November 2, 2011 – We have had the pleasure to interview Ryan White, Director of the upcoming Beatles documentary Good Ol’ Freda, as well as Kathy McCabe, Producer and PR representative for the film. Ryan and Kathy talked to me about many aspects of the film, from the wide range of stories that will come to life, to the financing needed to make this a reality. After speaking to Ryan so extensively about Good Ol’ Freda, it is apparent that this film will offer many new perspectives on what was going on behind the scenes with the Fab Four, from an insider’s point of view.
This is a full-length film that features the memories of Freda Kelly, President of the Beatles Official Fan Club from 1962-72, coming aboard in the early days of the Beatles and lasting until well after they disbanded. Freda has never spoken publically about the ten years she spent behind the scenes with the Fab Four, and has plenty of stories to tell–from why she almost didn’t take the job as Beatles Secretary, to hanging out with their families over tea. Boxes of her original memorabilia, notes and posters have been untouched until now, and it is a treasure trove that would make Beatles collectors faint.
Tony Barrow, former Beatles PR rep, recently said: “Freda is one of the few ‘backroom boys’ who’s never got the recognition she deserves for all the hard work she put in on behalf of the Fab Four.”
(Read our full article about the documentary here)
The huge campaign is still under way by “Team Freda” for pledges. At this time, the film has funded $31,000 of their $50,000 goal, with just 11 days to go till their deadline on 11-11-11. Fans are urged to please spread the word and help this film become reality. Pledges can be as little as $1.00. Just go to this site at Kickstarter.com.
Ryan White is a seasoned and experienced director who has made films on diverse subjects—from the intensity of 9/11, to a global soccer journey, to teenagers coming of age in rural Kentucky, to political corruption in Washington. Pelada, his most recent film, was distributed by PBS International and is currently available on Netflix and iTunes.
MY INTERVIEW WITH RYAN WHITE:
Lennon Examiner: Will the documentary be focused more on Freda herself, and her experiences, or will she be more of a background figure to the Beatles story itself?
Ryan White: The narrative of the film will look at the life of Freda Kelly, and the crux of that will be telling the “Beatles story” through her eyes. In many ways Freda’s personal story is like a classic Hollywood script – a young naive girl plucked from obscurity and thrown into a whirlwind, working for the most famous band ever. But of course a lot of those decisions will be made in the editing process.
LE: Can you give us some idea of the stories that we can expect to see?
RW: Freda’s stories are amazing and compelling, without compromising her loyalty. They are funny and illuminating and sad and mind-blowing, and everything in between. She went through the gamut with the Beatles (as anyone would in a ten-year job), and I think her stories reflect that emotional spectrum.
We will include a full range of stories, from the minutiae of the day-to-day work, for example how she got the wages to the lads, and what it was like to work for “Eppy” (Beatles Manager Brian Epstein) who was often a tough boss. Then there are the sadder stories–like of course how she found out about John Lennon’s death in 1980, and when the band had broken up in 1970 she had to break the news to the devastated fan club that their letters would now go unanswered.
LE: She mentioned that she was actually in the film, Magical Mystery Tour, on the bus. That must have been an amazing experience.
RW: There are hilarious tales of what happened behind the scenes on the Beatles’ film, Magical Mystery Tour – they’re really amazing to listen to. And then Freda’s delivery is just so charming and matter-of-fact.
I don’t think she sees the Beatles as untouchable Gods like so many of us do. She grew up alongside them as friends, she knew their personalities in and out, so I think her perspective when telling stories is just very down-to-earth. She tells it like it was, no bells and whistles necessary. I think the audience will appreciate that.
Then there’s the story about how she got offered the job by Epstein but her dad wouldn’t let her take it. Her father was old school and very protective; he thought the Beatles were too rough looking when he saw them dropping her off in their cars. He told her “There was no future in the job.” Epstein planned a private meeting with her father, which may have helped calm him down a great deal, because Eppy had such a charming manner. In the end, Freda made her own decision to take the job, initially on a one-year trial basis—and 10 years later Freda was still there—as one of the longest-standing employees of The Beatles. Isn’t that incredible?
LE: So Freda was in a real unique position; she had that fly-on-the-wall perspective, in the thick of things, that makes her a real Beatles historian with a lot of new stories to offer to fans.
RW: Freda always says to me, “I was just a secretary.” I think in many ways she doesn’t understand why her story would be of interest to anyone at all. But I love that humility about her. She’s still a working secretary today, so I think there is a beautiful symmetry to her life. As a filmmaker, I have always been interested in marginal characters that wouldn’t normally get the spotlight. And I think the role that Freda had – which gave her a front row seat to the entire decade-long Beatles era – gives her such a unique perspective–someone who witnessed so much, but for the most part quietly from the sidelines. I like the idea of that, whether it’s The Beatles or any other cultural phenomenon.
LE: What historic Beatles locations will you film at?
Kathy McCabe, Producer: Our crew will film several interviews w/ Freda, on location in places such as: The Empire Theater, where Freda appeared on Juke Box Jury with the lads and also where John Lennon fired her in the dressing room for hanging out with another band; the Beatles’ childhood homes, where Freda spent time each week helping their families, and Liverpool Town Hall, where she was a guest of the Beatles for the Civic Reception in 1964. And that’s just a start.
