Exclusive: Few directors have such a keen eye for music as Michael Winterbottom. From The Cranberries-stuffed soundtrack in his sophomore feature "Butterfly Kiss" to "24 Hour Party People," one of the best films about rock'n'roll ever made, to the perverse 50s cuts in last year's "The Killer Inside Me," he's always had a great sense for the right backdrop to the action, whether it be an original score or a song. And now, it looks like the director is heading towards tackling perhaps the Holy Grail of popular music, by making a film about The Beatles.
It was announced last year that Winterbottom and producing partner Andrew Eaton, along with Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher, who held the rights, would be backing "The Longest Cocktail Party," an adaptation of Richard DiLello's book that tracks the founding of the band's record company Apple Records, along with the tempestuous recording of final album "Let It Be." We spoke to Eaton, whose latest film "360" opens the BFI London Film Festival tonight, and the producer told us not only that one of the hottest British comedy writers around has penned the script, but that Winterbottom himself is planning to direct the film, eventually.
Eaton said of the project that, "Jesse Armstrong, who did "In The Loop" and "Four Lions" and [hit UK college-set comedy] "Fresh Meat," has done the script. That's a timing thing. We're developing for Michael to direct, it's one of my passion projects." With Winterbottom's busy dance card, it likely won't happen immediately, much to the frustration of Oasis singer Gallagher. Eaton explained, "Liam's great to work with, because he wants everything to happen tomorrow. Because he's not from the film business, he's basically going 'Why can't we do it right now?' It's very inspiring."
Gallagher had talked up the prospect of his pal Johnny Depp taking on the main part, of publicist Derek Taylor, but Eaton's skeptical, while not ruling out the prospect of the megastar cropping up elsewhere in the film. "Johnny in a way would be great," he told us. "But the trouble is, Derek Taylor, who's the main character, who's the press officer, he's from Liverpool, and he's probably 32 or 33 in the story, whereas Johnny Depp is 48 or something, and American, so it's more than just the age gap. There are other parts he could do, but whether he could be Derek... I don't know."
Right now, aside from Winterbottom's schedule, the biggest problem seems to be the negotiations of music rights with the Beatles' label Apple Records. Eaton told us, "That's the minefield. You'd think it would be the perfect time, because Apple are reinventing their brand, they did the iTunes deal, they did 'Guitar Hero.' So they are changing. But because they're doing that, they're more aware of their image than they've ever been. We're doing a bit of a dance at the moment, we haven't really found a way to make it work."
With the director likely tied up through 2012, it's likely Eaton's got time to unravel the problem. It's pretty great news all around, though; Armstrong, who's also writing the Lee Atwater biopic for "Anchorman" helmer Adam McKay, is a great choice for the job, and Winterbottom bringing some of his "24 Hour Party People" magic to Apple Records sounds like a match made in heaven. Fingers crossed that the wheels get moving on this before too long. We've got lots more from our chat with Eaton coming up in the next few days, so keep your eyes peeled on that.