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“The spell of the concert mustn’t be forgotten” – Alex Ross Perry talks Rite Here Rite Now

9 min read
Rite Here Rite Now Poster

Image: © Trafalgar Releasing

As part of the band's Re-Imperatour tour in 2023, performed two sold-out nights at the Kia Forum in Los Angeles. These performances, featuring lead singer Tobias Forge as the fictional character Papa Emeritus IV, were also filmed. Footage from these shows, combined with specially filmed scenes, have been combined to create Rite Here Rite Now, a concert movie that picks up the narrative threads of Ghost's long-running webisode series. As well as capturing the band's onstage theatrics, the film also focuses on Papa's struggles with living in the moment and his uncertainty about what may be lying in wait for him in the future. 

FILMHOUNDS sat down with regular Ghost collaborator , who co-directs the new film with Forge, to discuss the method behind the movie and how the band's trademark theatricality and scale were brought to life on the big screen. 

 

The footage seen in the film is actually recorded across two different concerts, is that right?

That's true. To me, the joy of anything like this is, knowing how movies are made, is the impossibility of ‘wait, there's a camera there' and then you cut wide and there is no camera. And that's always the magic of it. So this was no different, and full credit has to be given to the live concert director Jim Parsons. He and these guys from a company called Fortress. We watched them do this setup where there are twelve cameras on the right side [of the arena] on one night and twelve on the left on the other night. So that in the footage you can always crosscut but you're never pointing at a camera. And there was a third day where select scenes were run over and over again in the empty arena, which was very fun and very surreal. The pieces of the movie that have choreography and other special elements were done, maybe, five times. So you get the two takes at the concert but then for some of those moments with the dancers, they did those moments five more times with no audience.

It is really an amazing process because the way that the Fortress guys operate is like they are covering a sporting event. Jim is in the booth with the headset and a huge bank of monitors, creating a live edit timeline to his visual specifications and then of course the movie is edited and edited again. But you have a spine that was created by the end of the show and that was created live. For me, it was just a total joy to witness and to watch these experts walk through this process like it was no big deal, because this is what they do. 

During the concert footage and the behind-the-scenes moments, Rite Here Rite Now keeps returning to the mantra of being in the moment and giving your all to a particular cause or activity in the present. Tobias stands in a crucifix pose at the end, having explicitly been told that he needs to show the crowd that he has nothing left to give them. How did this kind of philosophy make its way into the film? 

Everything you are saying about the theme and the ideas is all Tobias. It is part of the message that we wants to convey between the performer and the audience. He has this hope for the experience that fans get from coming to the show, and part of that is using these characters that he has created to tell this story about transcience and the passage of time. There are lines in the movie that go “Do you think just because you live in a house, that nobody has ever lived there before? Do you think that before there was a house there, that there was nothing else there on that ground?” The way he explained that scene to me showed me that it is very thematically significant, and that this is really the message he is trying to convey by creating this ever-evolving project.

It's an emotional message for fans and listeners to hear, to take away from this. Not that those messages are in the songs necessarily, but there is this other opportunity he has created to tell this other parallel kind of story. Living in the moment is what Papa is doing throughout this film. He is being told constantly “Don't worry about what you think is coming next. You have to live in the moment.” The second part of this is Tobias curating this experience for ten thousand fans two nights in a row where they have no phones. They were put into pouches before the concert, so in the film, you don't have a single person looking at a phone or holding up a phone. 

I noticed that.

Yeah. From the moment they enter the arena, the audience has no choice but to be right here, right now. To be alone with their friends and with their thoughts and ultimately with the band. For Tobias, it was very important that this kind of experience isn't just curated for the audience, but that the film captures that and also discusses it in the dialogue. 

I think this is part of why Rite Here Rite Now manages to capture this amazing sensation of immersion in the concert. You feel like you are in the crowd. Was it a challenge crosscutting and editing the footage while trying to maintain that sense of immersion?

If that is true for this film, which I certainly hope it is, it's all the more remarkable because about every ten minutes we break the spell. We leave the space of the arena and walk into a private, hidden, theatrical space. It was always the hope that the movie doesn't feel like we are losing the momentum of the show. With very, very few exceptions, for the twelve or fifteen or so scripted scenes – some of which are as short as twenty seconds and others which are closer to four minutes Tobias was very clear that they should fall at times Papa leaves the stage. In the audio mix, it was very important to maintain that feeling you just picked up on; that we haven't really left the concert. We should just feel that we are on the other side of that wall. In some of these scenes, we even crosscut from Papa backstage to a little bit of guitar solo or something else happening.

