Ron Howard to Direct Beatles Documentary

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The Beatles at the BBC Television Studios in London before the start of their world tour, June 17, 1966.

Ron Howard will direct a documentary on the Beatles as a live act, tracing their days from the clubs of Liverpool, England, and Hamburg, Germany, to their final appearance at Candlestick Park in San Francisco in 1966.

Apple Corps Ltd., Imagine Entertainment and Nigel Sinclair’s White Horse Pictures will produce the authorized documentary, which Sinclair hopes will be released in theaters late in 2015. Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono Lennon and Olivia Harrison are cooperating with producers Sinclair, Howard and his partner in Imagine, Brian Grazer, and Scott Pascucci, managing director of Concord Music Group. Imagine’s Michael Rosenberg and White Horse’s Guy East will serve as executive producers. It would be the first Beatles theatricalfilm since Let it Be was released in 1970.

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“What’s so intriguing to me is not only the subject, but the context we can bring to it now,” Howard says. “Not only can we do a study of these touring years, the narrative of an odyssey, we can look at the significance of the Beatles as individuals -- as musical geniuses, as societal leaders and their effect on global culture. Dramatically it makes a lot of sense and cinematically, we have a chance to offer a unique experience.”

Early research for the project, conducted by One Voice One World, has yielded footage shot in 8mm and Super 8 that has never been available to the public. Simultaneously, producers have been reaching out to collectors and finding soundboard recordings, some of which are multi-track, which can now be married.

“If we find a performance that’s particularly good, say in Cleveland in 1964, and have been able to find the sound with separated tracks, that’s something that will add a whole new dimension,” says Sinclair, a producer of George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who and No Direction Home: Bob Dylan.

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The Beatles started performing at the Cavern Club in Liverpool in 1961 and began touring Europe in late 1963. Between June 1964 and the San Francisco show in August 1966, the band performed 166 concerts in 15 countries and 90 cities.

Jeff Jones, chief executive of the Beatles’ company Apple Corps, first approached Sinclair about participating in the documentary. Sinclair was working with Howard on “Rush,” a film about the Formula 1 racers Niki Lauda and James Hun. Howard had recently finished shooting his first documentary, about the Jay Z music festival Made in America.

He asked Howard  if he was a Beatles fan, to which he responded that’s an absurd question.

“My 10th birthday was all about me getting a Beatle wig,” says Howard, who turned 10 less than three weeks after the Beatles appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” “While my knowledge isn’t encyclopedic, I’m a lifelong fan and I’m fascinated by what they’ve meant.”

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Sinclair, who was 16 when the Beatles broke through globally, sees the story as societal and political as well as musical.

“The Beatles came at a time when people assumed ownership of their stars,” he says. “I think you can’t tell the story of popular music and its place in popular culture without looking at the live concert relationship between artist and audience. When the Beatles started, it was the job of artists is to tell people like me how we should live our lives. That was one of the massive changes that these four people wrought upon us.

“One of the things that interests Ron and I very much is the word exceptionalism. There is something utterly exceptional about the  Beatles beyond any other musical group. I’m hoping, as we go on this journey together and piece together (this film), when it’s finished, you get an understanding of that.”