Peter Jackson Talks About Making The Beatles’ Last Music Video

Peter Jackson: “When Apple asked me to make the music video, I was very reluctant – I thought my next few months would be a hell of a lot more fun if that tricky task was somebody else’s problem, and I could be like any other Beatles fan, enjoying the night-before-Christmas anticipation as the release of a new Beatles song and music video approached – in 1995, l loved the childlike excitement I felt as the release of Free As A Bird was inching closer.

Didn’t reply

I could have that experience once again – all I had to do was say no to The Beatles.

To be honest, just thinking about the responsibility of having to make a music video worthy of the last song The Beatles will ever release produced a collection of anxieties almost too overwhelming to deal with. My lifelong love of The Beatles collided into a wall of sheer terror at the thought of letting everyone down. This created intense insecurity in me because I’d never made a music video before, and was not able to imagine how I could even begin to create one for a band that broke up over 50 years ago, had never actually performed the song, and had half of its members no longer with us.

It was going to be far easier to do a runner.

Photo: John Phillips

I just needed a little time to figure out a good reason for turning The Beatles down – so I never actually agreed to make the music video for Now And Then (in fact I still haven’t to this day).

I told Apple how the lack of suitable footage worried me. We’d need to use a lot of rare and unseen film, but there’s very little … Nothing at all seemed to exist showing Paul, George and Ringo working on Now And Then in 1995 … There’s not much footage of John in the mid-seventies when he wrote the demo … I grizzled about the lack of unseen Beatles footage from the ’60s … And they didn’t even shoot any footage showing Paul and Ringo working on the song last year.

A Beatles music video must have great Beatles footage at its core. There’s no way actors or CGI Beatles should be used. Every shot of The Beatles needed to be genuine. By now I really had no idea how anyone could make a Now And Then music video if they didn’t have decent footage to work with, and this was far from being a lame excuse. My fear and insecurity now had solid reasons why they should prevail and allow me to say no without looking too much like a chicken.

Hours of footage from the recording sessions

I knew The Beatles don’t take no for an answer if their minds are set on something – but they didn’t even wait for me to say no. I found myself swept along as they quickly addressed my concerns. Paul and Ringo shot footage of themselves performing and sent that to me. Apple unearthed over 14 hours of long forgotten film shot during the 1995 recording sessions, including several hours of Paul, George and Ringo working on Now And Then, and gave all that to me. Sean and Olivia found some great unseen home movie footage and sent that. To cap things off, a few precious seconds of The Beatles performing in their leather suits, the earliest known film of The Beatles and never seen before, was kindly supplied by Pete Best.

This may be the film Jackson is talking about. Discovered in 1995, Pete Best bought it for inclusion in his 2005 documentary DVD, “Best of the Beatles”. Although he was the drummer at this concert, he was never filmed by the amateur who was filming this. We hope Jackson have been able to improve upon the footage.

Watching this footage completely changed the situation – I could see how a music video could be made. Actually, I found it far easier if I thought of it as making a short movie, so that’s what I did… My lack of confidence with music videos didn’t matter anymore if I wasn’t making one.

Even so, I still had no solid vision for what this short film should be – so I turned to the song for guidance.

After we had separated John’s voice on the demo tape over a year ago, Giles had produced an early mix of Now And Then. This had been sent to me back in 2022. I loved it. Since then I must have listened to Now And Then over 50 times, purely for pleasure.

Listening for inspiration

Now I started listening to it intently for different reasons. I was hoping that ideas or inspiration for the short film would somehow float up from the music. And that began to happen. As I kept listening, it felt like the song was creating ideas and images that started forming in my head – without any conscious effort from me.

I teamed up with Jabez Olssen, my Get Back editor, to try and figure ways the new film footage could be used to support these wispy ideas. It was a very organic process, and we slowly started build little fragments, sliding pictures and music around in different ways until things began to click in.

We wanted the short film to bring a few tears to the eye, but generating emotion using only archive footage is a tricky thing. Fortunately, the simple power of this beautiful song did a lot of the work for us, and we finished the first 30 or 40 secs of the film fairly quickly.

The ending

Having done that, we jumped straight to the ending and tried to craft something that could adequately sum up the enormity of The Beatles’ legacy – in the last few seconds of their final recording. This proved to be impossible. Their contribution to the world is too immense, and their wondrous gift of music has become part of our DNA and now defies description.

I realised we needed the imagination of every viewer to do what we couldn’t, and have each viewer create their own personal moment of farewell to The Beatles – but we had to gently steer everyone to that place. I had some vague ideas, but didn’t really know how to achieve this.

Fortunately, Dhani Harrison happened to be visiting NZ at this time. I discussed the ending with him, and described one vague idea I’d been toying with. His eyes immediately filled with tears – so that is the way we went.

The middle section

Jabez and I now began thinking about the middle section. We could actually watch the beginning and end now, and quickly realised our initial plan of having similar emotional power continue through this middle section would be completely wrong. That was not who The Beatles were. At their core they were irreverent and funny, and the middle section should capture that spirit. We needed to laugh at The Beatles, and laugh with them. They were always sending themselves up – and the more seriously other people took them, the more they would clown around.

Luckily we found a collection of unseen outtakes in the vault, where The Beatles are relaxed, funny and rather candid. These become the spine of our middle section, and we wove the humour into some footage shot in 2023. The result is pretty nutty and provided the video with much needed balance between the sad and the funny.

It was finally finished after WētāFX completed a few simple, but tricky VFX shots.

To be honest, while we hope we’ve given The Beatles a suitable final farewell, that’s something you’ll need to decide for yourselves when it’s finally released – only a few days from now.

Having got to the end, I’m very happy I’m not waiting for the release of somebody else’s Now And Then music video. I have genuine pride in what we made, and I’ll cherish that for years to come. A huge thanks to Apple Corps and the Fabs for giving me all the support I needed – and not allowing me to wriggle away.”


8 Responses

  1. Mike says:

    But we’ve seen that Pete best film since 1995 soooo

  2. DukeViking says:

    Feels like Nov. 1995 all over again.

  3. John Norton says:

    Maybe Paul and Ringo along with the Lennon and Harrison estates should think about releasing Shea Stadium, the two 1966 Japan shows, Germany 1966 and Hollywood Bowl 1964 before the original fan base dwindles down and the films get lost forever

  4. Chris says:

    I’m looking forward to it,but The “free As A Bird” Video set an impossibly high bar to surpass.It will be really impressive if “Now And Then”is its equal.

  5. Ole M. Olsen says:

    I’ll leave the sceptics and the cynics and the Internet commentary to do their usual daily thing. Myself, I’m feeling quite (very) enthusiastic about everything I’ve heard and read, and I’m looking forward to the release of only the third new Beatles single in my lifetime, and its accompanying music video, like a four year old looks forward to Christmas.

    Incidentally, I have also found the perfect solution to the “fans are getting ripped off” complaint: I choose not to buy anything I don’t want or don’t think is worth the price.

  6. Karl Stubsjoen says:

    I have tremendous love for the work you did with “Get Back”. I loved it! I’m confident this short film (not video mind you), accompanying the last Beatles song ever, is no less than fantastic!!!

  7. Blakey says:

    I hope there is a Blue Meanie or two in the video…

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