Neil Aspinall

was the Fifth Beatle.  He used to drive the guys to their various gigs in Liverpool and eventually ran their affairs until he passed away.  He was simply the nicest man I ever met.  He approached me to do a video for a new Beatles song, FREE AS A BIRD.  New Beatles song?  John was dead, how could there be a new song?  It turns out that John had done a bunch of demos on a Dictaphone machine and the rest of the Beatles got together to record over John’s extracted voice.  It was no different than conventional recording techniques when artists record in different studios.  I worked on the idea for at least six or seven months before filming the piece.  I exasperated Neil to no end, as it took me a long time to get to an idea.  Paul McCartney had an idea that sent me down a wrong path for several months but eventually an idea took shape thanks to Derek Taylor, and a lot of help from Michael Patti and Don Schneider.  An irony is that much of the video was extracted from archival footage much as the song was.  In researching the piece, I re-discovered the fact that the Beatles were incredible poets, as good as any in the twentieth century.  The video dealt with the motivations for their songs.  I kept Neil hanging until the last minute as I was shooting a movie, SPACE JAM.  I finished filming the movie on a Friday, and Saturday morning I was on a plane to Liverpool to start filming the video.

The shoot was extremely complicated as I used every piece of equipment available at the time: Akila crane, steadicam, helicopter, Louma, and a tiny remote controlled helicopter.  Neil had to balance the ideas to satisfy the various Beatles as they had ‘artistic control.’  He was incredibly diplomatic, giving advice on the spot.  “John wouldn’t like that.”  “Paul used to hang out here.”  “Use that flower there, for HERE COMES THE SUN.”  He understood everything we were doing completely and at one point I tried to explain something he said, “No need to explain, Joe.  We can see what is going on.”  I finished the video on a Friday and it went on the air on Sunday night.  The video was a success, and won a Grammy.  It was as good a piece of work as I have done and I owe it all to Neil and his wisdom, support, and most important, his friendship.  We had a chance to hang out a bit on my boat after his breakup with the Beatles.  He was heartbroken that they had turned on him after all those years.  I’m sure he died of a broken heart.