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This story first appeared in the March 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Ryan White has achieved the nearly impossible: The director got rights to use four original Beatles songs in his documentary Good Ol’ Freda.
Premiering on March 9 at South by Southwest, the film tells the story of Freda Kelly, the band’s beloved secretary who spent 11 years working for the Fab Four and ran the Beatles fan club. It’s the first time Kelly, now in her late 60s, has told her story, though many have tried to pry it out through the years.
“She’s not tempted by money at all,” says White, 31, whose first doc was 2010’s Pelada, about pickup soccer around the world. “Freda closed the Beatles’ offices, so she left with truckloads of Beatles stuff and gave it all away to fans over the years.” The reason she’s breaking her silence, adds White, who met Kelly through his uncle, a member of the Beatles’ Liverpool peers The Merseybeats, “is for her 2-year-old grandson — she sees it as a sort of home movie.”
It’s no small feat getting clearances for Sony/ATV Publishing and Apple Corps’ most prized assets because of the many parties whose signoffs are required (among them, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as the estates of John Lennon and George Harrison). Rights also are expensive: AMC’s Mad Men coughed up $250,000 for a snippet of “Tomorrow Never Knows” last season.
White won’t divulge what he paid for “Love Me Do,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and two others, but he says of Kelly, “Clearly the living Beatles have a lot of respect for her.”
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Tracee Ellis Ross