(Originally published, August 2016).
I was thrilled when I heard that Apple Corps is the force behind a major cinema release of an archive-based documentary on the rise of The Beatles.
Then I saw a rough cut of THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK, and for this early boomer, it delivers one emotional hit after another, song by song and clip by clip.
To capture the making of the film in a Case Study, I interviewed archive specialist Matt White, who developed the original concept way back in 2003.
I later caught up with producer Nigel Sinclair, who realized the project as a major global cinema release directed by Ron Howard and with a multi-million dollar budget. We were unable to complete our conversation before he was swept up by the release, but I hope to update this post with further insider information.
Do go see THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK! It’s an inspirational story that’s well told, and the clips are priceless!
Here is the promo:
Concept: ‘Camera Magnets’
- Matt White had seen footage from Alaska that was shot by a Nat Geo wildlife crew who had gone out to the Anchorage airport when they learned that the Beatles were making an emergency landing to avoid a typhoon that was disrupting flights to Japan. Their footage was “beautiful, as you would expect from a Nat Geo team.”
- White saw the Anchorage footage as a demonstration that The Beatles were camera magnets wherever they were.
- In 2003, White arranged a meeting in London with Neil Aspinall, the legendary CEO of The Beatles’ Apple Corp, as well as Jonathan Clyde, Apple’s head of production, and Jeremy Neech, Apple Corp’s Digital Media Director. Nat Geo’s Clare Hunt also attended.
- “We talked about how, in the early Sixties, home-movie cameras were ubiquitous. For example, JFK’s fateful Dallas motorcade was captured by numerous Super8 enthusiasts along the route prior to the shocking moment caught by Zapruder. We were confident that we would find more than enough material to create a fresh, compelling film about The Beatles and Beatlemania.”
- Aspinall remembered that there were cameras everywhere covering The Beatles’ early tours. According to White, he was “curious but skeptical”. He allowed White to conduct a ‘proof of concept’ that there was enough powerful and unseen footage out there to create a fresh and original movie.
Research, Then Story
- Matt White flipped the usual development process for an archive-based film.
- He proposed to undertake massive research into the archive upfront, and then assemble the footage and see what story emerged.
- He says: “The core project concept remained a constant: A feature-length film about The Beatles’ concert tours as told via amateur film and found footage.”
Proof of Concept (2006)
- With a team of four, White led a mini-research project into the available footage in Japan, UK and U.S.
- Research budget: “In the $’000’s.”
- The funding was provided by the president of Nat Geo Films’ Adam Leipzig, who had just come off the super-hit “March of the Penguins” and saw a comparable opportunity in a Beatles film.
- “We found surprising sources of compelling material. For example, the Tokyo Police Department had filmed the masses drawn to The Beatles concerts to improve their crowd control processes.”
- The team worked with a small group of facilities houses who specialized in Super8-to-Video transfers, and asked them if they had seen Beatles footage.
- They introduced the research team to Erik Taros, a leading Beatles collector who had spent 40 years recreating the Beatles’ concert at Suffolk Downs, Mass. His mother had banned him from going to the concert as a boy, and it had become his life-long obsession to recapture the experience via home movies.
- “Erik introduced us to his community of Beatles collectors, city by city, around the world.”
- “We discovered a huge universe of dedicated Beatles fans and collectors who traded mostly among themselves, although sometimes their most prized items could be found at auction houses like Sotheby’s.”
- White prepared a brief report for Apple Corps and Nat Geo’s Adam Leipzig.
- In 2007, with Bruce Higham and Stuart Samuels, White formed One Voice One World Productions to develop and produce the film.
- ZDF Enterprises was ‘hugely supportive’ of these early efforts.
- There was a management change at Apple Corps: Jeff Jones, formerly of Sony BMG, replaced Neil Aspinall, who had passed away in 2006.
- “Jones loved the material we had collected as well as our research-based model to discover the story.”
- Apple Corps’ Jeff Jones and Jonathan Clyde decided to fund a comprehensive research project, involving 30 people in Europe, Australia, the U.S. and elsewhere.
Crowd Sourced Archive Research 2012
- Apple had around 40 million Facebook friends when the team expanded the research project.
