Paul Crowder is a London-born, L.A.-based editor who just cut Ron Howard’s fantastic tribute to the Fab Four: “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years.” That documentary just premiered and can be seen in theaters and HULU this weekend. Before cutting “Eight Days,” Paul edited and directed dozens of documentaries and shows and was probably most famously associated with the 2001 Sundance Audience Award winning documentary, “Dogtown and Z-Boys.”
Before cutting “Eight Days,” Paul edited and directed dozens of documentaries and shows and was probably most famously associated with the 2001 Sundance Audience Award winning documentary, “Dogtown and Z-Boys.”
HULLFISH: You have a fascinating background. It took you a while to find editing as a career. What were you doing during those years before you started editing?
CROWDER: I was a musician for most of my original career. My goal as a child was to be a drummer in a band and that was always what I was striving for and I had different attempts at doing that. I was lucky enough at 18 years old to be signed with the band I was with to A&M Records and we did a couple of tours and had a few singles and made an album and nobody bought it and nobody cared and we went away, which happens to a lot of bands, but I did get a taste of it. Then I went into the studio and became an assistant recording engineer and then a recording engineer for a few recording studios in London. During that period I just couldn’t stand watching drummers on the other side of the glass. So I got with another band signed with Chysalis, called The Adventures and I became their drummer. We toured with Tears for Fears and that gave me the American bug. We toured here in 1985 and I knew I wanted to be in New York. With our second album tour in 1988 I met a person working with Fleetwood Mac, who we were opening for and we started having a relationship and she lived in LA so I moved to LA, and that’s how I ended up here. I did more music for another four years, working with the Eric Burdon Band. Then I met my wife Kelly and when we had children, the whole “running around in the back of a van” thing was a bit less of an option. My best friend and roommate, Michael Shevloff, who’s a producer said, “I always thought you’d make a great editor. You have that knack. You’re good with machines and stuff. Why don’t you come to my production company as an assistant and you can get on the machines at night and practice. This is back in the linear days: tape to tape and so that’s what I did. Within nine months of going there I was editing network television because the Avid became the industry standard during those nine months. All the other editors were very much used to the tape-to-tape system and they couldn’t quite get their heads around the digital side of it. So me and another editor named TJ Mahar knew the Avid. He taught me the Avid and I was already Mac-friendly so I was aware of some of how it worked. It all made sense to me, and because of my familiarity, I was teaching these other editors how the Avid worked. An opportunity arose and they needed an editor and they said, “Put Paul on it.” So I started editing network TV and about three months later, met Stacy Peralta and later, after working together, Stacy asked me if I wanted to do his film, “Dogtown and Z-boys.” I thought, “I don’t think I’m really that kind of guy. I don’t think I’m ready to do a film and somebody’s life story, especially yours, but he convinced me that I was. So I did “Dogtown” and really the rest, as they say, is history. That opened an amazing amount of doors.
HULLFISH: I just rewatched “Dogtown” and one of the things I loved was the pacing and the musicality of the editing. There are moments of pure punk madness and then you’ve got this dreamy, slow sequence with Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them” under it. Everything slows down and it gives you this chance to breathe. Talk to me about how your music background may have played a part in that.
CROWDER: Stacy came with a selection of songs and basically said, “This is the soundtrack we were listening to. We listened to all these records. This was the stuff that was important to us and inspired us to skate in the way that we did.” And then Grlen Friedman, who was one of the photographers, a younger photographer at the time, and a brilliant and prolific photographer today, he was also very musical and helped us go through all of the selections and songs we should use and the stuff that was really the pinnacle ones. So now we have this nice canvas of music that we get to pick from. We had no budget. We were a $400,000 film so we were really just going to pop them in and realize we wouldn’t be able to get any of these (license them legally), but we figured, “Let’s make the film we want to make.” Really it was just three of us in the room, Stacy, Agi Orsi and myself. just making all of the decisions with no money guys, and I think the film kind of has that freedom because of that. They were a punkish movement. They came in that era. So the brashness of it, the Super 8mm film that was all shot in pieces and was old and destroyed and repaired and looked messy and scratched up… lots of flash-frames and things like that. The photographs that were very raw and the way Stacy chose to shoot them gave us all this manic information visually, naturally. It was already manic naturally before I even laid my hands on it. It had this vibe already. And then, when you start picking the music and start pounding and moving very fast, and you’ve got to give yourself time to breathe. So it was very much structured liked that to be able to power down the hill and fly through the swimming pools, then just for a moment admire the beauty of it all, because that’s the other side. It’s very balletic, it’s very graceful amongst all this, what they’re really doing. And at times, the body movements and the swishes, you want to be able to enjoy them as opposed to having them thrown at you, which was also enjoyable. It was all thought out to give the viewer that chance, “Let’s give them a chance to breathe. Let’s give them a chance to change pace and let’s juxtaposition the music we’re using.” Not only were we slamming our head to Aerosmith and punk rock and hard rock, we’re also listening to Pink Floyd. We’re also listening to Neil Young and other music that’s more mellow. So it was all about creating their world and at the same time creating a pace for the film that allowed the viewer to enjoy the next really hard, powerful, rock n’ roll, in-your-face moment, because they’ve had a chance to breathe and take a step back. The film made itself. We watched the film when we had our first structure and said, “OK, these three things move” and we were literally done. I’ve never made a film quite like it since.
