HITS Daily Double


Manager/Exec Producer Scott Rodger on the Coming Together of McCartney 3, 2, 1

McCartney 3, 2, 1
is manna from heaven for those of us devoted Beatlemaniacs who have pored over The Beatles’ Recording Sessions, have read and re-read the Geoff Emerick book Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles, own The Beatles in Mono box set and have marked their calendars for the premiere of Peter Jackson’s three-part documentary series The Beatles: Get Back on Thanksgiving weekend—people who obsessively jump down the rabbit hole. But at the same time, the sheer brilliance of the music, the humanity that resonates through it and the quality of the conversation between these two extremely interesting people casts a net wide enough to ensnare more people than just us geeks, it turns out.

Scott Rodger, Sir Paul McCartney’s longtime manager, who executive-produced the six-part, three-hour series, now streaming on Hulu, alongside McCartney, Rick Rubin, Jeff Pollack, Peter Berg, Frank Marshall and four others, was kind enough to share his experience in helping shepherd the series from its inception during the dark days of the pandemic a year ago through its 7/16 premiere and the nearly universal adulation that followed.

I’m one of the many who are geeking out over this show.
Have you had a chance to watch any of the episodes?

Yeah, the first five. I’ve saved episode six for tonight, after the NBA Finals game.
We tried to make it so that you could watch them in any order, and that was very deliberate. So there’s no grand finale or big twist in the story in episode six. But then, we could probably have done 12 episodes instead of six.

I’ve been taken aback by the overwhelmingly positive feedback, not just from media but from fans, friends and family. When you’re working these projects, you think they’re good, but you really never know. Because the last thing you want is, “Oh God, here we go again, another program on The Beatles.” You don’t want to ever get to that point, where you feel that you’ve over-labeled it. And it’s heartwarming to see that that is certainly not the case.

It’s 95% on Rotten Tomatoes so far.
I know, and that’s great to see, because in the new world of streaming it’s hard to get numbers, hard to know if people are watching. But it feels like people are really connecting with it.

Let’s go back to the inception of the idea. Can you go through the process?
I don’t think I’ve ever done a project that came together so quickly. It started off with one of the other producers, Jeff Pollack. He’s like, “Hey, can I put a call together with you and Rick? I’ve been showing him some ideas about maybe doing something with Paul.” So I spoke to Rick back in late July or early August last year. And he said, “We’ve got this idea. No one’s really ever talked about Paul and his musicality or the musicality of The Beatles. There’s been so many other focuses, but not on that.” So I chatted to Paul, who said, “Yeah, sounds interesting. Set up a call with Rick.” Paul and Rick spoke around beginning of August. And Rick called and said, “Hey, that was a great call—I think he’s into it.” And then Paul called me and said, “This is a cool idea. We should do it.”

I took that to mean it’s on the slate as something we’ll get to after the pandemic. But Rick called me back 48 hours later and said, “Paul just called me. He said, ‘Can we do it next week?’” And I’m like, “What do you mean, next week?” So I called Paul, and he said, “Hey, I’m in Long Island; maybe we can just do it here. I’ve got time on my hands.” So we got to work.

From the first phone calls to shooting film was only about 12 days, so it ended up being about logistics in order to put the project together in such a short space of time. We had to pull in a full production team—a director of photography, a cameraman, a lighting crew and people to run the equipment. We not only had to find a great location, we also had to pull in all the old, multitrack tapes, which are now digitized, of course—Beatles and McCartney solo songs, Wings songs—and get them organized so that Rick, standing beside him, would be able to say, “These are the songs I want to talk about.” That was challenging, because none of the Beatles’ music had ever left Abbey Road.

So everybody hit the ground running to make it happen. We built a studio in an old church in Sag Harbor, Long Island, that was in the middle of a renovation. Then we had to jump through a lot of hoops because of COVID protocol. We just wanted to make a setup in this open space that would enable us to fluidly film without breaking. And that was key, because Paul or Rick would go, “Hey, let’s go to the piano,” or “Let’s go to the guitar and bass,” and the setup allowed us to film continuously.

Rick had his engineers there so that he could say, “OK, now call up ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps,’” someone would pull up the file and the song would be there. It was super-well-organized. And Paul would just drive himself to set, shoot between 12 and five over a couple of days and then drive home in time for dinner. So for him, it was a couple of afternoons of work. And this is the sort of thing that would ordinarily take eight to 10 weeks to film. So it was a pleasure for him to do, but most excitingly, he’d never gone back to the multitracks since the songs were made.

