Ron Howard will direct a feature documentary on The Beatles. The focus will be the period from 1960-1966 when the mop-topped quartet took Europe and then the United States by storm with a flurry of 166 concerts in 15 countries and 90 cities. By the time they finished the last concert in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park in 1966, they were as big a band as Elvis Presley was a solo artist. The film has been authorized by the band’s holding company, Apple Corps Ltd, and will have the full cooperation and support of surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono Lennon, and George Harrison’s widow Olivia Harrison. The docu will be a co-production between Apple, White Horse Pictures’ Nigel Sinclair and Scott Pascucci, and Imagine Entertainment, whose principals Brian Grazer and Howard will produce with Sinclair and Pascucci. Imagine’s Michael Rosenberg and White Horse’s Guy East will be exec producers. They expect to have it ready sometimes next year, and don’t be surprised if there is a sequel, covering the band’s politicization and eventual break-up.
The film begins with the band honing its chops in Liverpool’s Cavern Club, to its first road trip shows in Hamburg, Germany, and other European countries in 1963, right before they came to America for an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. That appearance, on February 9, 1964 sparked a generation of future musicians like Eagles leaders Don Henley and Glenn Frey to make their parents rush out and buy them musical instruments.
Howard was turning 10 and was halfway through his run on The Andy Griffith Show when he saw the Sullivan broadcast, one of those cultural zeitgeist moments where people remember exactly where they were when it happened. “Not only did I see the Ed Sullivan Show along with everybody else, the only thing I wanted for my tenth birthday was a Beatles wig, which I got.,” Howard told Deadline. “I’d never thought about bands before, only Elvis. These guys looked and sounded different, and were absolutely explosive to watch. The girls were screaming. It was this flash of genius and uniqueness, but they were also relate-able. Seeing them on The Ed Sullivan Show was right up there with the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing, in terms of images from the television set that I’ll never forget, and that were pivot points of what was possible.”
Sinclair has produced music documentaries on Bob Dylan, The Who, Foo Fighters and the Martin Scorsese-directed George Harrison: Living In The Material World. The latter brought a relationship with Apple and he broached the idea of a Beatles docu as he, Howard and Grazer worked on the Chris Hemsworth-Daniel Bruhl Formula One film Rush. Sinclair glimpsed the British invasion from the other side of the pond. He said it was even more profound.
“It was more pervasive in Britain, all Beatles, all day, from August till December, 1963,” he recalled. “There were eight national newspapers, and every one of those papers during that period had a Beatles story on the front page, every day. The Beatles were 22 and 23, and there was no culture of celebrity and stars then. The Beatles pioneered the idea of the meta-celebrity and the idea that so many people could be thinking and feeling the same thing at the same moment, listening to the same record. And then they dissolved in 1970, a short span compared with many groups. There is something unique about their lifestyle, their point of view and the way they assimilated their experiences and shared them back with society. It changed society, and certainly changed things in Britain.”
They have begun pulling together footage of appearances and concerts, and are working with docu editor/director Paul Crowder, who last teamed with Sinclair on the Billy Joel docu Last Play At Shea. That film that included McCartney singing Let It Be, a touching homage to the Beatles first 1965 appearance at Shea Stadium. That film was made just before Shea was torn down.
Howard, who’s finishing the survival tale Heart Of The Sea, most recently directed the musical docu Made In America, about Jay-Z organizing the Budweiser Music Festival. The narrative will be very different here, he said.
“Made In America was stylistically a bit more like Nashville, these snapshots of individuals,” he said. “The focus on the touring years of the Beatles creates a natural narrative shape, and it’s more like an adventure story. These remarkable individuals throw themselves out into the world, on this remarkable journey. At the end, both they and we changed in a lot of ways, but are steadfastly the same in other ways. Looking at it from the perspective of The Beatles as geniuses who are venturing into new territory, at a time of transformation that affected and influenced them, is a remarkable opportunity. Looking at them from our perspective, the difference between an individual from 1960-66 was likely to be very significant. Those are great story lines to be able to follow.”
The cooperation of the band’s members and estates give the film another undeniable benefit. Already, collectors are coming out of the woodwork with footage and soundboards of concerts, and the film will go heavy on performances that were previously unseen by most people.
“That footage is so valuable to me as a director, being able to offer the audience an experience,” Howard said. “Applying digital technology to this 8mm and Super 8 footage that has been located and continues to be found, that has never been seen before, and combining that with what has also been collected, these mixes, these tracks from these soundboards, will allow us to synch up these Super 8 and 8 millimeter images, those home movies, and create this very intimate concert experiences for audiences. We get to tell the story and offer this very visceral, exciting, emotional experience for people who go see the film. “