Another thing was leaving the mistake in with Sean Penn’s dialog. Stacy had read the temp narration and he’d made a mistake and I left it in and Stacy thought it was fantastic. So we asked Sean to fluff a line for us, but it sounded forced, so I used a real fluff and we put it where it naturally happened. It’s like skateboarding. You try to do a move, you mess up, you get back on your skateboard and you do it again. So all of our freedoms were being able to include stuff like that in the film. We were shackle-free, running wild.
HULLFISH: One thing I noticed on “Dogtown” and also on “Eight Days” is that there were environmental and maybe even Foley sound effects that just couldn’t have been in the archival footage. The sounds of the grinding skateboards on the pool edge couldn’t have been part of that Super 8mm footage, right?
CROWDER: No. Absolutely, we worked over at DaneTracks on the sound on “Dogtown” and with “Riding Giants” and we spent a lot of time designing that sound. Stacy would ride around the parking lot and they’d follow him around and he’d do grinds and we’d try to find concrete to grind on and asphalt so we had those sounds to embellish and really give that sense, because all of the Super 8mm was MOS, without sound.
HULLFISH: Tell me about the process of cutting “Eight Days” and the schedule and how did you organize it? I’m assuming you were cutting on Avid?
CROWDER: We were cutting in Avid. I have a system in an office at home. That was the best part of the process. Just to sit and have to sift through Beatles footage is great fun. There are some great moments, but it’s quite a daunting prospect when you get your first batch of stuff and then you get your second batch which has more than the first batch you’ve just watched, then the third batch is about as big again and it just keeps coming. How do we pick? What do we do? My assistant, Jamie Bolton, who was absolutely brilliant was constantly on the machine looking for stuff. I don’t know if he has the luck or whether he’s just better at it – probably the latter – but he kept finding the gold on his machine. He would just make lots of bins of stuff to use, good sound-bites, good moments, so we knew what we had as far as our support for any of the stories we want to tell and sometimes write our stories to those moments. So it was just a long process of about four or five months of just going through everything that had been given to us and selecting the best stuff, trying to figure out with some of it, “Will we ever find a master?” There’re a couple of moments in the film actually where we couldn’t find masters and all we had was a VHS copy, but I thought the moments were so important that we should keep them and we presented them in the manner that they are.
HULLFISH: And how were you organizing that stuff? By scene or topic or story?
CROWDER: We put everything into events. There was a company that actually started compiling all of this media called OVOW ONE VOICE. Stuart Samuels and Matthew White at that company had done an extensive project of compiling media and footage, so that was the first stuff that we got. They had organized it into events, from October 1963 onwards. So each day was an event because they were filmed every day. So we then whittled those events down to the shows, so that every time there was a show, what we had from that day – any footage, photographs, sound from that day was in an event folder. Everything was piled into folders, 63, 64, 65 and 66 and then organized by month and then by each day. So every time we went to an event, “We want to be here and talk about this” we were able to take a look at the authentic footage from the day as much as we can. We had to take some artistic license here and there, especially in the studio with what we actually had and when it was actually taken. There are some “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver” photographs where they’re intertwined. But they tell the story. They visually connect. They visually make sense, so it’s a little artistic license, but you’re within a few months. Then we’ve got that to go to for everything.
HULLFISH: Was the film’s structure there from the beginning in the script or did it evolve? It’s not strictly chronological.