The Fortress guys' concert edits were very precise and then Tobias spent time making it just how he wanted, and then we had to edit our scenes into it. That was a challenge for the film's editor Robert Kolodny. It meant a lot of finessing the beginning and ending of our scenes, and for me it was wonderful. I think Tobias and I are very similar in that we are both like ‘if this guitar solo is fifty seconds, then this scripted scene has to be exactly fifty seconds.' They have to be the same and the spell of the concert mustn't be forgotten. He was very adamant about that and in the edit I am very precise about that. I want it to feel like it is completely happening in an unbroken passage of time. It's really fun to try and do that. It's hard, but it just takes time. 

How long have you been working on the film and working with Ghost?

We shot the narrative parts of this film in February this year. Directly across the street from our sound stage is the smaller sound stage where two years ago to the day we were shooting huge, opulent scenes for the Metal Myths mockumentary. It's directly across the street from where we filmed the majority of the non-concert scenes for Rite Here Rite Now. Metal Myths was the first thing I ever did with the band. So it felt like a two-year commemoration of the first project I worked on with them. After that, I did in February 2023 I did a pop-up event at the Whisky a Go Go [in Los Angeles]. Tobias was in town for the Grammys and this was to celebrate Ghost's nominations at the Grammy Awards. In Ghost lore the Whisky is the site of Papa Nihil and Sister Imperator's first meeting in 1969, where Papa Nihil performed ‘Kiss the Go-Boat' and ‘Mary on a Cross.' The pop-up celebrated the 1969 era of the band, and about 3000 fans were able to come and visit for free.

While I was in town for that, we made the ‘Jesus He Knows Me‘ video which was the promotional single for Phantomime. That spun off into a radio call-in show featuring the debauched priest character from that video. These things have kind of all been on top of each other. During that week when I did the Whisky pop-up, I was first told ‘oh we're announcing this summer tour, it ends at the Kia Forum, no cell phones, two nights, and we're filming them for a movie.' I told them that if they needed anything to let me know.

Some months, later I was then asked if I could fly to Kansas City, Missouri, to meet with Tobias. I would sit down with him to get all the scenes and ideas he has out of his head and down on paper, because we had to start budgeting the film and breaking it down. It's a never-ending fountain of creativity and opportunity. All of these things I've listed are all different. It's amazing to have a band that makes this many different kinds of promotional content that ties into the music. 

Ghost's approach to the documentary is very distinctive, but they are not the only band to attempt it. The likes of Queen and Gorillaz come to mind. Do you have any favourite concert or music movies of your own, or any that have lent you any inspiration for your work? 

My long-time cinematographer on a lot of the movies I have made before this, Sean Price Williams, loves Monterey Pop and to me, it is one of the most remarkable filmed performances in the history of concert footage. It has these long single shots of Otis Reading performing against a stark black sky, or a black background. It's one of the most incredible images you will ever see of a musician.

But making Rite Here Rite Now, the movie we talked about the most was the Sex Pistols' The Great Rock ‘n' Roll Swindle, which is kind of a narrative and kind of a comedy film. Much like in this film, it was the big inspiration behind wanting to do an animated segment because there is wonderful animation in that. The story of that film is long and insane, but Tobias is a huge fan of it as well. It is a music film and a performance film, but there are music videos in it too and there's a story in it. It's just more interesting. Is there a great Sex Pistols concert film? No. But it's a band for whom the images are greater than just watching the show.

Tobias and I are also huge KISS fans. We've consumed thousands of hours of KISS material between the two of us. There is no definitive KISS concert movie, but you can watch clips from their best eras like their 1975 performance at Cobo Hall in Detroit. That's a great concert. It might be one of the best concert films too even though all that's available is some low-res footage. But if I had to put together a list of the greatest ones, I would need to take my time with it. 

What does the future hold for you? Will you continue collaborating with Ghost on cinematic and visual projects like this?

I would be very lucky if they were willing to invite me back. They know that my answer to anything they could ask me is yes. And knowing Tobias, the future holds a great many unpredictable things. If I was to never work with them again, I would feel very excited that this very fun, exciting and one-of-a-kind movie was our last collaboration, but I certainly hope that's not true. 

Rite Here Rite Now is haunting cinemas worldwide from 20th June 2024.