- In one of the first media crowd searches for footage, they sent out a message to The Beatles FB friends asking, “Were you there? Please contact us if you have Beatles home movie footage and audio.”
- Here is the Call to Action
- For the crowd sourcing effort, the team set up their HQ at the University of Maryland Library, including its digital humanities group, MITH.
- The University had access to advanced technical tools for social media, and these revealed multiple new sources and archives.
- The outreach effort elicited a deluge of responses, including Super8 film, audio and photos.
- According to Matt White, a ‘jewel’ was a Super8 recording by an audience member of “Ready Steady Go!”
Messages from the Archive
- “The archive began to tell us what the film was about” says Matt White.
- For example, Beatles’ stories usually begin at the Royal Palladium Concert in 1963, but there is not much footage of it.
- However, just a month after the Palladium, they performed in Manchester, where British Pathe recorded the concert in 35MM. It had been produced for British Pathe’s newsreel service that was at the time screened in thousands of cinemas worldwide prior to the feature movie.
- The Manchester footage includes recordings of complete songs, for example, “She Loves You” and “Twist and Shout”.
- The British Pathe newsreels lit the Beatlemania fire: it was the first time that the world saw The Beatles in color on the big screen. The Beatles became a globalized teenage phenomenon.
- Pathe used three cameras. All the elements from the cameras and mics were preserved in beautiful quality in the British Pathe archive.
- The Sound archive holds a similar lesson. Much of The Beatles live sound is of poor quality and is muffled by audience screams.
- The research turned up surprising sources of high quality sound. For example, in Sweden, the researchers discovered a six-mic soundboard that was recorded directly from the concert mics, and was crystal clear.
- These and many other extraordinary archives turned up in the collectors’ marketplace.
Show & Tell
- Apple Corps worked very closely with the team during the research and crowd sourcing effort.
- In 2012, they presented a ‘Show and Tell’ for three days at Apples’ HQ in Ovington Square.
- Attending were Jeff Jones, Jonathan Clyde, Jeremy Neech, Aaron Bremmer (Apple Corps’ Archivist), Matthew White, Bruce Higham, Erik Taros and John McEwan (media collector).
White Horse Pictures
- For years, Jeff Jones had been exploring ways of creating content from the Apple Corps archive.
- Excited by the research findings, in early 2014 Apple Corps engaged Nigel Sinclair and Scott Pascucci as producers and Ron Howard to direct the feature. It was Howard’s first documentary commission.
- Jones’s greenlight married his strategic focus as Apple Corps’ CEO and White’s original concept and research.
- Sinclair recommended and Jones approved an escalation of the ambition of the project to a major theatrical release ‘authored’ by a celebrated Oscar-winner.
- Sinclair’s White Horse Pictures credits include “Rush”, about Formula One race car drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda that Ron Howard directed, music docs about The Who and others, and two Martin Scorcese-directed films: “George Harrison: Living in the Material World” (produced by Livia Harrison) and the 2006 Bob Dylan documentary “No Direction Home”.
“Apple Corps wanted to get a signature filmmaker, a voice, an artist of great stature to make a film about a band of great stature,” explains Sinclair. So in 2013, together with fellow producer and music executive Scott Pascucci, with whom he had worked closely on the George Harrison film, Sinclair approached Ron Howard. He agreed to direct as well as produce along with his producing partner Brian Grazer and their company, Imagine Entertainment. Imagine Co-Chairman Michael Rosenberg signed on as executive producer. Production Notes
- Nigel Sinclair says that he found that the project was “highly original, because it captured the teenage uprising of Beatlemania through the hot, new consumer durable, the iPhone of its day, the Super8 camera.”
- He particularly felt the need to find new “unexpected intimate moments” in the archive, for example when one of the Beatles makes eye contact with a Super8 enthusiast.
- He expanded the footage search process and called for fresh interviews with Paul and Ringo — both incredibly engaging and insightful — to supplement the amateur Super8 footage and other archive material.
- He and Ron Howard also captured compelling memories of participants in the Beatlemania phenom, including Whoopi Goldberg, as well as with ‘experts’ like Malcolm Gladwell who provide context.
