Producer and veteran music supervisor Jeff Pollack spoke with Solzy at the Movies about the new Paul McCartney doc series, McCartney 3,2,1.
McCartney 3,2,1 is directed by Emmy Award-winning Zachary Heinzerling and executive produced by McCartney, Rick Rubin, Scott Rodger, Peter Berg, Matthew Goldberg, Brandon Carroll, Jeff Pollack, Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern with Leila Mattimore serving as co-executive producer. Endeavor Content serves as the studio, producing alongside MPL Communications Inc., Shangri-La, Film 45, Kennedy Marshall and Diamond Docs.
The documentary series is now streaming on Hulu.
How did you first become attached to executive produce McCartney 3,2,1?
Jeff Pollack: Well, the story’s an interesting story. Rick Rubin and I have been friends for a long time. Right after Laurel Canyon came out, which I was an executive producer on, Rick was saying how much he liked it. I was so appreciative. And I said to you, “It’s funny. We’ve never really done anything together. He said, “No.” I said, “Would you ever want to do a doc? You do so much stuff. You’re so busy, you probably don’t have any time. But would you be willing to look at it?” He said, “Sure. Why don’t we kind of look at it?” I said, “What interests you?” He said, “Well, telling a story about somebody that we all know a lot about but maybe something that isn’t well known about somebody that we all think is pretty amazing.”
We had a short list and we agreed on Paul McCartney. We knew that was never going to happen. But why not try? It’s sort of like—you want to talk about a Hail Mary pass with the clock ticking and five seconds to go, the likelihood of somebody catching it is not very good. Rick and I said, if we were to do McCartney, the only way he would do it would be on something that was fresh because he doesn’t need another Beatles doc. He doesn’t need another Beatlemania doc of them touring and everything else.
Rick said, Well, what I’m really interested in anyway is McCartney, the musician. Somebody who isn’t the focus of most people, the bass player, the guy who’s a really good drummer, the guy who plays piano, the guy who played all the instruments on his very first solo album in 1970. Over and above what everybody focuses on, which is his singing and his songwriting, which are amazing, is everything else that makes him a great musician.
We said, Great, let’s go out and see what happens. He won’t do it but it’ll be great. He won’t do it. I reached out to Scott Rogers, Paul’s manager, who I knew, and I said, “Look, I know these things are complicated, but would you at least present the idea to Paul?” He said, “Yeah, let me think about it.”
A couple weeks later, he comes back and says,” Paul is interested in talking to Rick on the phone.” We set the phone call just between the two of them and Paul says yes. So he said, “What? It’s Covid!” Paul says, “I’m into doing it but I’m only in America for the next couple of weeks.” So literally three weeks later in the Hampton, Rick is interviewing Paul. If you cover documentaries, you know that this never happens especially with that kind of speed during Covid. I didn’t even go because we were eliminating anybody who didn’t have to be there—skeleton crew, few people, and Rick and Paul. There’s a lot of amazing things that happened but just the speed in which this came about is incredible. The fact that we were shooting 15 hours of interviews last August and here we are in July, we’re on the air tomorrow. It’s serendipitous in so many ways.
I was gonna ask where was the production when the pandemic hit.
Jeff Pollack: Well, a camera crew in New York went out to the Hamptons. Rick got out there. It was intense in August. I don’t know if you remember, Danielle, but nobody was doing anything and we managed to get it done. Because documentaries are so much oriented towards post production, we were really able to do everything in post during it. We had a great crew and elite group of people. Luckily, there was a lot of magic that happened there between Rick and Paul. Did you happen to see it yet, Danielle?
Yeah, I did the binge last week.
Jeff Pollack: Oh, great, great.
As soon as I got the screeners, I’m like, I am watching this tonight.
Jeff Pollack: I appreciate that. Thank you. I think that it’s very different in a lot of ways. I’ve done a lot of major docs and have been fortunate to work with a lot of different people. I mean, I’ve never worked with Rick before. I’ve been in the studio with him. He really has an amazing creative vision, just in terms of shooting it in black and white and us getting the tapes over from Abbey Road for the first time in 50 years. Just the intimacy that I think you probably felt—like you were sitting in the studio with him and nobody was rushing around. This was not a slick doc, Danielle. This was how the studio moves. The studio moves in a leisurely fashion, I would say, just is—Okay, well, let’s wander over now to the piano. It was wonderful. It just wasn’t slick in any way. It was Paul and Rick having a good time and kind of discovering things—both of them.
