EXCLUSIVE: When we think of recurring characters in Peter Jackson film franchises, names like Frodo, Gandalf, Gollum and Sauron stand out. Add John, Paul, George and Ringo to that list.
Following a five-Emmy-nomination haul for his Disney+ three-part docu The Beatles: Get Back, Jackson tells Deadline he is cooking up another film project with surviving Beatles members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.
“I’m talking to The Beatles about another project, something very, very different than Get Back,” Jackson told Deadline. “We’re seeing what the possibilities are, but it’s another project with them. It’s not really a documentary … and that’s all I can really say.”
The revelation comes after Jackson emerged from four years spent culling through 130 hours of audio and 57 hours of video shot by Michael Lindsay-Hogg for the Beatles breakup docu Let It Be. It wasn’t as long an immersion as Middle-earth, but close enough. It also didn’t dent his fanship or eagerness to do more with the surviving members of the band.
“It wasn’t as intense as making three Lord of the Rings back to back, but it was four years with a pandemic in the middle of it all,” he said. “We are never in a position where we have to do anything, but we’ve got a few things percolating.”
It has been nearly a decade since he directed the third installment of The Hobbit, and Jackson followed that with the WWI documentary They Shall Not Grow Old. Like Get Back, the making of the docu involved a painstaking process to restore footage and audio. Jackson said there is also a big narrative film on the docket, and like the Middle-earth films, Jackson’s ambitions will test existing technology. Which means part of his task is to develop the tools to make his vision a reality.
“One of them could be big scale, but it’s so technically complicated I’m trying to work how exactly I’ll do it,” Jackson said. “It’s a live-action movie, but it needs technology that doesn’t quite exist at the moment, so we’re in the middle of developing the technology to allow it to happen. I’m trying to anticipate what I might be able to do, before it even exists. They’re not fantasy epics, but they’re pretty interesting.”
As for the Emmy nominations, Jackson said he was gratified by the editing nomination Jabez Olsson received — Jackson got one for Best Director and Get Back is up for Best Documentary Series — and Jackson was sparked by the two noms for Sound Mixing. The latter, he said, “is always a category that people don’t hold in the highest esteem, I guess would be a way to say it, other than people who work in the field. Get Back is all about the sound, and restoring the sound and developing the AI things to separate the musical tracks. We did a lot of groundbreaking work, so it’s really great that the guys who did that work are part of the Emmy nominations. I’m really pleased with that.”
As for his editor, Jackson saidm “Jabez and I spent the four years in the trenches together, so I am very pleased for him.”
Jackson felt the positive results and strong reviews validate his decision to make creative decisions on the basis of being a fan of the band and not favoring one Beatle over another, as has been done in some past works.
That informed his decision to go against the plan to deliver a six-hour cut for Disney+ and a DVD, and make the latter 7.5 hours, with a separate rooftop concert cut for Imax. Being a superfan also sparked his idea to make it possible for McCartney to duet with his deceased songwriting partner John Lennon during McCartney’s recent tour.
“I delivered a six-and-a-half-hour cut earlier, and people thought, “It’s a bit long, can you cut it down to six hours?” I had final cut,” Jackson said, “but I think you’ve got to be careful about being a rogue operator. But then we had the conversation about the DVD, which was a victory. Disney hadn’t done or released a DVD or Blu-ray at the beginning, and I assumed I would do an extended cut because there was a lot of great stuff we didn’t have room for. I was told, ‘No, there’s no market for extended cuts anymore.’ Nobody at Disney was particularly enthusiastic about an extended cut.”
One of the great pleasures for rabid LOTR fans was watching the Extended Version DVD cuts of all three films, which each layered in 30 minutes or more of very worthy footage that made the theatrical releases too long. Jackson took no money to make those DVDs; instead, he kept every prop and costume, which he houses in Wellington, New Zealand.
This was a different situation.
“I went rogue, and without telling anybody — Apple Corps, Disney or The Beatles — I decided to put scenes in that we’d pulled out,” Jackson said. “I thought the trims from six-and-a-half hours to six were good because they were about pacing. But with no extended cut, this great stuff would go back in the archives, back in the vault for another 50 years. So I just started working with Jabez, which is why we delivered late. We were piling scenes back into the cut. What’s funny is, nobody knew it was going to be 7.5 hours, until we delivered to them. They were expecting a six-hour cut. And they never said a word — not a single note or word from anybody. They might have been talking amongst themselves behind the scenes, but nobody ever expressed any surprise. Somehow 7.5 hours was it. I did it because, as a Beatles fan, there was a lot of material where I’d have felt it was wrong from the point of view of musical history for it to go back into the vault. I thought, ‘If there’s not going to be the extended DVD, which I was putting things on one side for, it should go back into the movie.’ That’s what I did.”
The effort to separate Lennon’s vocal tracks from that rooftop concert on “I’ve Got a Feeling” for McCartney to be able to sing along with Lennon’s image on the screen behind him for the Got Back tour, also was pure Beatles fandom, and it haunted Jackson for a while.
“I had that idea when I started working on Get Back, four years ago,” Jackson said. “We had access to all that footage, and to do something like that, you need the footage. The shots have to be right. I didn’t mention it to Paul. I thought, ‘Suggesting to Paul that he sing onstage with John, he’s going to think I’m a fanboy geek idiot.’”
Still, Jackson went to McCartney’s concert at Dodger Stadium three and a half years ago, just in case he mustered the courage to ask.
“When he did ‘I’ve Got a Feeling,’ I sat there with my phone,” Jackson said. “I held it really still and filmed, with the idea I would take that in the cutting room and do a mockup, a simple CGI proof of concept. Rather than me pitching something to him, I thought it better if I can show him how it will look. Then the pandemic hit, and he wasn’t touring anymore and there was no point doing a demo for him.
“So the next 18 months I worked on Get Back and then Paul is rehearsing to go back out on tour, and I just thought, ‘I either have to suggest it to him, or I don’t.’ I’d gotten cold feet because I thought, ‘How many harebrained suggestions like this has Paul gotten over the years? I don’t want to appear too geeky.’ Finally, I thought, ‘I’m going to regret this for the rest of my life if I don’t even suggest it.’ I sent him a text. I didn’t send him the mockup version, just a text trying to describe it to him. Within 10 minutes, he replied to me: ‘Yeah, this is a fantastic idea; let’s go do it.’ Then it was a frantic rush to restore frames that were missing from that long shot of John from Let It Be. But Paul was thrilled by it.”
Jackson also generated the rooftop concert version for Imax. While Lindsay-Hogg’s film was viewed as a promotional film, Jackson tipped the hat over the amount of footage he shot.
“The great thing about documentaries is, you don’t have to shoot anything,” Jackson said. “I’ve always been the cutting-room guy who always found the process of shooting a movie to be highly stressful. In a way, my idea of heaven is to take footage from someone else. And Michael Lindsay-Hogg shot amazing footage. He should get more credit here than he has. People seem to react to Michael as we present him, they make fun of him a little, as this guy behind the camera. I admire him. He was doing a job and that’s what they hired him to do. He was pushing to make the best film he could. It’s a perfectly OK film. If you see it now, it’s not the depressing movie people thought. The way he should be thought of is, he not only made Let It Be, he shot all the footage we see in Get Back. That’s all his and Michael deserves a huge shout out.”
Here is the Lennon-McCartney duet that meant so much to Jackson:
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.