Ron Howard on his Role and Responsibility
“I felt it was incumbent upon me to try to do two things,” Howard, 62, explained. “One was to honor the fans who really would know the difference — the really dedicated fans, of which there are zillions.
“But I also thought it was even more important to try to tell a story that would convey to people who really have no idea — I’m thinking of the millennials, I suppose; people who have grown up with the music and think they know something of the story — the intensity of the journey and the impact they had.” Randy Lewis, LA Times
- In May 2014, Nigel Sinclair, the editor Paul Crowder and his team plus Samuels and White spent two weeks in LA working through around 50 hours of archive footage. This work marked the transition from the team responsible for the original concept to the production team.
- Nigel Sinclair, Ron Howard and Paul Crowder created the film over two years, with Erik Taros playing a key role as the link to the collector community.
- Sinclair says that his goal was “to put you inside The Beatles’ journey… inside the bubble… and to answer the question, ‘What was it like to be them?’”
Sinclair says that a big challenge was to filter the flood of material generated via the social media campaign to pinpoint the potentially useable pieces. Howard’s role in the film helped facilitate much of that, Sinclair said.
“One of the many things that Ron brought to the table is that he is a beloved man in America,” he said. “Ron had people come up to him in the street and [they would] say ‘Mr. Howard, I’m so glad you’re doing the Beatles film.’ Ron said, ‘Of course the subtext is “And don’t screw it up.”’ Randy Lewis, LA Times
- A rough cut was focus group-tested in New York and Pasadena in early 2016, leading to tweaks in the final deliverable.
- Around 80% of the film is archive-based
- 20% is comprised of fresh interviews with Paul, Ringo and others.
- Of the Archive, around 50% came from Apple Corps’ collection, and the balance from British Pathe, ITN Source, Reelin’ in the Years Productions, Beatles collectors, and many other sources.
- Sinclair can’t recall a single sequence that he and Ron Howard wanted in the film, but that they couldn’t locate or clear.
- Here is the full list of production credits, including for the archival sources.
- The budget detail is confidential.
- According to Nigel Sinclair, “The Beatles: Eight Days A Week was designed, budgeted and completed like a theatrical feature film. The budget is representative of a significant theatrical feature, particularly considering the cost of the music rights.”
- Rights were cleared for all territories and all media.
My local cinema: I can’t remember the last time a doc was so featured
- In the U.S., the documentary will be released in cinemas on September 16 and on the Hulu SVOD service the next day.
- The theatrical release includes a re-mastered recording of the Shea Stadium concert that won’t be in the Hulu offer.
- Abramorama, led by Richard Abramowitz is the U.S. theatrical distributor.
- The strategy is to target art house and independent screens rather than the big cineplex chains who anyway won’t accept a film that is in simultaneous release on a VOD platform.
- The film is the first release of Hulu Documentary Films, a collection of streaming documentaries exclusive to Hulu.
- The Beatles: Eight Days A Week premieres on Sept. 15 at the Odeon on Leicester Square.
- The partners have arranged a mosaic of windows and partners worldwide.
- Studiocanal is an anchor partner having acquired U.K., France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand rights.
End Note: Nigel Sinclair’s Takeaway
- After ‘living’ with The Beatles for years, Sinclair says “They were staggeringly affable and unaffected. And our film captures that amazing personal quality that they shared!”
- THE BEATLES is #72 on Box Office Mojo‘s all time U.S. documentary list.
- Gross to date is $2.9 Mn.
- Here is a link to the full list of production credits, including archives.
- Washington Post
- Fast Company
- LA Times
- Rolling Stone Magazine
- The Wrap
- My favorite fab four bio is “The Beatles The Biography” by Bob Spitz
Also, a family connection:
- Nigel Sinclair produced “Hilary and Jackie” (1998) about cellist Jacqueline du Pre, winning Oscar noms for my niece Rachel Griffiths (Hilary) and Emily Watson (Jackie).
More History Documentary Case Studies
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And a History film which I proudly co-EP’d:
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ITN Source is the sponsor of our coverage of the Archive business in 2016.
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