In Good Ol’ Freda, Director Ryan White documents life with The Beatles, through the unique perspective of their long time secretary, and charismatic figure in her own right, Freda Kelly.
Teresa: How did this project come to you?
Ryan: My uncle is in the film, Billy Kinsley of The Merseybeats. So I’ve grown up around a generation of people who were a part of the 1960’s Liverpool music scene. Freda was one of those people, but I never knew she was the Beatles’ secretary – she really is that private about her life. She brought the idea to me three years ago when she decided she had reached a point in life that she wanted to leave this story as a legacy for her family. I feel extremely lucky that she asked me to do it with her.
Having such a well-loved topic must have made this documentary an immediate favorite at festivals from the beginning. How did you feel going into the very first screening, and what kind of feedback did you receive?
We were super nervous before the world premiere – Freda even more so than myself. We just didn’t know how people would react. Luckily it went over really well – I think Freda got a 5-minute standing ovation – so she finally breathed a big sigh of relief that the story was out there and the world hadn’t ended. It was a really special moment to finally see her get the recognition, even if it wasn’t important to her.
Are you a Beatles fan?
Huge Beatles fan! I grew up around the music. But I never set out to tell a Beatles story as a filmmaker or storyteller. It just wasn’t on my to-do list. But this one kind of fell in my lap.
With the overwhelming amount of subject material to choose from, who and how was it decided what Beatles photos and clips made the film? Was editing difficult?
It was a really thorough process. We have over 600 photos in the film and 10 minutes of archival footage. We went to great lengths to find photos and footage that had never been seen before because we really wanted to illustrate the film in a way that Beatles fans hadn’t seen a thousand times before. And we also had access to Freda’s collection which had never be seen before, so that also really helps it feel new for fans I think.
What were the interviews you had with Freda like? Was there any information she didn’t want to share for the film, or questions she didn’t want asked?
Freda has waited for 50 years to tell this story. And it’s not for lack of trying because people have tried to pry the story out of her. She was only going to do it on her own terms, and I tried to respect that. I am extremely close with Freda, so I wanted to create an end result that she was really proud of and wanted to pass on to her family. We have a good rapport – so the process was just really fun to get to sit in her living room and hear 40 hours of stories. She’s such an amazing storyteller that even now I can sit and just listen to Freda for hours.
Your film Pelada is the story of two players experiencing many cultures and coming together for brief interludes, over their common love of soccer. It is described as inspirational and was also well-received. Were there any similarities in the way you shot these two films?
The films were really different. Pelada was a more traditional documentary in the sense that we were following events as they unfolded. We didn’t know when the film’s narrative would end. Freda’s story, on the other hand, had already happened. The story in many ways “ended” 40 years ago when she left her job with The Beatles. So in that way it was a much more manageable film to make and schedule. But I think there’s a common overlap between both films, and that’s that they concentrate on marginal characters, people who are outside of the limelight.
What are your upcoming projects?
I’m finishing a film right now for HBO about gay marriage and the Supreme Court. It will be out in 2014. Couldn’t be more different than The Beatles or soccer.