'The Beatles: Eight Days a Week' Editor Recalls Sifting Through Archive Footage
Assembling 1960s amateur performance footage and TV news clips for Ron Howard's concert doc called for detective work.
Ron Howard's The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – the Touring Years includes among a compendium of fan-sourced clips and remastered videos a surprise 1964 photo of a teenage Sigourney Weaver at a Beverly Hills party where the Fab Four appeared.
Paul Crowder, who cut the concert documentary for Apple Corps and Imagine Entertainment, recalls first spotting a young Weaver in news footage of the Beatles and other celebrities arriving at the party. "I saw in the background a couple of girls sitting by a car, and I thought one looked vaguely like a young miss Weaver," Crowder told The Hollywood Reporter.
In fact, going retro to assemble 1960s amateur and archival performance footage and TV news clips for Howard's concert doc called for detective work to get raw materials, and deft editing.
Besides source material from the Beatles' Apple Corps., the producers reached out to fans for concert footage, in addition to interviews and behind-the-scenes footage from the British pop group's first four years.
Crowder, also a co-executive producer on the doc, says the logistics of handling and restoring raw material with so many different format and frame rates was daunting. Much of the source material, including lost touring act footage shot by fans, was first handled at the offline stage using Avid Media Composer.
"It's incredible how, whatever format the footage arrived in, we would always bring it in its native form — so whether it was PAL, NTSC, or HD, 720 or 1080, whatever it might be, or if it's 25 frames 23.98, or 23.997 — I'd be able to open all those bins and all those frame rates and immediately edit with them and put it in a timeline and it worked," Crowder recalled.
But getting the project to the online stage at an HD level was a different story. That's where Los Angeles-based Chainsaw, which provided postproduction finishing on the project in July and August, came into the picture.
"One of the biggest challenges is a great deal of the source material wasn't in the final cut," Michael Levy, vp business development at Chainsaw, recounted as his team worked with an incomplete master source list while waiting for anticipated media to arrive.
Another challenge: much of the 1960s concert and TV news clip footage was shot in black and white, as color was expensive to produce back then.
"That's why we chose in a few areas to colorize the footage or a photograph, because that would present it slightly differently," Crowder said. For example, when Miami-based reporter Larry Kane is covering the Beatles on tour, only third-generation copy and no master tape was available.
"If you look at the footage, you can tell it's degraded, it's not good, but you still get a feel for the image and the image showing concert mayhem was more important than the quality at that point," Crowder said. In another case, the Fab Four are on a train headed to a Washington, D.C., concert and a BBC interviewer asks Paul McCartney where his band may end up in the history of Western culture.
McCartney appears flummoxed by the question, adding the band were just "having a laugh." Crowder recalled the degradation of that BBC footage in its offline form was bad, and the master didn't improve the faded film's quality.
"But that was such a strong moment, we decided to use it anyway. We put a vignette on it to make it feel not as bad as it was," Crowder explained. His team also had to be detectives to clear certain footage and photos where the originators were no longer alive and the paperwork to clear rights wasn't available.
"So suddenly a piece of footage disappears, or it doesn't arrive until that contract is finally sorted because you're desperate to get that footage," Crowder recalled. What's more, Beatles collectors at times bargained hard to sell rare footage and photos for a big payday.
"It may be about the Beatles, but you don't have deep pockets, and you can't pay the asking prices," Crowder said of the indie doc being held to ransom for crucial materials. White Horse Pictures, Imagine Entertainment and Apple Corps Ltd. teamed in making The Beatles: Eight Days a Week, now on a hybrid Hulu and theatrical release.