CROWDER: It evolved constantly, but it starts on paper. Mark Monroe, who’s been my business partner since 2006 and who I’ve been working with since 1998 doing “VH-1 Behind the Music.” He’s written all of the films I’ve done apart from the two I did with Stacy. So it starts with him. We gather our interviews, all the talking heads that we want to include that we have in our resources. Obviously, the tricky thing is that you want to balance the four Beatles. You want to hear from the four of them and obviously, having two still with us and two who have passed, you are limited in how many interviews there are with George Harrison and John Lennon and you’re certainly limited in how much of that has never been heard. There are a lot of people that have heard it all. I think we found a couple of interviews that are much rarer and that people may not have seen. That will help those who are very well versed in The Beatles’ story and archives. Mark Monroe would just lay out a structure of bites. We all talked about it. We had plenty of meetings where the producer, Nigel Sinclair, Ron Howard, Mark Monroe and myself would sit around and discuss what was possible. The idea was, “Well if we’re doing the touring years, how about if we structure things around performances, and having gone through the footage, we knew which were the strongest performances that we had where we could do complete songs and we decided we’d make those our “tent-poles.” So then we’re always striving to get to our tent-poles to move us forward. There was an extensive treatment written for what the story arcs would be and what the story would focus on and so then Mark takes those ideas and we start structuring sound-bites together. From there we start laying in the supporting footage, the historic footage, the archives. I’ll restructure from there, maybe take some stuff out that we don’t need… back and forth in that manner. Then Ron has a look, gives us notes and we’d circle back again to move forward. So it starts in a paper structure with sound=bites of talking heads and we structure the rest of it around that.
HULLFISH: Kitty Oliver, Sigourney Weaver, Whoopi Goldberg, Malcolm Gladwell… some of these people are not obvious choices for a Beatles documentary, but they were perfect and poignant. How did they discover these connections?
CROWDER: A friend of Nigel Sinclair’s lived in Florida and he read a newspaper article about Kitty because it was the 50th anniversary of them playing that show in Jacksonville and Kitty was mentioned and talked to the paper. So we went looking for her. She told us her story which was unbelievably poignant and incredible. Times haven’t changed much in 50 years. We’re very much in the same volatile feelings between whites and blacks. That makes her story even more powerful. It gives the film so much balance. I don’t know how many people knew that The Beatles had made that stance to not play any show that was segregated. Paul said he’d forgotten that they’d done that. The Beatles came from Liverpool. It was a very, very mixed culture there and we did have that backstory. For them to have to exclude people was ridiculous to them. Of course, they were playing to everybody. I don’t know if they realized at the time how powerful of a statement they were making. That’s what’s amazing is that Kitty gives us that perspective. She gives us this incredible moment. It’s absolutely gold, finding her.
HULLFISH: And Sigourney Weaver? She’s talking and then you’ve got newsreel footage of her as just this random girl at a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. That was astonishing!
CROWDER: That was one of those moments in the bay (the edit bay). Jaime and I are going through the footage and there’s a really funny moment in a very old cut of the film where Groucho Marx is at a big party in Beverly Hills with The Beatles and a few girls found out about this party and I looked at them in the background and said, “That looks like Sigourney Weaver, doesn’t it?” And then we were weaving through the rushes and found a closer shot and I said, “It is! That’s Sigourney Weaver!” I remember seeing her there and we made a note and set it aside and then a month or so later, we were going through some other footage from CBS and it was another moment of b-roll where they pan the crowd and I said, “There she is! That’s definitely Sigourney Weaver.” So we did a bit of research and sure enough, it was her. And I think about a year later she appeared on Jimmy Fallon talking about it and they used that footage. It was one of those things.
HULLFISH: So you found the footage and that inspired doing the interview?
CROWDER: Yeah. We found it then approached Sigourney about her experience at the Hollywood Bowl. I can see why some people might say, “Why are you talking to these people?” But they were witnesses. They’re absolutely relevant to the story. They could be anybody, really, but they’re familiar faces. To be able to go find any of the other random girls in that footage and locate them would be impossible. But I knew that was Sigourney Weaver and I know where she lives.
HULLFISH: That sounds a bit creepy. (laughs)
CROWDER: Well, I don’t really know where she lives, but we knew we could get ahold of her. Then Ron was doing “The View” and Whoopi was there and Ron was chatting with her about doing this film and Whoopi said, “Well, you know I went to Shea” and gave her the backstory and so Ron asked if she would sit for an interview and she gives us the most beautiful, heartfelt, almost crying … remembering the story of how she got the tickets to see the show. She’s probably one of a thousand other people that had a somewhat similar story and she was there and tells the story beautifully so I hope no one feels like we’re trying to wedge famous people into the film. We knew who they were, they gave us great stories.
HULLFISH: I certainly didn’t feel like that watching the film. One of the things I really appreciated about the film – and Whoopi was certainly part of it – was that this kind of movie could be very simple just to do in a very straightforward way: here’s a show, here’s another show, here’s what life was like on the road. That’s kind of what I was expecting. But instead, there was this deep emotional connection throughout the entire connection with the people in the story.
