The Beatles lend a hand to ‘Good Ol’ Freda’

Mark Deming
Movie Talk

Over forty years after they broke up, the Beatles are still the biggest rock group of all time, and they don't have to do anything they don't feel like doing. So why did they give a little known documentary filmmaker permission to use four classic tracks in an upcoming documentary? Call it a favor to an old friend.

Ryan White's film "Good Ol' Freda" will debut at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March, and the soundtrack will include four vintage Beatles recordings, including "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Love Me Do." Tunes by the Fab Four would be out of the price range of most documentary filmmakers even if they were to secure permission from the band, their music publishers, and their record company. After all, the producers of "Mad Men" had to pay $250,000 to use part of "Tomorrow Never Knows" in one episode.
But White had a pretty good reason for using the songs in his film. "Good Ol' Freda" is about the life of Freda Kelly, who was the Beatles' personal secretary and ran their fan club from their initial rise to fame until two years after their breakup. Kelly was a colleague and trusted friend to the Beatles, and while she's been offered plenty of money over the years to tell her story, "Good Ol' Freda" is the first time she's spoken on the record about her years working for John, Paul, George and Ringo.

“She’s not tempted by money at all,” White told a reporter. “Freda closed the Beatles’ offices, so she left with truckloads of Beatles stuff and gave it all away to fans over the years.” However, Kelly wanted to put down her story for her family, particularly her grandson. As Kelly herself put it, "Who knows how much longer I’ll be here, and I want my grandson Niall to know what his Granny did in her youth. I want him to be proud."

White, who previously directed the well-reviewed soccer documentary "Pelada," was able to persuade Kelly to talk on camera in part because she knew his uncle, a former member of the Merseybeats, a British beat band who played the same circuit as the Beatles in their Liverpool days. He's not saying how much he was charged to use the Beatles music in "Good Ol' Freda," but since the film was largely financed through a Kickstarter campaign that raised $58,000, one would guess he got a better than average discount. As the director put it, "Clearly the living Beatles have a lot of respect for her."