1917 director Sam Mendes is hard at work figuring out the logistics of his four separate – but interconnected – Beatles biopics in what promises to be one of the biggest Hollywood productions in many years. Now, a top-level source close to the ambitious project exclusively provides In Touch with intriguing new details on the highly secretive venture.

Inside Sam Mendes’ Pitch and His Planned 42-Month Timetable

While Sam, 58, is excited to bring his version of The Beatles’ story to the silver screen, it’s not going to be a quick endeavor.

“At this stage, the two most exciting elements of the project are the official participation and endorsement from the Beatles organization (aka Apple Corps.) and the fact that a highly respected Oscar winner like Sam Mendes is willing to commit to spending the next three and a half years bringing it to life,” the source shares. “Still, Sony has reason to be cautious, because their 2022 Whitney Houston I Wanna Dance With Somebody biopic severely underperformed, with only $59 million at the worldwide box office.”

What sets Sam’s pitch apart from an increasingly crowded music biopic landscape, which sees a Bob Marley movie currently minting money in cinemas and authorized films on Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse and Bob Dylan preparing to lure moviegoers over the next two years?

The source explains, “Like a lot of his fellow A-list directors, Sam Mendes has a mixed track record in cinemas over the course of his career. He’s made billion-dollar hits like Skyfall and Oscar-bait films like American Beauty and 1917, but his most recent movie Empire of Light was a bona fide box office disaster, and his 2006 war film Jarhead barely broke even. But here’s the thing, Sam is absolutely brilliant in a room and in a pitch situation.”

The insider adds that Sam “knows how to talk to artists and executives and is incredibly smooth and confident in breaking down and spelling out his ideas and securing a real commitment.”

Continuing, the source explains, “I am certain that these are the skills that enabled him to win over Paul [McCartney], Ringo [Starr] and the decision-makers for the estates of John [Lennon] and George [Harris]. And compared to pitching the Beatles organization, selling this idea to Sony was child’s play for Sam. Nobody is better at this stage of production — the planning and conceptualization of a project — than he is.”

While Sam’s ease with conveying his vision for the four-film project won Sony’s trust for what will be at minimum a $400 million total investment by the studio, the source warns that the idea of releasing four interconnected films in a 12-month period from the same director has its share of risks.

Beatles Film Considering Tom Holland, Timothee Chalamet
Jose Perez / Getty Images

“The biggest downside of all of this is that this project will be judged on the basis of the weakest of the four films, not the strongest,” the insider says. “In other words, these movies all have to be excellent, or what’s the point? Sam Mendes has never made four great films in a row in his entire career, but that’s exactly the kind of uphill battle he’s signed up for here.”

Sony’s plan to release each of the four movies across the calendar year of 2027 has a couple of motivations, says the insider.

“Sony only has one shot at this. It has to be encouraging to hard core Beatles fans that they want to take their time and give more than a year to finding the cast and writers, providing them time for research and development, and getting the scripts to the point where there’s consensus between the Beatles rights-holders and the studio that these will be four truly great movies. They’re not going to shoot a foot of film until those elements are in place. But the other reason they’ve targeted 2027 is that there are still many prime movie release dates available that year, and these music biopics seem to do especially well on long holiday weekends. Just look at what the Bob Marley film made over Presidents’ Day this year.”

The Insider Says ‘Some Degree of Whitewashing Is Inevitable’

The source, who has deep experience on multiple hit music biopics, warns that with some members of The Beatles still living, that might cause some backlash from fans.

“With living subjects or close family members involved, some degree of white-washing is inevitable, and that can be a problem if audiences become skeptical or think they’re not seeing the authentic story, warts and all,” the insider says. “It’s a balancing act. Sony is all for celebrating the Beatles and their legacy but you also need drama, compelling characters, and as many elements as possible that appeal to young people. Meanwhile, the conventional wisdom right now is that international audiences for music biopics respond most strongly to the performance scenes, which is why the Bohemian Rhapsody film devoted its finale to an unusually extended concert sequence. Unfortunately, that doesn’t quite work with the Beatles because at the height of their fame, they stopped performing live as a group. These Beatles movies are not going to end with a big concert finale and at least one of them might end with a funeral.”

Sony and The Beatles ‘Want Stars, Not Unknowns’ in the Films

The source says Sony is pointing to the casting of Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman and 2023’s Elvis as examples of slam-dunk biopic casting that managed to excite younger viewers by putting a recognizable leading man at their centers, and that thinking will indeed inform their plans for casting the Fab Four.

“Sony feels a little burned by the box office failure of their recent casting of Naomi Ackie as Whitney Houston,” the source explains. “She was a little too low profile and way too unknown to bring any marketing value to that movie, no matter how good her performance was. As little known as Austin Butler was prior to Elvis, he had a pivotal villain role under his belt in Once Upon A Time…in Hollywood and was well known for his former relationship with Vanessa Hudgens. Rami Malik was a full-blown TV star and highly experienced as an actor when he got the call to play Freddie Mercury, and Taron Egerton had already fronted the profitable Kingsman action franchise when he was tapped to play Elton John. The lesson is, stardom and experience trumps the novelty of casting an unknown. You need a name you can put on a poster.”

The insider says one of Sony’s key pieces of talent, Spider-Man star Tom Holland, will get a serious look because of his far-reaching relationship with the studio, and other names are being actively discussed before the scripts have even been written.

“It’s an open secret at Sony that they are dying to get the next Spider-Man off the ground with Tom Holland but that Tom is more hungry than ever to stretch his wings as an actor and branch out of the superhero space. Casting him as George or John would solve that problem and keep Tom ‘in the family,’ so to speak,” the source reveals. “I don’t think you can count out Timotheé Chalamet as a contender for one of these roles either because he’s so red-hot right now, but he’s about to plunge into playing Bob Dylan and following that up by playing Paul would be a tricky maneuver. Jeremy Allen White from The Bear has his pick of movies right now but would he really turn down the chance to play Ringo? This is the level of actor they’re talking about, but none of these guys say yes to movies unless they can see the finished script, and that’s the next task Sony faces – getting these movies written!”

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