CROWDER: Yes. Ron’s good at that. That’s the stuff he likes to strive for in his films. But also, naturally, the story has that. The emotions when you think about their story and what they’re going through it is tumultuous. You’ve just got to push the buttons, then push it a little further. There’s a short section where you’re watching this kid watching the show and he’s crying! They’re totally moving him and they had that effect on so many people. There’s emotion everywhere to be found. You’ve just got to hone in on it. There’s also so much laughter and comedy in this. That was one of Ron’s big things, was let’s get the comedy as much as we can. We’re able to find these things that are naturally there. You just have to focus on them.
HULLFISH: Also, the journey from Ringo’s excitement of landing in New York for the first time through to George being completely burned out at the end, saying he never wanted to tour anymore. I got chills at that point in the movie when Ringo’s describing his joy of landing in New York. America was their goal and it was finally happening for real.
CROWDER: I was with Ron for the interview and we were doing it together. Before the interview, I told Ringo, “I came over with my band in ’89 and I was screaming on the plane.” We were so excited to come to America and play rock n’ roll. And I asked him, “Was it that way for you? Was America that place?” And it absolutely was, as it would be for anybody who’s 19 and going somewhere they’ve looked up to. It’s the home of rock n’ roll. It’s where the rock music came from that they listened to. So the excitement that Ringo gets from that, you watch that show in Washington where Ringo is playing “I saw her standing there” and he’s pounding away, rocking his ass off. And that’s how much fun they’re having. And you juxtapose that with the emotion they’re having in 1966 when they’re in Japan and Ringo’s face when they’re playing “Nowhere man…”
HULLFISH: I was going to mention that exact moment. He’s fallen so far emotionally. It’s completely evident in that one shot.
CROWDER: That’s what’s so powerful and that’s why we went to that shot because it juxtaposes to the ’64 Ringo in such a powerful manner. It’s so unbelievable that he went from that guy to that guy. As you say, there’s the emotional arc within the band. That tumultuous situation they had to go through. The ups and downs. Having to deal with everybody wanting some you every moment and that went on for years. I was trying to show that subtly in the film by pushing in on photographs and you can start to see that it’s wearing on their faces a little bit.
HULLFISH: Talk to me a little bit about sound design. I loved the sound design in this documentary. Little audio montages and ambiances and atmospheres. Did you actually do Foley on this movie?
CROWDER: A little. The guys we work with, Christopher Jenkins and Cameron Frankley and their team of people did a bunch of Foley to accentuate and pick up what we had. I edit a lot on the beats. Because I’m a drummer I really lean on the drums a lot for my editing and chord changes and things, possibly making me a little predictable but I feel like it’s natural to me, it feels comfortable. I would give them the lead in my temp soundtracks… during the photo sessions, I’m always putting in camera clicks to try to drive it, and they would do the same things on snare rolls and fast hits and girls voices, embellishing the screams, trying to put actual sounds in places where they should happen, to really put you in the moment so you really feel like you’re in the audience when the camera is standing in front of the girls, you get the audio that that camera would have gotten. It just helped bring it to life. It was a mixture between what I had done as a basic thing because I always temp in sound mix. I can’t stand to listen to it quiet. I’m always rhythmical in some manner, so they embellished and took it to a great place. I have to give them the credit for how great the film sounds.
HULLFISH: There were little audio montages that I really liked that were bridges between sections.
CROWDER: That was all me. That was my way of just wanting to get more intimate with them. We want to get in the bubble with them, in their world for a minute. Let’s just be with them. We’re going into the studio, so let’s be in the studio for a minute and let them murmur and talk. We had access to that audio, Apple very graciously shared that audio with us and we were able to listen to these moments. And if you close your eyes, you’re there with them. You add a couple of photographs to it and you’re right there. Larry Kane gave us a lot of his stuff that he had recorded while he was on the road so he shared a lot of that with us. We had a researcher named Eric Taros who’s an amazing wealth of knowledge and just knows where all of the bodies are buried and so we would just call him and a couple of hours later it would show up. Crikey, the amount we couldn’t use it was painful the stuff we cut. Everybody has their analogy: Killing your children…Sophie’s Choice… removing an arm. Whatever. It’s that painful making some of these choices, it really is.
HULLFISH: Tell me about some of those choices. I definitely had wanted to explore that exact topic. I was certain that a bunch of great stuff had to be left on the cutting room floor.