LE: Will there be a “tour” of her personal collection of Beatles items that she owns?
RW: Freda’s attic was like a treasure trove of stuff that she had never looked at before, some boxes she literally had not opened since the 1960’s. A lot of her things will be featured in the film when they help illustrate the story (which is a blessing because it will hopefully cut down on some of our licensing fees!) Those will include old photos, newspaper clippings, her tickets and memorabilia from certain events she attended with the Beatles, even a stash of old fan mail that she kept as a keepsake!
One letter that came from out of the country is literally just addressed to “George Harrison” with no street or city listed, and yet still somehow it found its way to Freda Kelly’s desk. That amazes me – there’s just no way that would happen today. You write “Justin Bieber” on an envelope w/ some postage…. I don’t think it’s going to find its way to him. Freda’s stories are a real testament to the time.
LE: How long will the documentary be?
RW: The documentary will be feature-length – most likely in the 80-90 minute range which is standard for a documentary.
LE: How did you get involved in the film and what made you jump on board?
RW: I have a long family history w/ Freda – two families (one in the US and one in the UK) that go back as family friends for over 50 years now. I think that’s one of the main reasons that all of this fell into place so easily. Freda had obviously had many opportunities over the last 50 years to write a tell-all book or make a tell-all movie. She’s never been interested, it’s just not in her blood to do something like that, and that’s what I love most about her.
Freda has a real class to her – a standard of ethics that I think is rare today, and her loyalty to the Beatles hasn’t waned over the past 50 years. I truly believe she is the same loyal secretary today that she was 50 years ago when she began this job. If she was going to make a film, she needed to do it with someone she trusts and someone she thought shared her vision. And so I feel very lucky that she trusts me to do with her. I think Freda and I see eye-to-eye when it comes to story-telling – we’re not out to tell a salacious story and grab headlines, we both realize there is an audience for that but neither of us are interested in being the delivery person. Instead, we’re out to tell an honest story and bring people in that way.
LE: How big of a Beatles fan are you, yourself?
RW: I was raised listening to The Beatles. I own every album and still listen to them regularly. But I didn’t get to live through that era. Getting to spend so much time with Freda and just listen… it gives me a taste of what that must have been like. Freda always says she’s so glad her teenage years fell during the 1960’s because it was such an amazing time – and I have to admit I’m jealous! I hope the film can really give a sense of what it was like to be a teenager during those days, especially in Liverpool. And we’ll have plenty of Beatles writers/experts consulting on the film to make sure the content we include is interesting and accurate – I will need the help.
LE: Will she talk about the Beatles families and her relationship with them?
RW: A big part of Freda’s job was helping the Beatles parents deal with the sudden fame and fan mail and presents flooding their homes, so she got to know them all. She had relationships with all of the parents including Aunt Mimi, (the aunt who raised John) who rarely allowed people into the house. So Freda was one of the few to cross that threshold.
One of my favorite things to listen to are Freda’s stories of her weekly and monthly visit to their homes. She calls Paul’s dad “Uncle Jim” – he taught her about the more refined tastes of liqueurs and wines.
Freda was particularly close with Ringo’s Mom Elsie – Freda’s mother died when she was a baby, so she grew to consider Elsie a mother figure. Elsie even helped her design her wedding dress and marched up to Brian Epstein one time and demanded that Freda get a raise for all the extra hours that she was putting in…. and the next week Freda was notified that she would be getting a raise!
LE: Some fans want to know, why does the project need to raise $50,000? Some are saying that’s a lot of money.
Kathy McCabe, Producer: I’ll take a shot at that one…you know, Shelley, this is a full scale documentary film….not a video….and doc films are expensive to make. We actually need double this or more to go a great job on ‘Good Ol’ Freda.’ $50,000 is actually a drop in the bucket for a documentary of this scope, scale, and historical perspective. $200,000 is a more likely figure to do a doc like ours and we will seek grants to try to get additional funds. Kickstarter is a great start though and we truly wanted Beatle fans to be able to participate in the making of the film. If we meet our Kickstarter goal, we know we’ll be able to finish the film.
Here are some examples of things that will need to be paid for: For starters, we’ve got a 3-week shoot in Liverpool planned for all those locations I mentioned above. There will be licensing fees for the music, archival footage and photos, and the film score. Then there are post-production costs, including editing, sound management, distribution and theatrical releases. After that, there’s the creation of the DVD, insurance and legal costs.
RW: I think Kathy did a pretty thorough job covering that! But yes, $50k is an extremely low budget for a feature-length documentary that is made responsibly and with good quality (while still remaining cheap.) On my last film, just the color correction, sound mix, insurance costs, and legals bills almost totaled $50k alone. And that was for a “low budget” film. Licensing stock footage and music for this film could easily take another $50k. The trick will be making the film under the confines of how much we can raise.
LE: Will the DVD be available both in UK and US formats?
RW: Yes, absolutely, it will be in International format.
The film is estimated to be completed by 2013. Freda Kelly is already slated to join the Beatles Tribute Cruise to screen the film. Recently Freda was featured here in Seattle on the Bob Rivers Show in an engaging and informative interview that you can listen to at this link.
This article copyright © Shelley L. Germeaux 2011