That’s one of the captivating aspects of it. Rick is understandably like a kid in a candy store—he’s standing in for all of us, in a sense. But Paul is clearly just as into it as Rick is.
Yeah, like when a backing vocal is out of key or something, and Paul goes, “This is why we don’t go back to the multitracks.” And Rick saying, “But that’s part of the beauty and the magic of it all, because you kept a lot of the mistakes.” Today’s technique is so clean that you can endlessly record on hundreds of tracks and drop in and sing a line, drop in, sing another line. But back then, you really had to have your act together to commit to performances, because they only had four tracks to work with on the earlier recordings before it went to eight-track.

It was also fascinating to hear Rick and his engineers from Shangri-La say they were blown away by the technical quality of the recordings, considering how old those recordings were. They couldn’t boil it down to anything other than, well, maybe it’s the power—England’s on 220 volts and the U.S. is on 110—but they thought it was astounding; the best-quality recordings they’d ever heard.

One thing we were worrying about was would it be too nerdy. Is this just for the music nerd, who wants to know all the technical gizmos and ways things were recorded? Or would someone with a non-musical background, just your average person, get something from this? And the consensus from all the tests that we did with family and friends was yes, because the songs are so good.

Right. And the sounds are so captivating.
Absolutely. And Paul came up with some amazing lines. The one line that stands out for me is when Paul says, “At the time, I was working with my mate John, but now, looking back, I was actually working with John Lennon.” Just the weight of that is mind-boggling. Paul was incredibly humble, I think, about working with the three other Beatles—Ringo being his only living bandmate. When we’re younger, all of us take a lot of things for granted. It’s not until you have the benefit of hindsight that you realize, whoa, this was something that was really special. And it feels like it’s sinking in with Paul. I’ve been fortunate to work with him for over 15 years now, and I see this settling in more and more. It feels like he’s listening as a music fan to some of his songs.

It’s a delight to watch him grooving to this stuff like a fan. And it’s mind-blowing that the choices Paul and the rest of the guys made within the limitations of the recording studio were almost always perfect.
Hearing some of these stories about how Paul, John or George would come in with a song was fascinating. They would just work through the song together as a group, and typically between 90 minutes and three hours later, the song would be completed beginning to end. And some of the guys in the band had heard it for the first time three hours prior to recording it. Again, this all comes back to the sheer musicianship of The Beatles. Have you had the good fortune to see any of the screeners of the Peter Jackson film?

Just the trailer.
OK, there’s some footage in the trailer of the famous Apple Records rooftop show in February ’69. But what’s not widely known to the general public is they weren’t just doing a gig; they were trying to capture a performance for that final album. It’s February, it’s London, it’s cold, it’s wet, it’s miserable. And they have primitive recording equipment, primitive technology—no video monitors or all the luxuries that you get today—with all the cables running to the basement, where the songs were being recorded. They were trying to capture performances of classics like “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Get Back,” and they played them multiple times.

So you have these four guys with Billy Preston, locked in together with their vocal harmonies. They couldn’t really hear each other, yet it was perfect. And that’s just the way they were as musicians, going back to when they really were kids playing eight hours a night, 250 days in a row, or whatever the exact number was, in Hamburg. How they could just lock together as a unit paid dividends when they were actually recording. They knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and they would just jell as a unit. And I don’t know if that sort of thing happens with a lot of younger acts, just because they maybe haven’t had the luxury of so much time playing together like these guys did.

Right. The 10,000 hours, as Paul mentioned.
For sure. And I’m not saying anything negative about any of today’s younger musicians, but what really comes across in this series is that the sheer musicianship was next-level, unbelievably phenomenal for self-taught musicians. It’s just the fact that they’d played together for so long, and it was endlessly relentless. They didn’t rehearse as a band. They could just lock in together, and it was spectacular. And this is me talking as a fan, just being there as an observer while we were filming. I’d heard a lot of these stories before, but I think it’s really important from a musical-history perspective to hear some of the stories behind these songs.

