How Peter Jackson and Co. Managed to ‘Get Back’ to Basics for the Disney+ Beatles Doc

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A version of this story about “The Beatles: Get Back” first appeared in The Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine

One supposes after you’ve tackled six films involving hobbits and Middle-earth and revived King Kong for the big screen, the only pop culture behemoth left would be … the Fab Four? Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson might have taken on his biggest adventure five years ago, when he first began unearthing hours of unreleased footage of the Beatles’ notorious, on-and-off 21-day recording of their tumultuous “Let It Be” album, first on a London movie soundstage before sessions were moved to Apple Corps’ recording studio. The band’s journey culminated in the now-famous London rooftop performance that supplied three songs to the finished album, while Jackson’s own quest led to last year’s hugely acclaimed Disney+ documentary “The Beatles: Get Back.” The nearly eight-hour, multipart look at the mundanity, drudgery and eventual workaday heart-and-soul magic that goes into creating a masterwork is complete with booze breaks, toast and butter at the ready, and even some mild electrocution.

“Get Back” music supervisor and sound mixer Giles Martin (son of legendary producer and “fifth Beatle” George Martin) was not at all surprised by Jackson’s acumen for bringing this story back to life. “Peter is a Beatles encyclopedia and knew even more about them than me, so he was the perfect man for the job,” said Martin, who has assisted other Academy Award-winning directors such as Ron Howard and Martin Scorsese in telling their own Beatles tales, “Eight Days a Week” and “Living in the Material World” respectively.

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Obviously, it takes extra time and effort to cull and mix nearly 100 hours of footage recorded on outdated technology (though the often-tricky music rights were a little easier, given that the Martin camp already had some archival rights in place). In addition, Jackson’s team also had to factor in a yearlong delay caused by COVID. And then came the news that “Get Back” would be moved to the family-friendly Disney+ despite it containing a deluge of smoking scenes and F-bombs. Abandoning the originally intended cinema release meant some pointed pivoting on the filmmakers’ part, which Martin says was not such a bad thing. “Going to streaming definitely changed the way we looked at [the project],” he said. “It meant we could indulge ourselves a bit and give everything a bit more room. I like being concise in what we do, and I wondered if it was all going to be too long, but I thought when we were doing this, ‘Well, people watch the Kardashians for hours.’”

Disney+
Disney+

The undertaking overall was a massively visual one: Jackson spent hours cleaning up the grainy 1969 footage to create an almost pristine color palette for the final product, with the Beatles never looking more vibrant. But the audio was an entirely different beast. “We were concerned originally because we have a range of qualities: macro tapes—which are, like, quarter-inch film—and mono audio tapes,” said Martin, who estimated that there are probably close to 100 songs in the documentary. But new technology allowed them to separate audio elements. “We had time with all this amazing audiotape, and we could choose materials we wouldn’t have been able to use maybe a year or two prior.”

Those filmmaking luxuries play out in slowly revelatory ways as “Get Back” unfolds, with the series’ length allowing Jackson to tell the story fully. “If you take the rooftop concert, the story that unfolds between the police arriving and the audience outside and my dad walking into (Savile Row Beatles corporation) Apple Corps to the police finally closing down the show—that’s about 47 minutes, so it gave us a chance to show in almost real time what happened.”

Martin, a Grammy-winning benchmark figure in the remastering of classic Beatles albums, has worked with everyone from the Rolling Stones to Elvis Costello to the newly red-hot Kate Bush to Elton John (as music director for the 2019 hit biopic “Rocketman”). But he admits that seeing his father as a major player cutting such a dashing figure in January 1969 was a bit of a surreal experience, not to mention a literally formative one. “I was conceived at some point during this film!”

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But sadly, the super-producer says that fervent fans should probably not expect a “Get Back 2.”

“This team did such an amazing job, everyone involved was so caring and passionate, but no, there are no plans right now to do it,” Martin said.

And he’s happy to report that one prominent subject in the film certainly gave it a hearty thumbs-up.

“Paul McCartney wanted to get a drink immediately after seeing it, he was so happy,” Martin said. “And I suppose if you do eight hours of something and people still want more, that’s the best compliment you can get.”

“The Beatles: Get Back” is now streaming on Disney+.

Read more from The Race Begins issue here.

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