CROWDER: Crikey, there were so many moments. The Hamburg sequence was a wonderful sequence where we spent about 10 minutes talking about what it was like to play Hamburg. A few snippets exist in the film now, but using audio of a Star Club show on a bootleg that exists, we interweaved, we set the tone for Hamburg, we set the tone for who they were and how hard they had to work: eight hours a day with an hour on and an hour off, so they were actually working 16 hours each day, playing constantly. A band today could never get away with learning their craft on stage today. There’re very few clubs and everybody wants to be entertained, so you better do it or you’re not getting another gig. But there, they were able to hone their craft and get better and better at it. We interviewed Malcolm Gladwell who talked about the fact that they were playing in a place that had strippers and drinking, so you’d better be able to entertain the drunks and be able to handle a rowdy audience and you’d better have a plethora of songs because you can’t just play the same eight songs, so they’re pulling from the songs they grew up with, so they’re doing “Taste of Honey” and they’re doing all these old classic hits of that era. And all of that stuff ends up subconsciously within them. Not only have they honed their craft so that when they are playing Shea Stadium and they can’t hear themselves, they know each other so well and they’ve played with each other for so many hours that that’s easy. They trusted each other and they all had that confidence to be able to play under those conditions. So we told that story and that’s a massive part of who they are, and that was a killer – not only for the great photographs and the great sound, but just because it’s and important part of who they are, but it was slightly outside of our timeline. It’s pre-1962. So that was part of the decision making. We tried to place it at a point in the film where we couldn’t stop down for that long. We had to be rolling forward. The film couldn’t take it where we wanted to put it and we certainly couldn’t start the film with a massive historical moment because that would just slow the pace in getting into the film and we’d lose the audience, so suddenly we had no place for it. So we tried to save a couple of moments and sprinkle them in a couple of places, but essentially that was a really bad one because it’s so interesting.
HULLFISH: I wanted to talk about a specific moment that I just loved, which was a phone call that Brian Epstein takes and gets us into his backstory. It’s a great transition. That’s also one of the first transitions we get backward in time from the straight chronology of the tour.
CROWDER: Well we started in 1963 and tell a little backstory on how The Beatles became The Beatles, then we’re back on track in the tour. We have to introduce Brian and so you naturally have to go back to how he discovered them. I’ve always loved that Henry Mancini song and it came out in 1965 or 1966 and it felt like a perfect fit for Brian as far as his character: suave, cool… I just thought it was a great piece of music to help us with that transition. There’s a film from the 60s called “What’s Happening?” or “Hey, What’s Happening?” and there’s another film re-cut of that called, “Hey Hey The Beatles” and there’s the first US visit and it’s all shot by Albert Maysles and the Maysles Brothers and they filmed them arriving in America. I saw that phone call in that film for the first time. That was actually another scene that was painful to cut shorter than it originally was. We were looking for time here and there. So we were looking to go back in time and that scene allowed us to do that. I manufactured it a bit: added the sound of a phone, got Ringo to turn his head as if he’s reacting to the phone and then there’s beautifully shot footage of the woman walking past Brian to answer the phone and the close up of her on the phone. That dialogue exists. It’s real dialogue that they shot in the room at the time, so it’s all authentic. Now we can go back in time and tell a bit more of that. So we added some of the Hamburg days footage where they’re scruffily dressed, and how he shaped them and put them into the suits. We could get the Cavern in there that way. We could see where they started. The club that launched them.
HULLFISH: That Henry Mancini piece was just so unexpected in the middle of a Beatles documentary, but as you said, perfect for the character of this upper-class guy that they looked up to as somebody special.
CROWDER: Paul says, “He was Liverpool class.” It was a perfect match. It set the tone for him. Plus, it’s been a relentless pace up until that point with The Beatles progress and rise and flight to America and all of that happening, so it’s nice to be able to take a little respite for a minute before we get to Washington. We go back in time for a bit and then when we come back, he’s still on the phone and he says, “We’re going to Washington” and off we go to Washington. We had this lovely little bookend that naturally existed from the Maysles Brothers footage. We were lucky enough to interview Albert which never made it into the film – it’s in the DVD extras – but it was very sad for him to pass and not to get to see the finished project. I was thinking a lot about his style of making films and how he got the intimacy he gets. If you get a chance to see “The First US Visit” or the recut they did recently, there’s amazing intimacy that he gets off the bat. He’s probably just met these cats and he has the ability to turn the camera on and be invisible and just capture them completely unfazed by the camera being there. I asked him about that and he said, “You just need to know where to stand.” I said, “You’re sitting in a car! You don’t have a lot of options!”
CROWDER: Yet they’re still not reacting to you. How do you do that? It was just a knack that he had and it’s the reason they made such brilliant films. We were even able to go through the outtakes and include moments that haven’t ever been seen before, like that moment where they’re fighting over the camera: “ME! NO, ME! TELEVISION!”
HULLFISH: That’s a great scene.
CROWDER: That’s their personalities just flying out. You don’t have to say a thing and you’re getting all this information about who they are. Fabulous personality moments to enjoy. Subtly finding out things and seeing them in ways you haven’t seen before.
