When filmmaker Amy Goldstein and British pop star Kate Nash were in the midst of filming Nash’s life and work, the two had noticed a string of new documentaries about women in music, like Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin and Nina Simone. They were women of outstanding talent, trailblazers in their times. Yet, their stories were told after their deaths.
“We made a pact that Kate would not die in the making of this film,” says Goldstein, “and it would be a great symbol to young women that you can make music and you do not have to be tragic.”
The result is Underestimate the Girl, a documentary about a woman who is not only alive, but goes on to thrive in music and television after a series of setbacks. Nash goes through her own hero’s journey in front of the camera. It wasn’t something that had been planned.
Goldstein and Nash met through their mutual hairdresser when the latter was preparing to play Coachella in 2014. Nash saw Goldstein’s previous documentary, The Hooping Life, and the two began working together.
At the time, Nash, whose 2007 debut album Made of Bricks went platinum in the U.K. and led to multiple awards, including “Best British Female Solo Artist” at the 2008 Brit Awards, was at a crossroads. While her early work had garnered her loads of fans, making her a standout success in the heyday of MySpace, there was also a press backlash. In the documentary, she talks about how some wrote her off as a “silly little teenage girl who was writing in her diary.”
“There’s nothing silly about being a teenage girl,” she says in the film. “That’s actually one of the most deep things in the world.”
Press outlets made disparaging comments about her appearance, like pointing out zits. “I don’t know how you take a young girl like that and put pictures of her and circle things and describe her that way,” Goldstein says. “I don’t know what kind of person does that.”
Nash responded with the punky single “Under-Estimate the Girl,” released as a free download in 2012. She was dropped by her label prior to releasing her third album, Girl Talk. By 2014, though, Nash, now living in Los Angeles, booked a gig at Coachella and it looked like she was on the cusp of a comeback. That’s when Goldstein and Nash connected via their mutual hairdresser and began work on the documentary.
Goldstein could see parallels between her own work and Nash’s. “This felt very personal to me,” says Goldstein. “As a female director, I go through many of the things that Kate does.” In fact, Goldstein mentions that her agent dropped her when she decided to make a documentary. “I guess I did my own punk album with a movie called The Hooping Life, where we followed six hula- hoopers over six years,” she says.
Initially, Goldstein suggests, the project could have focused on how a young singer who found success via fraught label relationships ultimately transitioned into an independent artist. The story, however, would change. While they were still filming the documentary, Nash learned that her manager had used her credit card to pay for his wedding.
This revelation sets off a chain of events. She has to move out of her Los Angeles home, sell her clothes, find other work. She files a lawsuit against her manager when he refuses to pay her back. Then, she moves back to London.
“It was very painful. It was very hard,” says Goldstein of filming in the midst of this difficult time for Nash. “It’s very hard to point the camera on someone when they’re down.”
“I think, somewhere, it was empowering for her to tell her own story on her own terms, but it was horrible,” says Goldstein. “We definitely tried to make Kate’s life a little easier during that time, but it broke our hearts.”
For Goldstein, this was her first documentary that focused on one person’s story. It was filmed with a very small team. “I shot the majority of the film myself with multiple cameras. My producer recorded sound. We toured with them,” she explains. “We had two amazing editors. it was a very small group of people making what I feel turned into an epic movie.”
The difference though, is that, there wasn’t always a conclusion in sight. “For a long time, we had no idea what would happen,” says Goldstein. “I don’t think Kate knew either.”
But the singer pushed forward. Nash not only won the lawsuit against her former manager, but she did so on her terms, deciding that the freedom to speak was what mattered to her most.
Shortly after, Nash landed the role of Rhonda “Britannica” Richardson on the Netflix series GLOW, which would go on to become a critical and commercial success. Nash also ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund her fourth album, Yesterday Was Forever, which was released in 2018.
In the end, Underestimate the Girl isn’t just a documentary about a woman making her living as a musician, but one with an empowered, and happy, ending.
Underestimate the Girl will be released through Alamo on Demand on Friday, May 22. A performance and Q/A from Kate Nash will take place on Saturday, May 23, at 6pm PST/9pm EST.