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Director Peter Jackson on 'The Beatles: Get Back' documentary'

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Director Peter Jackson talks to Yahoo Entertainment about The Beatles: Get Back documentary for Disney +, and what it was like revisiting the footage all these years later.

Video Transcript

PAUL MCCARTNEY: The best bit of us always has been and always will be is when we're backs against the wall.

JOHN LENNON: All we've got is us.

KEVIN POLOWY: "The Beatles-- Get Back" was originally announced as a feature documentary before. That was times by three, not that I see many Beatles fans minding that whatsoever. But how did you arrive on that expansion? Was there simply just too much good material to ignore?

PETER JACKSON: Yeah, basically the answer is yes. What kind of happened is that we were cutting the movie and, you know, editing towards the 2-and-1/2-hour vision. And we never got close to it. We were at about-- I don't know-- sort of eight-hour blink or something at some point. And the release was still six-- six months away, eight months away. So we had a deadline for the 2-and-1/2-hour version.

And then the pandemic started. And theaters were closing and everything else. So Disney, as they did with all their movies, as all the studios did, they had to think what to do. And it was decided, well, let's delay it one year. And we, at some point, realized that the 2-and-1/2-hour film was sort of a dumb idea.

So without talking to the Beatles or Apple or Disney, we just thought, stuff it. We'll just cut the film that we think it should be and forget about the length of it. So we did that. And it was, like, six hours long. But we felt that that's the story.

So the first thing we did is to send the six-hour one to the Beatles and Apple to look at. And we just said, look, you know, we just think this is the way to do it. And they looked at it and said, yeah.

KEVIN POLOWY: This would be their last album together. They broke up even before its release. John Lennon famously said the breakup of the Beatles can be heard on the "White Album," not necessarily "Let it Be." How would you characterize their relationship at the time?

PETER JACKSON: With the Beatles, with human beings, anybody, nothing's ever black, white. You know, it's always-- there's always shades of gray. What you've got with the Beatles is you've got four guys that love each other. We've got 150 hours of material. And I'll tell you that I've haven't listened to all of it multiple times. And the tape machines are rolling all the way through this.

Not one Beatle has an angry word with another one. Not-- there's not one bit of anger. There's-- there's-- there's disagreement and sort of a little bit of impatience and all that sort of stuff. But there's no-- nobody swears at each other. Nobody shouts. They really have respect and love for each other.

But the thing that they're dealing with-- and this is sort of interesting. It's not talked about-- but you get the feeling is it's generally '69. And what does it mean to be the Beatles in January '69? They haven't performed live for three years. And they don't want to go back in the studio and do another "Sergeant Pepper," "White Album," where they each just do one track at a time. Ringo is alone doing drums, and then, you know, Paul got-- does it. Because that's not a band. They're sort of almost-- they're almost studio technicians.

And they just want to be the four guys that played at the Cavern Club again. So they actually want to play live. But they don't want to do Shea Stadium. They don't want to be the Mop Tops. They don't want to play to 55,000 people. They want to play to 300 people.

So that's what they want to do. And it's what "Get Back," the name of the thing, that's the goal. And it's a bit of sad thing. They barely want to wind the clock back to pre-fame, before "Ed Sullivan," before-- they want to just go back to being those guys because their happiest time was being those guys, and they can't. They're too big. They're too huge.

And they're slowly coming to terms with it. So that's why the rooftop concert at the end is such a triumphant feeling because when they're up on the rooftop, they are back in Hamburg. They are back in the Cavern Club. They actually do finally achieve, for that 45 minutes [INAUDIBLE] in what they set out to do.

KEVIN POLOWY: How much did you talk to Paul and Ringo through the process? And how did their feedback ultimately help shape the doc?

PETER JACKSON: Kindly, they were available to me all the time, as was Sean Lennon, Olivia Harrison, and Dhani Harrison. But they gave me the biggest gift of all, which is at the beginning, they said, look, Peter, you make the film that you want. So I actually started this whole thing with no mandate.

JOHN LENNON: All right, Glynis, we're off again.

- (SINGING) Don't let me down.

PETER JACKSON: I didn't want going into total radio silence for four years because I'm down-- I'm in New Zealand. I'm a long way away. So every time we made it a little three or four minute thing that's kind of, like, you know, quite good, I'd send it. I'd send them a QuickTime of it-- I would. Yeah. Just to sort of let them know. And then earlier this year, they-- they were sent a six-hour cut. And I was nervous at that point, obviously.

And I'm waiting for notes. I mean, when I do a movie for Warner Brothers or something, I get seven pages of typewritten notes even from them. So I was naturally expecting notes. I was also expecting some notes that were more personal that says, I don't really want that to be seen. I was just expecting that.

I also wanted them to like the film overall. But they came back to me and said, you know-- you know, in their individual ways, they said it was basically incredibly stressful to watch. But they considered it a definitive record of the time, Paul said he thought it absolutely captured who they were at that moment in time in a very honest and accurate way. And the notes came back, don't-- don't change a thing.

KEVIN POLOWY: That's an entire [INAUDIBLE].

PETER JACKSON: It's the first time in my life I got no-- no notes. And this is the Beatles. I was expecting the longest list of notes that I've ever had. And I got actually not-- not one.

KEVIN POLOWY: What have you personally been most surprised to learn about the Beatles through this process, after spending so much time with them at this juncture in their lives and their career?

PETER JACKSON: The biggest fear that I going-- I mean, I had all sorts of fears. I didn't-- I wasn't-- I didn't know what-- what the film was going to be at the beginning. I didn't know if would be any good, you know, all that sort of usual stuff. But the personal fear as a Beatles fan when you're looking at these people that you've seen on film-- you've seen them on TV. You've seen [INAUDIBLE]. And you really admire them. And now I'm seeing the fly-on-the-wall footage. The curtain's being pulled aside.

This is the only footage that they have a shot of them natural. And they've kept it in the vault for 50 years. They haven't [INAUDIBLE]. So I'm sitting there thinking, oh, god, am I going to see who these guys really are now? Am I going to be so upset because one or more of these guys are going to turn out to be prima donnas or assholes? You know, oh, my God, this is-- you don't want to-- the honest look at people is often a terrible shock.

And I came away at the end of it more respectful of who they are than I started. And I've removed them from the pedestal I had them on. I now saw them as human beings. And they're four very different human beings. They're good guys. I mean, it sounds so simplistic. I'm so happy that the four Beatles turned out to be good-- good-- just good guys, nice guys.