Archive Researchers

Featuring: Richard Wiseman, London

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How did you become an archive researcher?

Up until around ten years ago, I was a print journalist – which I guess may give you a good insight into research, fact-checking and putting a story together?

A friend of mine, and a fellow ‘keyboard warrior’, who also happened to own a TV production company, asked me if I’d like to produce some of his programmes, to which I could only reply “But I don’t know how any of this works. And what’s an Avid machine?” To which he replied, unforgettably, “Well, it’s all rather similar to what you’re used to working with, really. It’s all words and pictures, again – you’ll pick it up as you go along”. 

I soon realised that I didn’t really like producing television programmes – especially live ones, where things went wrong on air, and it was all my fault – but the part that I most enjoyed, especially on documentaries, was the initial archive research, especially if the subject was a particular passion project of mine, and I could burrow into places and sources that other people hadn’t thought to investigate.

How did you end up working on The Beatles: Eight days a week and at what stage did you join the project?

I ended up working on Eight Days A Week through initial connections that I’d made working on Rush, three or four years ago. I’d managed to put my foot in the door on that Hunt v Lauda Ron Howard feature film by finding out where their London production offices were, and then arriving with a bundle of DVDs under my arm of Formula 1 from 1976 – that I’d obtained from a private collector – and asking “Would you like to take a look at these, whilst I’m here?”

I kept in touch with the Executive Producer, Nigel Sinclair, and he e-mailed me three or four months ago, stating that “There are a few remaining pieces of archive in our final edit that we’re not sure where to source from. Do you like music, as well as sport, and would you like to try and help us?”

What did you know about the pre-research phase that has been conducted at the very beginning?

As previously stated, I only joined this project during its latter stages, but I learned an awful lot more about the various waves of research involved during the project’s gestation from Guy East, another of the Executive Producers, at the preview screening of the film in London that I attended last week.

Three years ago, an initial plea for previously-unseen Beatles footage – and the news release that Ron Howard was going to be the director – was put out online, a specific Twitter account was created, and then a FaceBook page was created for the Beatles Live Project. I think that this possibly sets the template for any future documentaries that might be even slightly dependent on crowd-sourced content? Along with an organised arrangement with a world-leading courier firm, so that nothing got lost in the mail …

The movie is mainly composed of unseen material, such as compelling home-movies & found footage : how did you manage to find and source this material? Did you resort to original research ways, such as crowdsourcing?

Nigel let me know about an especially magical response from one particular e-mail correspondent who wrote in to the FaceBook site, letting that team know that “I’ve got ten minutes of colour home-cine film from the Beatles’ last-ever live concert, at San Francisco in 1966, including the group all unplugging their instruments and walking off stage, taking photographs of each on their cameras, as they stepped away for the final time. Would that be of interest to you?”

Watch the finished documentary, and you’ll see that around a minute of that particular footage made its way into the final edit. In total, I believe that 90 hours of previously-unseen footage was either sourced or donated.

Even though it is confidential, we can figure out that the budget allowed to archive research was quite amazing: is it unusual for a movie? Did it give you more opportunities in terms of research options?

As this was a documentary feature-film backed by a major studio, featuring Ron Howard as its director and revolving around The Beatles, I think that it’s fair to say that the research budget involved was generous, by usual standards. Certainly, it was one of the few film research jobs that I’ve worked on where I wasn’t briefed by my Line Producer in advance to “tell the footage libraries or private collectors that we haven’t got any money”…

When watching the movie, we get the feeling that the same person has been following the band all-year round, all over the world. As an archive researcher, did you have to follow a precise roadmap or plot, to create this kind of continuity?

There were two specific elements to keep in mind when researching archive footage for this particular project, which were “Will this help Ron and his creative team to help illustrate their narrative about the live concert element of the Beatles story, between 1962 and ’66?” and “Is this footage that will be new to viewers that think they know the Beatles story inside out, and that they’ve seen it all before?”

One particular discovery that I was fortunate enough to find and help source, I hope, does both…

What was the most exciting discovery you’ve made while working on the project?

…which was John Lennon being interviewed back-stage in southern England before a 1963 live concert, with George Harrison sitting behind him and flicking cigarette ash into his hair – the classic ‘Beatle-cut’ – to try and put him off. As and when you might see the finished film, you’ll probably remember that particular scene. Seeing the entire, uncut interview for the first time in over 50 years was almost indescribably thrilling.

We definitely feel a strong connection with the members of the band in the movie. Did you develop a kind of intimacy with the band while working on this project? Unless you were already a Beatle fan!

I’ve been a massive Beatles fan ever since hearing the original albums on CD back in the early 1990s as a teenager, suddenly free of all the scratches and hisses of my parents’ 1960s LPs. It made their music sound fresh, contemporary and exciting in the same way that I hope many younger people today might find viewing Eight Days A Week over the next few days. Discovering the occasional piece of long-unseen film of them was a fantastic privilege. The Beatles are the greatest musical group that there ever has been, or ever will be.

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