HULLFISH: The emotional depth of this documentary really surprised me. I should have known with Ron Howard at the helm, but I was truly impressed with what you were able to do. It took me on an emotional journey more than it even told me about the tour. Here are these guys and they’re all excited and they’ve got each other’s backs and they’re friends, and this touring just kind of ruins it. At one point John Lennon compares the tour to raising cucumbers in a hothouse and they mature too fast.
CROWDER: It’s like rhubarb when you grow it under hothouse conditions.
HULLFISH: It was just heartbreaking. That’s why they made the decisions they had to make. That’s why they had to get off the road. That’s the other hard thing about losing the Hamburg thing is that playing live was what it was all about. In the early days, all their thinking was just to be good working musicians. They’re not thinking, “Let’s go change the world.”
HULLFISH: This was just a great documentary. Congratulations. My background is documentary as well originally. I want to talk to you about sound design.
CROWDER: It’s all just finding the natural sound, finding the tape loop or the tape start up or the voice when we come out of the butcher baby cover and they’ve got this controversy about the cover and then the first word you hear after they put the new bland, straightforward album cover over the controversial “butcher cover” is, “Sorry.” Somebody making a mistake in the studio but it connects as a perfect little link and then you’ve got George and John and George Martin and Paul all having a tiny little conversation about what they’re doing next and it just drifts through the next couple of pictures. There’s a lull and you hear some messing about and it’s all loose and feeling a bit like you’ve walked through a door and that’s kind of the idea and they’re at it and you’ve walked in the middle of something. That was how I designed the studio moment. We literally go through the doorway. We see a contemporary Abbey Road and we dissolve into an empty Studio 2 and the music and the sound do the same. It was all about opening doors. We did it in the opening scene. That’s how we start. I found an audio section of them backstage and I thought, “What if we started this like we were backstage with them before a show?” It was very difficult audio to hear but there were some great moments in there. We started that with a door opening and somebody says, “RINGO!” and it’s like you’ve walked into their dressing room. We sound design it as if you’re walking past a door and you hear something and it’s intriguing and you stop and listen. That’s the feeling and idea behind it.
HULLFISH: I loved all of those moments. There’s a great contrast between the song “Good Day Sunshine” and the negative images and negative vibe that’s happening in the movie on top of it.
CROWDER: I’m always trying to look at the songs of the right era. It was literally to do just what you said: juxtapose … Paul just before this says, “Oh no! It’s going to be fine. You’ll see.” He thinks the controversy about the “bigger than Jesus” statement will blow over, and you come off of that to this “dadadadadadadadadada” (drum beats of “Good Day Sunshine”) so there’s tension and the images move fast to that and then they’re singing, “Good Day Sunshine” but really it’s not. You’re walking into hell. So trying to play one off of the other. The reality is that it’s not going to be great and the imagery tells you that.
HULLFISH: And in that segment, you did a beautiful hold on John after he apologizes. I’ve seen that interview footage before, but I have never seen it hold on his face. You left in a very revealing moment where he just looks pissed or stunned that this is even a problem he has to deal with.
CROWDER: He says, “I said it in that way, which was the wrong way.” Then he makes that face. We had this beautiful color footage that no one has seen that we were using but there was black and white footage of the close-up of John. I kept getting push back to stay with the wider color footage. We ended up colorizing it to help with the edit. You had to see his face. You had to see him because of that face, as you say, tells you a thousand things about how torn up he is. It’s all in that one expression. It’s actually more fascinating when you watch the film a few times to look at the others. You can see Paul’s not happy and he sits back a little. If you watch all the press conferences they gave, you can see that it’s becoming a pain. “This is not what we need at all. It’s just ridiculous.” It wears on them. There’s one where the four of them are so far apart. That was another of those painful things that we cut when we had a much longer embellished moment of the pressures. As you know from watching the version you saw, we played it enough. We don’t need to embellish it anymore. We’re getting.
HULLFISH: Plus there’s a scene where a reporter is blaming them for being stuck up
CROWDER: Yeah, “Why are you so horrid snobby!?” And they’re not!
HULLFISH: Before we get off the Christianity controversy I wanted to ask you about a kind of looming Gothic church shot that’s in there. It didn’t look like stock and it didn’t look like archival.
CROWDER: We filmed that. That’s the church in Liverpool. I think it’s at the end of Penny Lane. That’s the church that they would have attended. We were in Liverpool shooting interviews and we went and shot a lot of b-roll for possible use in the film and that’s the one shot that we shot that justified going over there.
HULLFISH: Another thing is that there’re very few major milestones in their personal lives. No marriages. No births of kids. At one point in the film, I realized that there were little Beatle children running around.
