His name may be instantly synonymous with Lord Of The Rings, but filmmaker Peter Jackson has found himself tackling an altogether different project two decades on with new documentary series The Beatles: Get Back.
Born in New Zealand – a world away from the height of UK's Beatlemania in the 1960s – the 60-year-old Oscar-winning director’s love of the Liverpool band began with a handful of pocket money and the purchase of the Red and Blue compilation albums.
It wasn’t until 2017 that the fields of work and leisure finally converged when Apple Corps – the company charged with managing The Beatles’ creative and business interests – approached Jackson and asked whether he’d consider making use of previously unseen footage from their vaults.
Now transformed into a Disney+ docuseries, the three-part project delves into the making of the Beatles album Let It Be.
Jackson explains more…
WHAT MADE YOU THE RIGHT DIRECTOR FOR THIS PRESTIGIOUS PROJECT?
I think whoever did this needed to be a Beatles fan because you’re dealing with so much material – 130, 140, 150 hours of audio. The sound tapes were just rolling virtually all the time. Film stock was more expensive than the audio, so the sound recorders would roll the quarter-inch tapes but the cameras were just turned on and off every now and again. So whoever did it really did need to be a Beatles fan to actually be able to understand and decipher some of the references that they make in the conversations.
TRAWLING THROUGH PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED TAPES MUST HAVE PROVED EXCITING?
You’re eavesdropping on these conversations from 1969, which is effectively how I felt all the time over the last four years working on this. The audio is weird. The story is often told in the audio recordings, so I do feel like I’m eavesdropping in some sort of CIA-type way on conversations [from] 52 years ago.
THE BEATLES: GET BACK IS MORE THAN JUST 'THE MAKING OF LET IT BE’, ISN’T IT?
It’s the story of the making of the album Let It Be, but it’s actually technically not because they also do a lot of other songs that aren’t on Let It Be. Twelve of the tracks are off the Abbey Road album – there’s 17 tracks on Abbey Road, which was released in September ’69. Plus there’s probably eight or 10 of their solo album tracks.
IS IT STRANGE TO THINK THE BEATLES WENT INTO THE STUDIO WITH NEXT TO NO PLAN?
Criticising the Beatles is not in my DNA. But if I had a criticism of the Beatles, looking at the footage, it does strike me as being very strange how little organisation there seems to be… Part of the story of Get Back was they were aiming to do this live TV show – not the rooftop one, it’s something completely different. So this is not really a recording. Until they get to the performance, they’re not recording, just rehearsing.
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST REVELATION FOR YOU?
They have this wonderful running battle with Michael Lindsay-Hogg, the [Let It Be a] director. Michael is determined to try to capture as much candid material as he can. Instead of saying, ‘Look Michael, if we’re gonna be recorded on film, tell us when you’re doing that and we’ll do our thing but we don’t want you to film or record us any other time’, they obviously didn’t say that. And what John [Lennon] and George [Harrison] used to do is, if they were in conversation, they would turn their amps up loud. They’d strum the guitar – they’d just be strumming, not playing anything, no tune – so all Michael’s microphones were recording was this loud guitar. And you’d see the Beatles talking, having some private chat. So they were sort of in this running battle.
WERE YOU ABLE TO UNPICK THE AUDIO?
What we’ve been able to do with computer technology and artificial intelligence-based technology is we’ve been able to strip the guitars off now and expose the private conversations that they had. So a lot of our movie features private conversations that they tried to disguise.
DID YOU SPEAK WITH MICHAEL LINDSAY-HOGG BEFORE ENTERING THE EDIT SUITE?
I’ve been talking to [Michael] all the time and he’s been telling me stories of his post-production, of The Beatles coming to the cutting room and directing certain things. Paul would come in one day and say, ‘Ah, can you put this in or take that out?’ The next day John would come in and give completely different instructions. Poor Michael is there trying to make everybody happy. Michael wasn’t allowed to show George leaving. They said, ‘No, absolutely not. We’re not gonna have that in the film’. So, I was thinking, ‘How much of this am I gonna get?’ ’cause The Beatles are famously in control of their image, in control of how they come across.
WERE YOU EVER CONCERNED ABOUT THE FEEDBACK YOU’D RECEIVE FROM THE SURVIVING BAND MEMBERS?
I get the feeling that there’s no concern about their image anymore. When they got to see the finished thing, I was expecting notes. And it wouldn’t have surprised me, and it wouldn’t have made me angry. It would’ve just been normal to get a note saying, ‘Oh, that bit where I say that, could you cut that out?’ I didn’t get a single note. And I was surprised. Not one note. Not one request to do anything.
WHAT WAS THE MOST INTERESTING DISCOVERY YOU MADE?
Well, I’m not a musician and I can’t play an instrument to save myself, but I was fascinated learning about the song-writing process through The Beatles’ eyes. There’s this really fascinating process with Get Back where they have ‘Jo-Jo who lives in Arizona’, but they want Jo to have a surname. They talk about Jo Jackson, Jo Martin, Jo who lives in Arizona. And then they get rid of the surname, but they add Tucson, Arizona. So they have to have the number of words, but while they’ve got a surname, they can’t have Tucson. Even me, without any musical knowledge, thinks, ‘Oh, that actually does flow a lot better’. Is Tucson in Arizona? Yeah, that’s where [the Western] High Chaparral’s shot. So every time I hear Tucson, Arizona, now, I’m gonna think of The High Chaparral, which I used to watch in 1969 as a kid.
The Beatles: Get Back launches on Disney+ on Thursday, November 25.
Source: Press Association