Surviving Beatles Talk Ron Howard's New Documentary: "In the End You Kind of Become a Fan"
"We started with vinyl, went to CD. … Now, it's streaming," says Ringo Starr as he and Paul McCartney discuss the director's new Fab Four film, which hits theaters Sept. 16.
Ron Howard and Ringo Starr met during a chance encounter in the 1970s. "He and Keith Moon wandered onto the Happy Days set," recalls Howard. Adds Starr with a laugh: "We were lost at the time. It wasn't on purpose."
Later, Paul McCartney met Ron Howard at the Academy Awards. "I won an award," Howard says. "I felt like that was pretty good luck."
Fast-forward to July, and Howard, Starr and Paul McCartney were sitting in a villa at the Mirage in Las Vegas a few hours before the 10th anniversary celebration of The Beatles Love by Cirque du Soleil and talking about their collaboration on the new documentary The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years. Hitting theaters Sept. 16 and debuting on Hulu the following day, Eight Days a Week offers a first-ever look into the period from 1962 to 1966, when the Fab Four lived on the road.
A compendium of fan-sourced clips and remastered videos, the film provides new perspective for even the most well-studied Beatles fan and brings the band's story to millennials thanks to the young-skewing streaming service Hulu.
Nigel Sinclair, executive producer of Howard's 2013 movie Rush, first approached the director about the project. "Nigel came to me and asked if I would think about doing this Beatles documentary. I was a fan but not an encyclopedia," says Howard, 62. "I began to see this was a brilliant idea — this time frame. It could be an adventure/ensemble/survival story. I could put my Apollo 13 narrative mindset into work. That was the jump-off point."
Howard wanted to make a film that would appeal to two different audiences, one being the die-hard Beatles fans — the other, the Beatles-curious.
"You know the music, you love it, and you think you know something about the band, but you don't really have the story," says Howard. "And you don't really understand they were tested as a group, as a small family, as a unit, or as individuals, during what was a wild, tumultuous, dynamic period in history and in their lives."
McCartney, 74, and Starr, 76, the surviving members of the band (they participated extensively in the film), say seeing Beatlemania from the outside was an eye-opening experience.
There were some details from that era they didn't even remember, like their contracts stating they would not play to segregated audiences. "We hadn’t talked about it recently. It was so long ago. We knew we loved black music and black artists," recalls McCartney. "I was surprised to see it was in the contract. That was very cool."
Adds Starr, "It's a movie of the life we led. It's great to look at it because you can relax now. It jogs the memory. There's a lot of life gone by and a lot of memories."
"You're pinching yourself because you're one of them," McCartney says. "In the end you kind of become a fan. You look at them and say, 'Bloody hell, they're great!' Then you sit back and realize that's you. You're part of that greatness. It is one of the brilliant things that is hard to take in — that you are actually one of those four people. As a kid, you're trying to do good — in work, school, in our case, music. Trying to get rebooked. To realize we've done it, and there it is in this film."
Through the prism of today's celebrity culture, the film brings new insight to a major reason The Beatles stopped touring in 1966: They became so big that during live performances, the music took a backseat to screaming fans. Also, because they were the first live music act to play stadiums, the sound quality was too poor.
"That's part of what was exciting about taking on the project — what could now be done digitally to enhance the experience for the audience. I knew we could visually create and improve the images, bring more detail. I really wanted to pull the audience in [the moment]. I also wanted to tell a bit of the story from the fans. I wanted to make the concerts as watchable and as exciting for the audience to experience as possible."
The decision to release the film on Hulu the day after its theatrical debut amuses the surviving Beatles, whose music only recently was added to Apple Music and subscription services. "We started with vinyl, went to CD. Various tape things," says Starr. "Now, it's streaming. The last six months The Beatles are being streamed. It's exciting because in this day and age, we can put this with that. We didn't have that for this in the past."
CLASSIC-ROCK REVIVAL ON STREAMING SERVICES
Netflix, Amazon and others are drawing from '60s and '70s music catalogs and infamous industry stories as they rely on baby boomers’ familiar sounds to attract audiences — by Natalie Jarvey
Beat Bugs (Netflix)
Released Aug. 3, the animated comedy is set to modern-day recordings of Beatles hits that creator Josh Wakely nabbed through a lengthy negotiating process with the band's catalog owner, Sony/ATV.
Grateful Dead Project (Amazon)
The project, currently in development, would be a limited bio series about the legendary jam band based on Steve Parish's 2003 book Home Before Daylight: My Life on the Road With the Grateful Dead.
Time Out of Mind (Amazon)
Also from Wakely, the series is being developed as an hourlong drama based on the songs of Bob Dylan, who gave broad permission for anything in his catalog to be used for the project.
Drawn & Recorded (Spotify)
Part of the music streaming service's first slate of original videos, which focuses heavily on music-themed projects, this animated program will feature T Bone Burnett narrating classic stories from music history.
A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.