Good Ol’ Freda director Ryan White’s documentary about the Beatles’ loyal secretary Freda Kelly, has been a big hit at film festival screenings for the last few months. It’s now being shown in select theaters across the country, stirring up memories for fans of a certain age and providing a pop culture history lesson for younger fans.
White joined us for an exclusive SER Sitdown to discuss the making of the documentary …
JADE BLACKMORE: How has the reception to the film been so far? I know that you’ve been doing Q&As with Freda at some of the screenings. She seems to take to the spotlight very well. Was it hard to get her talking about her life with the Beatles at first?
RYAN WHITE: The reactions have been awesome. We’ve seen grown men cry! But Freda is still extremely private; I don’t think she will ever like being in the spotlight. It’s not her nature to be the center of attention, but she is enjoying the exchanges with the audiences in the Q&A sessions. She’s still amazed anyone is interested in her stories. It was a difficult process for her to agree to share her stories after 50 years of silence, but she decided she wanted her grandson Niall to know what she’d done in the ’60s, so he would be proud of her. Doing this film was a big leap of faith for her but it helped I’d known her since I was young — I met her through my uncle, Billy Kinsley who appears in the film — so there was a level of trust. In the film, she says if she hadn’t have done it now she would never have done it. We’re grateful she decided to do the documentary with us because otherwise all her great stories would have been lost. I think Niall is going to be a very impressed grandson when he can understand this story one day.
JADE BLACKMORE: How did you decide on the film’s structure?
RYAN WHITE: Because she’s still a working secretary — for a law firm — I knew I wanted to start the film with Freda going to work and end it with her being the last one to leave the office at the end of a workday. I thought there’s a beautiful symmetry to the career of a lifelong secretary and it’s a profession that often goes overlooked. Within that framework, we obviously wanted to tell the audience about her decade with the Beatles which makes of the bulk of the film. There’s a stark contrast between her life in the 1960s and her life now, so I wanted that to shine through.
JADE BLACKMORE: Was it easy to find old photographs and film clips you wanted to tell the story or did it require a lot of research? Were you surprised by any of your finds?
RYAN WHITE: One of our major goals was to find photos and film clips that hadn’t been seen before. There are about 650 photos in the film and we were lucky Freda had an extensive collection of personal photos of her own that we could use. We were also able to license a large number of photos from other archives that had never been used in film or television. It took a lot of digging — the biggest finds were whenever you found a picture of Freda with the Beatles. The newspapers at the time didn’t archive things under her name, so it was always a needle in a haystack type of situation but we had a lot of killer finds.
JADE BLACKMORE: You managed to secure the rights to four Beatles songs, but had trouble getting the rights to use “Love Letters” by Ketty Lester. What was the licensing process like for the music used in the film? Did you have to do a lot of detective work to find the song owners?
RYAN WHITE: “Love Letters” was the most difficult song we licensed but Freda was vehement about having that song in the film. (Stream it!: “Love Letters, by Ketty Lester.) It was the song played at the end of the Cavern lunchtime session to let the kids know it was time to leave. But once we were given approvals to use the Beatles music, it made our job a lot easier when it came to licensing the other songs in the soundtrack. There was a bit of detective work to find out who owned certain songs because sometimes the ownership has a lot of blurred lines, but in the end we landed an amazing soundtrack that I would have never imagined was possible for a little documentary on a shoestring budget. Outside of the Beatles we have a lot of other great ’60s artists including Buddy Holly, Little Richard, the Isley Brothers, and a bunch more. I don’t get sick of listening to the 18 songs in the soundtrack.
JADE BLACKMORE: Are you a big Beatles fan?
RYAN WHITE: I grew up listening to Beatles music all the time, because my mom and aunt were big Beatles fans, so I was a huge fan of their music. But I wouldn’t have called myself a huge Beatles history fan. I didn’t set out in my career to make a Beatles movie or tell a story about that world; this one just sort of fell in my lap. And I feel extremely lucky for that.
JADE BLACKMORE: When will the film be released on DVD/Blu Ray?
RYAN WHITE: The film was released on September 6 in theaters, iTunes, and VOD. The Good Ol’ Freda website has a list of cities where it’s playing that we update daily. We expect the DVD to be released in early December, with some deleted scenes and other extras.
JADE BLACKMORE: Were you in contact with Paul and Ringo during the project? Ringo has a cameo during the credits, but did you have any other contact with them?
RYAN WHITE: Paul and Ringo gave their blessing to the film and, of course, Ringo sent that wonderful tribute to Freda that’s in the film. And obviously they play an important role in giving approvals to use their music, so we will be forever grateful to both of them for all the support.