I was watching Paul listen back to one of his vocals and “Oh, my G-d, is that off key?” I mean, that’s funny stuff. You don’t normally see it. Everybody wants to take all the mistakes out or everything else. That is not what happened here. It’s how the studio works. It’s great to have those two have fun together and understand that they’re both really music people just in the way it was. The eloquence of how they listened was so great. I don’t know about you but it drives me nuts when you ask somebody, a friend of yours, say, have you heard this song by so and so? And 20 seconds into it, they start talking or looking at their phone. Drives me batty. There’s something beautiful about people actually listening very carefully ad hearing all the hidden gems that are there.
Yeah. I mean, that’s one thing I loved about this doc—breaking things down into the separate tracks. I watched the Brian Wilson documentary during Tribeca and it’s like apples and oranges so that rivalry continues even in documentaries.
Jeff Pollack: Yeah. I think storytelling is difficult. I think we just sort of allowed the story to unfold as it was because when you are shooting an interview initially, you don’t really know where the story will end up to, do you? Especially Rick, who really believes in instinct and feel and the art and creativity of something. There wasn’t a plan until we saw what we had and we saw the way Paul reacted.
There were some wonderful moments—for me, understanding what Paul meant when he said he’s a Beatles fan. It’s very poignant—him talking about, I was working with John Lennon. Because it’s true—50 years out now, he worked with John Lennon. He was working with John in the 60s, his buddy. It’s amazing how history treats some of this early history and how Paul has realized how great these songs are. Think about if we could have been there—if you could pick a moment in time, if you have a favorite album or a favorite artist, and you could put yourself back there. Wouldn’t that be incredible to be able to say to George Gershwin, “George, you wrote “Someone to Watch over Me.” Sounds like pretty good tune. Do you think it’ll be around in 100 years? It’s almost been 100 years.
Imagine being able to talk to Paul McCartney. Here we are almost 60 years after Yesterday” and being able to talk to the person who wrote it—that song wasn’t always there, Danielle. That song actually got written by somebody. It’s sort of like, we think these things are just in the air. There’s lyrics to “Like a Rolling Stone.” Somebody wrote those! It’s amazing to think of—at any time—being with a great artist, whether it’s Mozart or Beethoven or being in the studio with Billie Holiday, or being with Bob Dylan during Blonde on Blonde. Being with Paul McCartney, even all those years later, what a wonderful memory he has. There’s stories that we’ve heard before; maybe not done in the same way. There’s all this fresh stuff. I mean, the quote that Rick found about Kohn Lennon. Paul genuinely never heard it before.
I don’t even think I had heard that quote before.
Jeff Pollack: I thought I heard about everything. Paul is a great, great musician. Paul had no idea who would say that about him and then he finds out it’s his brother, John. Like most brothers, they had falling outs but it was beautiful when he’s talking about George Harrison’s guitar playing because George was good. He’s pretty good. He’s talking about George Harrison now. I think that said, there were a lot of fun moments for me in there. I think that people really are interested so much more in the process. Why did somebody make a choice to do this? I really found Rick answering those kinds of questions with, what was your thinking here? Why did you make those choices? Why the piccolo trumpet in Penny Lane? Where did you get the idea to do the Strawberry Fields intro on? All of that stuff is just—you just can’t believe you’re actually hearing how some of it happened. What were accidents? The fact that a Moog happened to be in the studio upstairs of the BBC and so suddenly, we hear the Moog on Beatle records.
Of course, I think and I hope this comes out, George Martin was incredibly, incredibly important in this process—talking Paul into at least trying to use strings for the first time on “Yesterday.” It’s just remarkable, they ended up having a musician like that with them and to help them and to create these incredible—that harpsichord solo on “In My Life.” Those things are just magical.
As much as I knew about the Beatles, I learned a lot. I also loved hearing somebody who spent his entire life in the studio like Rick, his take on things. Because his whole life has been behind the board and working with every kind of artist you could think of. I think what’s interesting, too, is I think a lot of people have a misconception that Rick and Paul were friends before this. They knew each other. They’d had lunch. They’d met but they certainly weren’t friends so don’t know what the chemistry is going to be like, do you? You just don’t know. You know that you respect the other person and you’ve met them. But you’re now talking about spending 15 hours with them talking music and kind of dissecting your work. I thought we were rewarded with a pretty amazing interview. Rick is so articulate and his podcasts are great so it was pretty good bet to see if he wanted to be the on-camera interviewer. I didn’t think we were going to do any better than that.
Is there a Beatles song or Paul McCartney solo song that resonates with you the most?
Jeff Pollack: Even one that was in the documentary or one that may not have been?
