Like millions of people, I sat glued to the screen to watch Peter Jackson’s three-part, nearly nine-hour documentary, The Beatles: Get Back. The series comes from over 60 hours of video and 156 hours of original recordings recorded by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg.
The team behind Disney + shows spent years editing original archival footage to create a 2021 version of the film, which Jackson considers a “documentary documentary”. For a Beatles fan — or any fan of the creative process — Hogg won creative gold.
I grew up with The Beatles. I started listening to my pop record collection on the “The Fonz” record player in elementary school. Ultimately, the Beatles catalog became the songbook of my life, even during my rebellious, long hair, first tattoo, grunge-rock years. I stood in line at my college record store to buy Pearl Jam Vitalogy and The Beatles Live at the BBC at the same time.
For me, watching the documentary felt like a gift. I want to give you a few creative things that I came up with while watching. Whether you’re a longtime Beatles fan, a casual listener, or simply someone curious about the creative process, you’ll find something to apply to your own endeavors.
Table of Contents
I, I, I am not active for collaboration
The John Lennon and Paul McCartney collaboration earned most of the songwriting credits in The Beatles’ catalog. And the documentary shows the duo’s creative dominance better – you see the affection and connection driving their collaboration – and worse – you see them ignoring or downplaying suggestions and songs by George Harrison (including the original I Me Mine).
What The Beatles did: The group underestimated George as a musician and producer. His frustration with creativity led to him leaving the band during lessons. When he returned, he played the first version of the song All Things Must Pass for John and Paul. They passed it on. George later released the song on three solo albums All Things Must Pass, which was critically acclaimed and sold millions of copies .
What can you do: Don’t look down on people on your team. Encourage creative ideas from everyone regardless of role or title. Anyone can come up with ideas worth considering (even Ringo Starr, who is helped by George in the Octopus Garden throughout the documentary.)
When you have a feeling, pay attention (it usually won’t let you down)
While rehearsing for their upcoming record, the band members agreed that something was missing in many of the songs, but they couldn’t put their finger on anything. They argued over compositions and played music over and over, but they couldn’t fix the problem.
One day, the famous keyboard artist Billy Preston stopped by Apple Studios to say hello. The artists knew each other from their time in Hamburg earlier in their careers. (The Beatles opened Little Richard’s touring band Billy played.)
What The Beatles did: The boys from Liverpool invited Billy to sit with him – and found their missing piece. Billy’s contributions to the electronic organ served as a catalyst to accelerate this process and help the Beatles complete the pieces. Billy was listed as the featured performer on the single Get Back, marking the only time another artist has been credited as a co-performer on a Beatles song.
What can you do: Sometimes, a fresh voice can breathe new life and energy into an idea. When you get stuck, bring someone new—a colleague from another department or a member of your audience—involved in the process. A new ingredient can change the whole flavor of your project.
Bring back old ideas
The documentary shows Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison giving a fresh look to songs they wrote years earlier. For example, the song One After 909 was written as early as 1957 but was not recorded until 1969.
What The Beatles did: Throughout the series, Paul sings a number of songs that never made it to the band’s album. But he continued to work on them, and they eventually made their way into his post-Beatles solo albums. John demoed a song he called Child of Nature, the song that eventually became his hit as J Jealous Guy on Imagine.
What you can do: Never throw your ideas away – just put them on a symbolic stand. If you have an idea that didn’t work out today, throw it away and come back to it later.
Move over once
The Beatles originally planned to film the documentary about making an album from scratch 14 days at Twickenham Film Studio. But the staging lacked proper sound, and the frigid temperatures in the nearly empty space made the band miserable.
What The Beatles did: They have changed locations. After George left the band, one condition for his return was to leave Twickenham. As the band settled into their more intimate (and purpose-built) space in Apple Studios, the energy between the four shifted for the better.
What can you do: If you feel suffocated by the parameters you are working with, change them. If you can’t change them completely, stay away from them. (I think there’s a cliché about a box and applied mindset.)
Move over twice
Changing the recording position is not the only (or largest) adaptation in the original vision. The original plan included The Beatles performing in front of a live audience, something they hadn’t done in years. But they have yet to settle in one location.
What The Beatles did: Eventually, the band agreed to perform (and record some of the album’s songs) live on the roof of their studio building. It wasn’t the original planned concert, but they got great performances (and great footage) from the transformation.
What can you do: Always open. When circumstances change, don’t immediately fight them. Let it be – and see if you can work with the new constraints or requirements. You can see it’s a breath of fresh air.
Be like The Beatles. No live concert or conference? Take a creative approach to working within your #ContentMarketing restrictions (rooftop meeting, anyone?), says @JKKalinowski via @CMIcontent. Click To Tweet
Let your thoughts settle
The most important reminders I’ve made since the hours I’ve watched movies are:
- Keep your eyes, ears and mind open – creative ideas can come from anywhere and to anyone.
- Noodle your ideas from time to time.
- Let yourself have fun and enjoy the process.
You will soon create something that you are proud to send out across the universe.
Have you seen The Beatles: Get Back? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it or on creativity. Please leave me a note in the comment section .
Cover photo by Joseph Kalinowski / Content Marketing Institute