LA ROCHELLE, FRANCE — Ron Howard’s critically acclaimed documentary The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, a compilation of footage of the seminal band’s 250 concerts from 1963 to their final show in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park in 1966, was placed under the microscope during the second day of the 2017 Sunny Side of the Doc.
The panel, moderated by Australian journalist and consultant Peter Hamilton, set out to demonstrate the value of rare and surprising archival footage in historical programming, while also exploring the role of an archivist in scrutinizing the material and securing its way to the final film.
The idea for Howard’s film began in 2003 when One Voice One World producer and archivist Matthew White pitched a project about the Beatles’ touring years to the Beatles multimedia corporation, Apple Corps. Then a producer for National Geographic, White had stumbled upon footage shot by Nat Geo’s wildlife filmmakers in Alaska when a typhoon grounded the band’s plane in Anchorage en route to Japan in 1966.
“These National Geographic filmmakers heard about this, took their cameras to the tarmac, filmed them coming off the plane, getting on to the bus and moving on. It’s beautiful footage,” White told the room of delegates.
“One of the big inspirations for me to work with this project was to demonstrate the value of this archive material,” he added. “And what better way to demonstrate it than with material that everybody wants to see?”
But despite White’s insistence that he would be capable of finding usable and steady home-recorded, regular 8-mm film footage of the group’s touring years, Apple Productions CEO Jonathan Clyde was weary of the project as a documentary but “knew it was a germ of an interesting idea.”
“We were confident that [White would] come up with more [archive material] if we gave him more and more resources,” Clyde said. “From there, we felt this would become a very big film…and we felt needed it bring in a production company to drive this thing.”
The film was eventually produced by the Beatles’ Apple Corps., with Nigel Sinclair’s White Horse Pictures and Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment, and coproduced by One Voice One World.
Prior to Imagine signing onto the project, White’s One Voice One World had, in 2012, been empowered to undergo a six-month proof of concept search based in the University of Maryland but with the help of 30 researchers from across the globe in Australia, the UK, the U.S., Hong Kong and Japan.
The prodco had people on the ground on each continent going through archives as traditional research would happen, being instructed very closely under the direction of Apple Corps. to look for home movie footage and color material that hadn’t been seen before. From there, One Voice crowd-sourced the material-gathering efforts by appealing to the Beatles’ 40-million-plus Facebook followers in search of unseen video, photographs and audio.
“We’d seen a lot of home movie material because it had come up at auction, and often it was very shaky – but this was much steadier,” said Clyde. “We’d heard this footage was out there but I think these collectors were terrified Apple would send a goon squad out to get them and take their footage. Of course, we didn’t own it – it’s their footage, they went out to the shows and recorded it.
“Erik Taros, a collector, became an intermediary who went to talk to people individually… to build texture into this film apart from all the other footage they have because it’s so personal. They each had their different agendas. Some wanted money, some wanted credit, some didn’t want it to be seen. It was an interesting level of footage we hadn’t been able to source.”
The search unearthed more than 2,000 individual pieces of imagery that Apple Corps. had to license, and yielded the only known footage of the Beatles performing in a bullfighting ring in Madrid and British Pathé’s 35-mm color film of a 1963 Manchester show — three weeks after the London Palladium concert that catapulted Liverpool band to stardom.
Aware of British Pathé’s archives, Apple’s biggest concern heading into Eight Days A Week was the quality of the audio as Beatles concerts were often crudely recorded and hindered by a barrage of screaming fans. One performance recorded in a relatively decent way, however, was the Hollywood Bowl concert — a very early model mobile truck had recorded the show on three tracks.
Those live recordings were used through a variety of clips in the completed film, particularly in the Pathé footage, Clyde said, noting that the producers “took a little license because we wanted people to hear it as they really did sound if you took the screaming away, a bit.
“It’s always about the music and our concern was that the music had to standout and be authentic,” he added. “What we did succeed in doing was that you probably heard more of the Beatles [live show] in this film than if you had ever gone to a concert. We were very pleased about that.”