Jeff Pollack: It’s amazing to think of the songs that—the top songs, obviously, are paid a lot of attention. It was fun to have a song like “Waterfalls” in our documentary because most docs would avoid a song like that like the plague, right? It’s not well known. It was obvious Paul was surprised when it came on. It’s a really beautiful song. Let’s give the audience some credit and say, guess what, this guy has done some really great songs that maybe you haven’t heard because you know all these other ones. If you ask me the favorite Beatles song, gosh, I have so many. But I’ll tell you a song I love by Paul that really often—like “Waterfalls”—has had very little attention and it’s “She’s Leaving Home.” It just shows. The lyrics are amazing. The music’s beautiful, the arrangements beautiful, and that’s the thing about him and about The Beatles. There are a lot of those. When you think about writing over 200 songs together, how many of them are beauties—that just aren’t top of mind? I wouldn’t say that’s my favorite Beatles song because I don’t know where I would begin. But I can say that that is a song—every time I hear it, I’m astonished by how musical and how beautiful it is.
You got your start as a music supervisor for films. How did that happen?
Jeff Pollack: Well, I started in radio, Danielle, years and years ago. I was in radio and I love music, which is why I got into radio. I wasn’t a radio geek. I was a music geek that got on the radio. I got to play all this obscure stuff because I came out of college radio. I’m playing Miles Davis. Why would I play Elton ? He’s not Miles. Naturally as the years go by and you just say, Oh, I’m gonna get in commercial broadcasting. I’m gonna have to start playing a lot of music that I don’t particularly love. Okay. Nevertheless, it was a great experience and then I started working for MTV as a consultant for a lot of years in the music and non-music era. And then for Spotify. I’ve worked for a bunch of different platforms and as the way of distribution changed.
In the 90s, through sort of a happy accident, I worked on a film that had a very popular song. My friend was the composer and I ended up saying, Oh, you should use this artist to sing it and do this and that. Anyway, through a whole circumstance of events, the song “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You,” the Bryan Adams song, which ended up being one of the biggest hits—in any generation—from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. People said who worked on that song. Oh, this guy? Okay, well come work on our movies. We want to do big soundtracks. We want to have songs that tell everybody that there’s a new movie out based on a song. I ended up doing that on a lot of things and as that evolved and the business changed, I said, Well, the next step would be to see if I can tell stories like I did when I was a DJ. It’s in a lot of ways a sort of circling back to my earliest days and being able to be part of telling these musical stories is really what I want to do. I’m not gonna do documentaries on boxing. I think there are great ones including one on Showtime right now but that’s not what I want to do.
I love music. I’m able to do stories like Laurel Canyon, Johnny Cash, and Sinatra, and I have a lot of other things. We just announced a Jim Morrison doc we’re going to be doing. It’s really fun to be able to have the opportunity to do that. I think by having been a music supervisor, the one thing it does teach you is it really is significant which songs you choose in key moments. I think that oftentimes, documentaries miss their mark when they have told a particular story. Well, how do you want to end that story? I think if you look at Laurel Canyon, for example, you’ll see that the choice of the song was very much a summing up of the journey that we had that two and a half hours in the two-part series, what song could we do that would say that was this time, that’s what happened during this particular period in Los Angeles.
I think that training is very helpful because I think the use of music really is important and not just in a film, not just in There’s Something About Mary. Particularly music films, how are you going to sum up the story you just told? Is there something that can do that? I think we picked a really good song for the end of Johnny Cash, too. Thanks for that question because it does make a difference in terms of how a story is told.
You’re welcome. Thanks to The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash, I got to meet Frank Marshall in person two years ago at SXSW.
Jeff Pollack: Oh, well, I was there.
That was my second SXSW and before leaving from Chicago for Austin, I was told Thom Zimny and John Carter Cash would be there and likely a few of the producers. I walk in and I find myself sitting across for Frank Marshall. I had no idea that I would be interviewing him that day. I got to thank up for being a large part of my childhood because I grew up on Steven Spielberg films.
Jeff Pollack: Well, he is the reason I’m doing docs today. Our first one together was Sinatra. He’s a wonderful person. So smart, so talented, and so musical because his father—I don’t know if you know this, Danielle—was Jack Marshall, the famous musician who worked with Chet Baker and Sinatra. Frank grew up in a musical family so the idea of musical docs is not far from his own DNA. And yeah, we’re very proud of that film. I’m glad you liked it. I’m glad you were SXSW. That was a good premiere. That’s cool. You were there.
I would have been there last year for Laurel Canyon but the whole pandemic kind of messed that up.
Jeff Pollack: Well, I’m telling you, we had a bunch of people coming, too. You would have had fun there because Michelle Phillips was going to be there. Johnny Echols. One of The Byrds was going to be there is going to be. Maybe Henry Diltz. It was going to be great. But oh, well. At least people saw it.