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Ron Howard to Direct New Beatles Doc Focusing on Band's Early Years

Film will include interviews with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison

July 16, 2014 9:00 AM ET
Ron Howard
Ron Howard
Courtesy Imagine Entertainment

When Ron Howard was 9 years old, he was already a national television star on The Andy Griffith Show – and there was only one thing he wanted for his next birthday. "The gift that I was begging for was a Beatle wig," he tells Rolling Stone with a laugh. "And on March 1st, 1964, that's what I got: the Beatle wig of my dreams."

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Now the Academy Award-winning director is coming full circle with his Fab Four obsession, having signed on to direct and produce an authorized, as-yet-untitled documentary about the touring years of the band’s career (approx. 1960-1966), a period in which the Beatles crossed the globe, sparked Beatlemania and released several classic albums (including A Hard Day’s Night and Rubber Soul). For it, he will interview surviving members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as talk with Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison (wife of the late George Harrison).

"What's so compelling to me is the perspective that we have now, the chance to really understand the impact that they had on the world," Howard says. "That six-year period is such a dramatic transformation in terms of global culture and these remarkable four individuals, who were both geniuses and also entirely relatable. That duality is something that is going to be very interesting to explore."

Howard is joined by Nigel Sinclair, the Grammy-winning producer behind the documentaries George Harrison: Living in the Material World and No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, as well as the producers Brian Grazer (Apollo 13, Get on Up) and Scott Pascucci (George Harrison). They will have access to the vast archives of Apple Corps, the Beatles’ company, as well as incorporate fan-sourced amateur video footage to recreate previously unseen concerts. It's Howard’s second music documentary, following last year’s Jay-Z festival film Made in America.

"We are going to be able to take the Super 8 footage that we found, that was all shot silent. We'll not only be able to digitally repair a lot of that, but we've also been finding the original recordings," explains Howard. "We can now sync it up and create a concert experience so immersive and so engaging, I believe you're going to actually feel like you're somewhere in the Sixties, seeing what it was like to be there, feeling it and hearing it. And as a film director, that's a fantastic challenge."

Sinclair says the team has already unearthed some surprising footage from the Beatles’ final concert at San Francisco's Candlestick Park in 1966. "Their last concert in ’66, when they were probably the most famous people on the planet, [they] ended up carrying their own amps onstage. I think that’s almost emblematic of the charm of this story," he says. Also a longtime Beatles fan, he saw the band in Glasgow in 1964. "It was a memory to treasure."

The film will also explore the "multigenerational quality" of Beatles fandom, according to Howard. "I hope we find some of that in the footage," he says. "We may have a shot of a boy or a girl very early in their life at a concert, and then we may be able to find them today and talk to them, and talk to their grandchildren and see what their relationship is with the Beatles, and understand how multiple generations find tremendous value and relevance in their music."

The documentary is scheduled for a tentative late-2015 release, and Howard says he is eager to begin interviewing McCartney and Starr. Turns out, he has a history with his heroes; half of the band met him on the set of his hit 1970s sitcom Happy Days. "We got word that John Lennon wanted to come by and bring his son [Julian], and he was a big Fonzie fan. I managed to sneak in a picture," he recalls. "He was graciously cool, but mostly it was for his kid, which we all really appreciated."

Howard adds, chuckling, "A year or so later, Ringo and Keith Moon wandered by. I don't know what they were doing in the lot, and I'm not even sure they knew where they were, but they seemed happy to be there."

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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