Music

Director Peter Jackson on The Beatles: Get Back - 'I felt like I was eavesdropping'

Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson's long-awaited Beatles documentary series has finally reached television screens. He talks to Scene about making The Beatles: Get Back, gaining access to unseen footage and audio tapes from 1969 and what he learned about the band's creative process...

The Beatles: Get Back features Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison as we've never seen them before. Picture courtesy of Apple Corps Ltd

WHAT MADE YOU THE RIGHT DIRECTOR FOR THIS PROJECT?

I think whoever did this needed to be a Beatles fan because you're dealing with so much material – 130, 140, 150 hours of audio. The sound tapes were just rolling virtually all the time. Film stock was more expensive than the audio, so the sound recorders would roll the quarter-inch tapes but the cameras were just turned on and off every now and again. So whoever did it really did need to be a Beatles fan to actually be able to understand and decipher some of the references that they make in the conversations.

TRAWLING THROUGH PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED TAPES MUST HAVE PROVED EXCITING?

You're eavesdropping on these conversations from 1969, which is effectively how I felt all the time over the last four years working on this. The audio is weird. The story is often told in the audio recordings, so I do feel like I'm eavesdropping in some sort of CIA-type way on conversations [from] 52 years ago.

THE BEATLES: GET BACK IS MORE THAN JUST 'THE MAKING OF LET IT BE', ISN'T IT?

It's the story of the making of the album Let It Be, but it's actually technically not because they also do a lot of other songs that aren't on Let It Be. Twelve of the tracks are off the Abbey Road album – there's 17 tracks on Abbey Road, which was released in September '69. Plus there's probably eight or 10 of their solo album tracks.

IS IT STRANGE TO THINK THE BEATLES WENT INTO THE STUDIO WITH NEXT TO NO PLAN?

Criticising the Beatles is not in my DNA. But if I had a criticism of the Beatles, looking at the footage, it does strike me as being very strange how little organisation there seems to be... Part of the story of Get Back was they were aiming to do this live TV show – not the rooftop one, it's something completely different. So this is not really a recording. Until they get to the performance, they're not recording, just rehearsing.

WERE YOU ABLE TO UNPICK THE AUDIO?

What we've been able to do with computer technology and artificial intelligence-based technology is we've been able to strip the guitars off now and expose the private conversations that they had. So a lot of our movie features private conversations that they tried to disguise.

WERE YOU EVER CONCERNED ABOUT THE FEEDBACK YOU WOULD RECEIVE FROM THE SURVIVING BAND MEMBERS?

I get the feeling that there's no concern about their image any more. When they got to see the finished thing, I was expecting notes. And it wouldn't have surprised me, and it wouldn't have made me angry. It would've just been normal to get a note saying, 'Oh, that bit where I say that, could you cut that out?' I didn't get a single note. And I was surprised. Not one note. Not one request to do anything.

WHAT WAS THE MOST INTERESTING DISCOVERY YOU MADE?

Well, I'm not a musician and I can't play an instrument to save myself, but I was fascinated learning about the songwriting process through The Beatles' eyes. There's this really fascinating process with Get Back where they have 'Jo-Jo who lives in Arizona', but they want Jo to have a surname. They talk about Jo Jackson, Jo Martin, Jo who lives in Arizona. And then they get rid of the surname, but they add Tucson, Arizona. So they have to have the number of words, but while they've got a surname, they can't have Tucson. Even me, without any musical knowledge, thinks, 'Oh, that actually does flow a lot better'. Is Tucson in Arizona? Yeah, that's where [the Western] High Chaparral's shot. So every time I hear Tucson, Arizona, now, I'm gonna think of The High Chaparral, which I used to watch in 1969 as a kid.

:: The Beatles: Get Back is on Disney+ now.

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