David Picker has been in the movie business for a long time and is ready to share his countless adventures with actors, directors, and filmmakers. Even though he's all about the movies, Picker has some experience with music seeing as he helped signed the Beatles to their three picture movie deal. In his new book he talks about those movies along with the countless others films he's worked on over the years. In this interview he talks about those music experiences, the writing process, and his way of telling the truth.
After being in the movie business so long, what led you to finally write a book?
David Picker: Mostly because all my friends and relatives kept asking me “when are you going to write a book?” They knew about my experience and the people I've worked with and I loved writing even though I've never written anything before. It took two to two and a half years to write and here we are.
The story about signing the Beatles for a movie deal is amazing. When you look back at that time, hows does it feel to know you worked with such a legendary band?
DP: Overall, throughout the span of my career I worked with amazing, creative people from all aspects of life. Initially, we were looking for musical groups for soundtracks for our films and our London publicist called up and said do you want to work with this band called the Beatles? Had we not signed them someone else would have, but they wouldn't have made “Hard Days Night.” I thought [director] Dick Lester was great at capturing and directing the guys and the movie was really a tribute to him and his style. I knew he would find a way to get these boys to come to life on film, so in my mind the logical choice was Lester. I actually talked to him about a week ago and we were reminiscing about old times.
After doing “Hard Days Night” and the made for TV movie “The Temptations” have you ever consider doing any other music related movies?
DP: We tried to do a movie another another group we thought were going to make it called Gerry and the Pacemakers. We thought they were going to be big and they never made it. The idea of doing a movie that had financial backing by soundtracks is good for any company and there's always a market for movie soundtracks. We got lucky with the Beatles and when they got so busy we decided to do an animated film for their third movie, which is how we got “The Yellow Submarine.”
In the book you talk about all the different people you've worked with from actors to directors. Was there a difference working with musicians than actors or directors?
DP: Nothing too dramatic. Many pictures we did had soundtracks, but mostly it was background music added to the films. The biggest soundtracks were based on big musical content. There weren’t many groups we had that could carry over to movies. Many pop groups can't make that transition, which is why we were so lucky with the Beatles because the film is so quirky. Both movies are shapeless; there's no beginning, middle, or end. They're more of an exercise in style than they are story. It worked out for everyone in the end .
There's a chapter where you briefly talk abut the United Artists record company, but the small experience seemed to have left a bad taste in your mouth. What was the difference between working for that company vs the movies?
DP: There was nothing wrong with the company. We stated the company to get control of the film soundtracks. In movies you can market content, with music groups it's much harder to break. If they work that's great. The big success we had were soundtracks, movies with dramatic scores. When you have a record company you need variety in the content. We sold some rights to RCA to offset some of the costs, but it was created as an asset for the company. Song royalties are something you can make money off of for a long time.
One thing about the book that makes it so interesting is your honesty. You'll address the failures and talk about the people who you didn't like to work with. Were you nervous at all about being so honest, especially when it came to painting some people in a negative light?
DP: No, I wasn't nervous. I have led myself a certain way and I've always been honest with people. I told the truth with the stories as I saw them. Some of the people I talk about are not around, but I wouldn't be afraid to talk with someone like Larry Kramer about his misses with the company or with Bill Cosby, who I have no respect for. He signed up to film “Leonard Part 6.” We made the movie, he got the money, and then told his audience not to see it, which I though was disgusting. People who have worked with him didn't have nice things to say about him either. In many ways he's a genius, but he didn't play the game. I didn't like it and I told him. I like dealing with artists who respect their craft; I have no patience for people like Cosby.
What do you hope readers walk away with when they are finished with the book?
DP: What I would love for them to come away with is an understanding of the craft and how much artists care about what they do. I've been lucky enough to work with some of the great artists of my time and their respect for the craft puts me in awe. I've been very fortunate to help the greatest filmmakers of my time make the movies they want.
Being a film producer, did you find the writing experience to be difficult or did it come to you naturally?
DP: I'm in the business of story telling; friends and family love stories about what I'm doing. They kept saying to me “You should write it down” and it felt like I was telling stories instead of writing a book. I had to make it accessible to anyone, so I provided some background information. I had no problem with telling the truth. I regret that some people I talk about aren't alive today. I would have loved to hear their reactions from what I had to say about them. So far I've been thrilled from the reactions I've been getting about the book so far.
Will this be your only outing as an author or do you think you have another book in you?
DP: I enjoyed doing it so much I know I'll do it again. I started writing again but the question is what direction do I go in? Do I tell a story, do I want do fiction, do I want to focus on a particular event in detail? So I'm not sure where it's going, but I know I want to do it again.