CROWDER: It’s a part of their lives that they kept secret during that time. They never made a big deal of it. Cynthia used to wear black wigs and stuff so she was unrecognizable because she traveled with them a lot. It really wasn’t a featured thing. None of that was part of the journey we’re on. It was one of those side streets that we didn’t have the time to go to. It was the same with Ringo getting tonsillitis in 1964 and Jimmy Nicholl playing drums for them. Ringo missed the first part of the Australian tour. Jimmy played Amsterdam, China and the first three shows in Australia. Then Ringo rejoins them in Melbourne. We had a whole section about why and how and this other guy joining, but it just slowed us down from getting through the story. It’s an amazing side story but it didn’t quite fit the journey we were on. It didn’t matter. Once you start down that path, you can’t just gloss over it. If you don’t mention it, you don’t have to do the whole “Who, whys and where-fors.” I think those were all really difficult, smart storytelling decisions.
HULLFISH: Talk about visuals. At the beginning of the film, the still photos are not treated at all. There’s no movement. They’re presented in whatever aspect ratio they were shot. Transitions were all simple cuts, fairly rapid. Then later in the film, there are some treatments of stills that are much more involved. From simple pushes – or I call them floats…very slow creep ins – but there was also real cigarette smoke rising from the still photo of a Beatle smoking and there were some of those 3D faked moves on stills.
CROWDER: For the most part, it’s really difficult what to do with photographs today that hasn’t already been done. The 3D thing’s been done to death now and so I shied away from it. I just wanted to see the image and let every part of the image tell us what it needs to tell us.
HULLFISH: Uninflected by movement.
CROWDER: And if I’ve going to do a move, I’m just going to push in really slightly. It’s going to be very subtle. Just a little push in to give us a tiny bit of movement. So that was for the early part of the film. Then when we got to the studio we felt like we needed to create a little more life in the studio section, so we started to treat some of the photographs in that manner. And we didn’t do all of them, but just certain sections where we did the 3D thing and it was just to bring the studio to life a little bit more. There’s a tiny, tiny bit in the opening. There’s a little cigarette smoke on a couple of things and a tiny bit of 3D going on in those as well but the rest of it was held off.
HULLFISH: Talk to me about score and temp. Most people would probably not expect this movie to be scored. I was thinking specifically about the section where George says he doesn’t want to tour any more, but I know there were several other places as well.
CROWDER: There’re two places… at the very end where we’re at Candlestick. Originally we were going to have them perform at Candlestick, the last performance, but A) the sound is so poor and the sound we wanted to use – which is the last song they performed “Long Tall Sally” – only the first 36 or 40 seconds of audio exist and we would have had to cheat the rest of the music from another performance and we didn’t want to do that. The footage is very sporadic and Super 8mm and not very clear. There’re some great Jim Marshall photographs. But we felt like “we don’t need to hear them play now.” We’ve already made the point that they’re not playing well. We already made the point that they can’t hear themselves. So we re-approached it thinking “What if it was score?” It was the same with the opening and doing the backstory. There’s not a Beatles song that really fits here and we don’t want to be wall-to-wall Beatles music because that will get tiresome and we don’t want to bore our audience. Originally we had this opening that featured an analogy with Mozart that Malcolm Gladwell said that Mozart wasn’t brilliant from the start. He had to work at it. His first symphony was rubbish, but by the time he gets to Symphony 30 he’s a genius. So for that reason, we were considering using all classical music to score the rest of the film, but that didn’t work. We did go down that path, though. Then we decided to find a nice piece of empty score that feels classy and just sits behind. The people we used to score the movie are called Matter. I’ve been working with them since “Riding Giants.” I’ve used them whenever I can on everything since. They’re fantastic people. Dan Pinella, Chris Wagner and Ric Markman. They came up with these beautiful moments. I put some temp music in there to give them a little bit of a lead and then they did it, but that whole end section you’re talking about that was all scored by them. It’s a beautiful section. It’s so emotional at that moment. We wanted a respite from the Beatles music.
HULLFISH: How did you and Ron collaborate?
CROWDER: We would talk a lot about what we were trying to achieve and where we were going. There was a lot of communication before we got in the edit bay. When we start a structure we’ve already got our treatment. We’ve already got our outline. We know how we’re going to structure the story from here to here to here to here. So then through Mark Monroe and myself, we go through the first pass structure. Mark and I would hone that structure and make sure it was in good shape and then send it to Ron and then Ron would give us his thoughts and his notes and we’d go back through the same kind of process again, just me Mark and Nigel and then back to Ron. So very collaborative all the way. We already knew how we wanted to tell the story. We knew the moments we wanted to feature and then there were these wonderful surprises. That was one of my favorite things was sending Ron and Nigel these little sections, like when I found Larry Kane’s audio of him having this epiphany 13 shows in that he realizes that he’s watching something that’s unlike anything that’s come before and is probably unlike anything that will ever happen again. He said that in 1964 and he’s correct. Living in that world for 13 days he’s noticing that. Or when I found that gold studio moment and I’d send them off to Ron and it would get everyone so excited about what we could do. It was very collaborative. It was always going around the circle. Ron was making a few other films so he was traveling a lot. I’d sometimes sit in the edit bay with Skype and just point the laptop at the screen and he’d watch it over the phone on the screen and we’d discuss what we were doing that way.
