As it does every year, 2022's Florida Film Festival features a healthy selection of movies that are about Florida — you can see more about those here — but this year, the opening-night feature is made by a Florida-based filmmaker, Todd Thompson. After reading a memoir by Colin Hanton, who was in a band with some other Liverpudlian teens you may have heard of — John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison — producer Mark Bentley was afire to document the tale on film. He pitched it to Thompson, who'd recently finished the Nichelle Nichols doc Woman in Motion, and the pieces fell into place, 1-2-3-4, just like a Beatles tune. Featuring appearances by Billy Bragg, Peter Asher, The Old Grey Whistle Test's Bob Harris, Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn and Sir Paul McCartney himself, PRE FAB! is the story of the Quarry Men, the band that became the Beatles, and it tells a tale conspicuously missing from all the current Beatles hoopla.
Orlando Weekly had a conversation with Thompson about making a joyful noise with his collaborators (and subjects).
Talk a little bit about the events of the film. How would you describe the story you and your colleagues are telling?
PRE FAB! is quite simply the story of one man, his drums and a group of friends who would one day become the greatest rock & roll band the world has ever known. It's truly an epic tale told from a personal point of view by that one man who lived and experienced it all firsthand.
Were you a Beatles fan from the jump, or when did you first start listening to their music?
I grew up enjoying Beatles music. My mom was a huge fan growing up and shared her love for The Beatles with me. It was a band and a mania that happened well before my time, so I didn't get the full grasp of it until I met [producer] Mark Bentley and saw his love and admiration for everything Beatles. I must say it's infectious, and having had the privilege to grow up with Colin, John, George and Paul the past three and a half years we've spent making the film, I have a whole new appreciation for them as individuals and as artists. There's a timeless quality to their music and nostalgic beauty to the storytelling in their lyrics you can't help but love. That's what I hope you walk away with after you experience PRE FAB! — a deeper understanding of how this phenomenon known as The Beatles started.
When did you first become aware of the Quarry Men and hear their music?
It was July 2018. I got a call from Mark Bentley, who had just finished reading the book PRE FAB! by musician Colin Hanton and author Colin Hall, and had just returned from a trip to Liverpool where he had met Colin Hanton. He pitched me the story and the idea for making a doc about it and I was hooked!
So after reading his book, you formed a relationship with Colin Hanton. What was his reaction to the finished documentary?
After Mark Bentley and I first got our heads together about turning the book into a feature-length documentary film, we presented the idea to both Colin Hanton and Colin Hall. On projects like this where there is a book or biography involved, the usual first step is to make an offer to option or buy the rights to that story. But in this case, we both knew we wanted the Colins onboard as co-producing partners for the long journey ahead. The friendships we have formed with them are great and they have watched this film take shape every step of the way. I've felt a deep commitment to both the Colins to preserve and tell this story in a way that will entertain and serve as a musical time capsule (if you will) for generations to come. And now that we have a chance to give audiences a first look at the film we are so close to finishing, they are probably more excited than we are.
Was it daunting to try and add something new to the mountain of Beatles and Beatles-adjacent history and research and tributes?
What's so great about PRE FAB! is it's the last Beatles story to tell (ironically) about how it all began. And what I found so great about Colin Hanton's perspective in the story is that he is the only guy on planet Earth that was there the day John met Paul, the day John decided to change from a skiffle band to rock & roll and the day Paul introduced everyone to George. No one else can say that.
What was the most surprising thing you learned in the process of making this film?
Besides meeting and forming so many fun and amazing relationships along that way, it was really interesting to witness what an impact everyone's lives had on the music they wrote, and how that music, in turn, has had such a great impact on our lives.
FLORIDA FILM FESTIVAL
OPENING NIGHT FILM: PRE FAB!
7 p.m. Friday, April 8,
at Enzian Theater 8 p.m. Friday, April 8,
at Regal Winter Park Village