with which to support ourselves and continue to pay for it.”

10. How many hours of footage have you accumulated over the years / how did you go about sifting through all of this to be able to finally edit it together coherently, and will it be shown in chronological order?
“We've got approximately 300 hours of footage altogether. That includes what we've shot ourselves with the band and the fans, plus archival materials. Sifting through that amount of footage to create a coherent movie is one of the great challenges of documentary filmmaking. Basically, our approach is to watch the footage, pull out the bits we like and think are relevant, and link them together to create a narrative. Every so often we show rough-cuts to people to determine whether the constructed narrative is coherent. Then we repeat that process as many times as necessary, continuing to build and refine the story until it is complete. Some aspects of the film are in chronological order and some are not.”

11. Continuing with this train of thought, how did you put your crew together and how would you say your professional backgrounds / skills helped shape this project?

“The core filmmaking team consisted of ourselves plus a longstanding working partner of ours, Chuck Miller, who was almost as important and involved a contributor to this production as either of us. Crews consisted of friends and colleagues who had an interest in the project and/or who we had worked with in the past, and of people who were recommended by friends, colleagues and people we had worked with in this past. We worked with very small crews and each did a lot of different jobs ourselves. To a great extent, who was on our crew depended upon who was available where, when, and for what price, as most documentary crews do. Our professional backgrounds and skills shaped this project by virtue of the fact that we are experienced documentary filmmakers. After working in many capacities on many films, we wanted to take what we had learned working on other people’s productions and see what kind of film that we could create on our own.”

12. Are there any specific music documentaries that you used as reference points?
“We watched many different music and pop culture related documentaries over the course of making our film. We learned from all of them, but there are no specific films that we used as reference points.”

13. How long do you expect the final cut of No Manifesto to be?
“The final cut of the film is expected to be between 100 and 105 minutes.”

14. MSP Fans have obviously been extremely important throughout this entire process and will feature heavily in the finished film. Can you tell us about your experiences of meeting and interviewing the fans?

“Meeting and interviewing the fans has been a highly rewarding part of making this film. For the first two years of production, Elizabeth was a one-person crew, travelling around the UK and Europe with a mini DV cam interviewing fans and shooting B-roll, and that was quite an exciting and educational experience for her. Throughout the process, the fans that we have interviewed have been friendly, helpful, and very excited about participating. We deeply appreciate the support, co-operation and encouragement we’ve received from the fans during the course of the project.”

15. Were you pleased with the reaction to the recent ‘Sheffield Documentary Film Festival’ No Manifesto work-in-progress test-screening, and was the Director Q&A session that followed afterwards, beneficial to you?
“Yes, we were very pleased. We believe that work-in-progress screenings are a vital element of the documentary filmmaking process. The experience of watching the film with an audience and seeing how they react, plus the direct feedback we receive in such screenings gives us a measure of whether our story is coming across and what needs to be done to communicate it more effectively.”

16. Some people may be surprised to learn that Americans have made this documentary, given the fact that the Manic Street Preachers remain a relatively unknown entity in North America. But do you think that along with this film and that the trio are touring Journal For Plague Lovers there in the Autumn, there’s a strong possibility that they could still increase their fanbase / profile in the USA and Canada?
“We certainly hope so, and don’t see why not!”

17. Will you be covering the Manics’ North American JFPL Tour in September and October?
“We currently have no plans to film on the Manics’ North American Tour, as we already have sufficient coverage of the release of Journal For Plague Lovers.”

18. How have you found looking for distributors for No Manifesto?
“The film is not yet ready for distribution, we have not yet fully explored distribution options.”

19. When can we expect the finished film to be released, and will it be shown in theatres worldwide as well as being issued on DVD with extras – if so, can you give us any teasers of the special features that might be included on the disc?
“The finished film will be released in theatres as soon as possible, and on DVD some time thereafter. There are no release details yet available. A lot of it depends on forces that are beyond our control. The DVD will feature deleted/extended scenes and concert footage/music videos as extras. For examples of things that might or might not be included on the DVD, please see our YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/NoManifestoFilm.”