My wife has been urging her friends and family members to get a Hulu trial subscription because she wants them to have the experience that we’re having. How did it end up on Hulu, if I might ask?
We cut a trailer together just before the holidays last year, and then we started to have conversations about where it should be placed. We considered all the obvious possibilities—Netflix and Amazon, Disney+ and Hulu, HBO and Showtime—and we went to all of them. But one of the biggest Beatles fans on Earth is Bob Iger, and Bob had bought the Peter Jackson Get Back film for Disney+. Immediately, we thought that this would be a great bridge to prep the ground for the epic that was about to come. And it is epic. But they felt that Hulu, at least for the U.S., was a better platform. However, internationally, it’s going to be on Disney+. So we’ll launch in the U.K. on Disney+ in about four weeks and then roll out a few weeks after that on Disney+ in other territories around the world. I don’t know how they decide what it should be on, but Hulu is only North America. Well, Hulu acquired it for the world, but then it just goes through the greater Disney network.

Amazon were really interested, but Disney/Hulu felt more harmonious because we didn’t want a Disney competitor to go up against the Peter Jackson film. So this was the right home, because that would ensure that any media support and the way it was marketed would not be in direct conflict with what’s about to come with Get Back.

We did The Beatles’ Eight Days a Week, the Ron Howard film, with Hulu when it was in its infancy. And we thought we were going to go to HBO with that, but Hulu really made a big play, with more imaginative marketing and a bigger commitment than HBO. So they took a chance going with Eight Days a Week with Hulu, so it wasn’t a new conversation. And again, largely driven by Bob Iger.

And in terms of it being the bridge to the Peter Jackson series, it couldn’t be more perfect in that regard. And I didn’t realize that there was a connecting thread, but it makes perfect sense, now that you tell me.
Yeah, and I haven’t had the benefit of seeing the whole Peter Jackson film. I’ve seen the first 90-minute presentation, and that was a year and a half ago. So I haven’t seen the final six hours, and I want to wait and watch it as a fan. Knowing what I’ve seen already, it’ll suck the air out of the room of anything else on film about music.

It’s so cool that you’re approaching this event in the same way I am, as a fan.
Completely. We’re all fans. I’m really fortunate to work with Paul and handle whatever I need to do on his part, namely promotion and things like that. But I can still look at it as a fan. And yeah, I can’t wait.

Is there even a remote possibility of a part two?
It’s so hard to say. I mean, Paul was super-happy with the results, as was Rick. And you know that they’re happy because they’re friends and colleagues, and the incoming praise just from people close to them has all been positive. That’s how they gauge; regardless of fan or media praise, it’s the people closest to them who are always the true barometers, so they’re very happy with what we have.

We have about nine hours of film, all of which was very powerful. And you’re only seeing three of those nine hours. We could probably do some more, but I think it may be best, if there was going to be a part two, to literally start again and do another couple more days of filming. But I don’t know if Paul will want to do that, because he’s always been a big believer that when you do something and it’s great, leave it alone. For example, if the James Bond franchise asked him to do a new theme, he’d say no, because he got it right the first time. That would be my gut instinct.

To me, the quintessential line in the whole series is at the beginning of episode five, when Rick says, “It’s just so interesting, the choices you’re making in the playing.” And that’s at the heart of the whole thing, those choices. But I think the choices that you guys have made—the archival cut-ins, black-and-white film and the vibe of the space in which it was shot—those choices have turned out to be spot-on as well.
That’s great to hear, Bud. But the one thing that I felt was really important—and I learned this from Paul, actually—is when you go back to film from the ’60s or ’70s, it has a beautiful texture, a beautiful quality; it always looks good. And no matter how good technology is today, it somehow can never capture that essence of that great classic-film quality. And we’ve gone through a bunch of archives with Paul, and we tried to marry this new and old footage. And I was so mindful of not filling this film with too much archival footage, because that would turn it into something else. So yes, you need to demonstrate when there’s a talking point that needs that reference. But it’s too easy to make a great film just by using these fantastic archives. So it’s trying to get that balance right, where you can get the point across in the most specific and creative way possible but not let it take over.

Again, I appreciate the kind words. I’m happy that you enjoyed the show, first and foremost.

I’m so glad you made it—we all are. Everybody in my circle is feeling just as I am.
When you’re in lockdown and there’s no touring going on, you try to create projects. And Paul was making McCartney III, so he kept himself busy last year. But this was just one of those projects that came from nowhere, completely unplanned and unexpected, and turned out to be quite magical.