HULLFISH: Did you use selects reel? How did you keep from getting overwhelmed with material or did you just stay in a scene and limit your vision to that scene?
CROWDER: That’s the thing is to avoid getting overwhelmed. I learned this a long, long time ago because you end up feeling like you’re at the bottom of Mount Everest every day looking up, thinking, “How am I going to get to the top of this thing?” You have to focus on, “Where am I? What scene am I in and what do I have to support it.” Let’s just stay here. Then when you’re building that scene and you find, “I don’t have very much that I can use here. So what do I have around it? Let’s look at a couple of days around it. What have we got? Still struggling. I need them getting off a plane. I need them in a room. I need Ringo to be looking pissed off. I need something.” So then you go delve the next bit further and you look at what else you have in your resources. So the idea is just to keep yourself focused on the job at hand and stay focused in that moment. “We’re going from here to here and that’s all I have to worry about. I just have to worry about the footage that supports this.” And then there’s, “Oh! I found this! Where can we put this?” And I’d send it to Mark, I’d send it to Ron, and say, “Let’s find a place for it. We can’t put it there and we can’t put it there.” Then someone has the epiphany, “We could put it there!” I have this bin called “Hip Pocket” and I just put all these things in the “Hip Pocket” bin.
HULLFISH: (laughs) I am SO stealing that! I’m creating a “Hip Pocket” bin on my next project! I’ve got a friend that has a bin called “Junk in the trunk” but that’s kind of the opposite of the “Hip Pocket’ bin.
CROWDER: I constantly go through it to remind myself, “Oh Crikey, I’ve got to find a place for this!” I depressingly went through it the other day and it was like, “Oh man, I never found a place for that or that or that.”
HULLFISH: That would make a great DVD bonus feature – just watching you plow through your “Hip Pocket” bin, except for the licensing issues it would create, I guess. Eventually, I’d like to get some screenshots from your Avid to see how you organized things.
CROWDER: I just have to say that there’s no substitute for Avid. It’s the Porsche of editing. We could not have done this on any other system. I know the other systems can handle it, but not in this manner. I don’t have to worry about anything. Every different frame rate was represented in our archive materials, and I’m just working and we’re cutting it together on the fly and it’s all fine. Also, I could not have done this without ScriptSync.
HULLFISH: Oh! That’s an interesting thought! You used ScriptSync for the interviews?
CROWDER: No, for everything. Everything. Any dialogue at all we had transcribed and ScriptSynced. So I could go search words. I could search for whatever I needed. We had a whole bin of just ScriptSync scripts. We would get archive interviews and transcribe them and ScriptSync them. That was why I stayed in MC7. I never went up to 8 because they dropped the license in 8. There’s just no way I could have done this without it.
HULLFISH: I just finished cutting a documentary two weeks ago myself and I was cutting in the latest version of Media Composer, but I was on Nexis shared storage and I had an old version 6 Symphony system hanging off of it that we used for nothing except ScriptSync and PhraseFind. When we wanted a word or phrase, you’d hop on the Symphony, do the search and locate the exact moment you wanted, then you’d have to go back to your current editing system to cut it in. So it was a bit of a pain, but it allowed us to stay current and still have the amazing PhraseFind and ScriptSync functionality.
CROWDER: So having access to it on your editing systems saves you a step of course, since it will call that up directly into your source window ready to go. It’s genius. I don’t know how people make it without. I mean I did. It used to drive me nuts. You’d get a timecode where a soundbite was supposed to be and it wasn’t there and you’d have to literally watch an hour interview to find one bite and it would always be at the end. Or somehow you miss it and have to watch it again. It really helps because I could remember things that existed, but I couldn’t remember where I put it or which year it was. So instead of having to go through it all, you put it in ScriptSync and boom! it’s there.
HULLFISH: Alright. Thanks so much for a really great interview! I loved that we caught that ScriptSync discussion there at the end.
CROWDER: Thanks so much for seeking me out. I love what you do. I’ve read many of those interviews in the past. They’re just brilliant.
If you liked this interview, you may like the other four dozen interviews in the series. Read them using THIS LINK and follow me on Twitter at @stevehullfish.
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