20. How did you decide on the title, No Manifesto, and were there any alternative titles that were nearly used + have you thought about promotional materials such as the film poster etc.?
“The title came from the following 1991 quote from Nicky Wire: “If literature or music can make you think or become aware, then it's done something, and that's what we've always wanted to do, just ignite sparks in people's minds. We can't offer a manifesto: How To Make Your Life Better.” This quote heads the film, and sums up what Elizabeth has always found most appealing about the Manics. No other title was ever considered. As for promotional materials, no final decisions have yet been made.”

21. What are some of your favourite moments in the documentary?
Some of Kurt’s favourite moments in the documentary are…

Nicky remarks with a bit of a wistful smile that he doesn’t know why Richey described him as “the nicest mind destroyer” on an old birthday card.

James discusses the songwriting process.

Sean explains why he believes that music can change lives.

Nicky describes a hamburger from Wimpy’s as “fuckin’ delicious.”

Three girls on the street in Cardiff, and only one of them likes the Manics.

Some of Elizabeth’s favourite moments in the documentary are…

Dave Eringa likes powerchords! Oh YEAH!!!!

Sean tells the history of the Manics in seven seconds.

Nicky’s only ambition was to be brilliant at something.

A fan explains that A Design For Life came about because Nicky wrote some lyrics that James thought were a bit good.

James prepares himself to record a vocal for Imperial Bodybags by singing a bit of scat and drumming on his leg.

22. For you personally, as devoted Manics fans, how was it being able to observe the group in such close quarters – from the rarely-seen creative process in the studio, to touring on the road, to their day-to-day lives away from the band?
“As to how it was for “us personally, as devoted Manics fans” to observe the band in such close quarters, well, we can’t really tell you because it isn’t like that. When we were working, we were completely focussed on our film. We didn’t spend any social time with the band outside of filming, and when we were filming we were concentrating on things like shots, audio levels, background noises, lighting, B-roll, what questions we needed to ask in interviews, how we could film what we needed to without getting in their way when they were working, etc. and not thinking in terms of “Wow, we’re on the road/in the studio/at home with guys from our favourite band!” Also, because our shoots took place so far away from where we live, we had to maximise every bit of the time and money we were spending while we travelled by interviewing fans or getting B-roll, so we didn’t have downtime in the evenings to relax and think about our day’s experience in terms that didn’t apply to the film. So basically, we didn’t have a chance to observe them from the perspective of a devoted fan, because whenever we were on shoots with them we were too busy working.”

23. In the past, James, Nicky and Sean, have talked of how they “don't feel they have inspired as many bands as they would have liked to.” Do you have any thoughts as to why this may be?
“The fact that the Manics have inspired many people in many ways is a cornerstone of our film. We have no thoughts as to why the Manics might feel that they haven’t inspired as many bands as they would have liked to. We do however think that they might be underestimating the influence that they have had on musicians.”

24. Have you had any feedback from MSP and their management on No Manifesto yet, and how does it feel knowing that all of your hard work is soon going to see the light of day?
“MSP and their management have not yet seen the final cut. They saw a rough-cut at the end of last year, and wanted us to finish the film in our own way with no feedback from them during the edit. Their approach to the creative process of making the actual film has been very much hands-off. They told us at the start that they believed in our vision and did not want to tell us how to make the film, and they have been very consistent in not giving input of that kind. Knowing that all of our hard work will soon see the light of day is both exciting and terrifying. We feel that we've made a unique and entertaining film that will appeal not only to Manics fans, but also to fans of music and of documentaries in general, but one never knows how a film will be received by its intended audience and that, of course, is nerve-wracking. We're not thinking about that very much at this point, preferring to focus our energies on the film's completion and on plans for making sure that it reaches the widest audience possible.”

25. Lastly, chips or cream buns?

“Kurt would go for chips and Elizabeth would go for cream buns.”

A very special thanks to Elizabeth and Kurt, for all of their time and help – MSP Fans and R*E*P*E*A*T wish you great success with No Manifesto and can’t wait to see it! Stay Beautiful.


"We must take literature and art, a component of the entire revolutionary machine, use it as a powerful weapon in uniting the people, attacking the enemy and destroying the enemy"

- Mao Tse-Tung

wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?