Let it be...(known): Cleveland International Film Festival is screening the highly anticipated feature-length documentary, PRE FAB!, directed by Cleveland-born filmmaker Todd Thompson. The documentary is based on the book by musician Colin Hanton and co-author Colin Hall, custodian of John Lennon’s childhood home, and is considered to be the last Beatles story about how it all began. The film tells the story of how English-born drummer Hanton joined John Lennon and rounded up their friends in 1950s Liverpool to form The Quarry Men, a group that would evolve into the biggest and most influential band in music history – The Beatles. The documentary combines archival footage and music of the period, along with interviews with the surviving Quarry Men, family, friends, Liverpool residents and many others. PRE FAB! is part of the Cleveland International Film Festival’s Local Heroes Competition, and will screen on Sunday, March 26 at the KeyBank State Theater, with a Q&A session with the filmmakers.
The State Theater
Sunday, March 26th 2:40pm
Purchase your tickets and watch the trailer here.
Todd Thompson, the director of PRE FAB!, is an Orlando-based filmmaker who has a long and successful career in the industry. Thompson is the founder of Stars North, an award-winning, Emmy-nominated, independent motion picture production company based in Orlando, Florida. Over the last decade, Stars North has been committed to creating emotionally gripping stories that have real meaning and impact.
Thompson has a strong connection to Cleveland, where he grew up, and is excited to present PRE FAB! at the Cleveland International Film Festival. Thompson has previously broken Florida Film Festival records, selling out multiple theaters for the opening night of his documentaries Woman In Motion and an earlier rough-cut version of PRE FAB!
I had the honor and privilege of speaking with Todd Thompson just days before the screening at the Cleveland International Film Festival.
Madeline: Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how you became interested in film?
Todd Thompson: I was born and raised in Cleveland. I grew up in Parma, Ohio. As a kid, I spent weekends with my grandma and grandpa, and it always involved a trip to Medina, Ohio. My uncle owned the Medina Theater. My aunt would pop the popcorn and we'd all have a great time. As I got a little older, I got to sit up in the projection room with "Big Charlie" and help out. When I was 7, my dad took me to see Star Wars. It really captivated me. I asked my dad many questions about the film. I asked him questions for the entire year after I saw that movie. I was forming the foundation for story beats and narratives. It influenced me greatly. Years later, when I was making my first movie, Woman in Motion, we did our mix at Skywalker Ranch. I spent a lot of time at Skywalker Ranch in 2019 and got to work with a very innovative group of people.
Madeline: Can you tell me about your relationship with The Beatles?
Todd Thompson: The Beatles, to me, were the black and white band my mom used to talk about growing up; her boy band experience. Every Christmas, we would go to the Terminal Tower in Cleveland and get hot chocolate at Stouffer's Inn (now the Renaissance Hotel) on Public Square. That was the hotel where The Beatles stayed when they came to Cleveland in the 60s. My mom would tell the story about that and how wild fans broke into their room and cut up pieces of the carpet that they walked on. 40 years into the future, here I am making this film.
Madeline: Are you also a musician?
Todd Thompson: I played the trumpet for many years. I played through college. Music has a huge influence on me and I definitely consider it to be another character in my films.
l usually sit down with my composer to talk about music - where in the story things need to happen musically and why it needs to happen a certain way. I think when you watch this film, you will get a sense of that. Of course, it's layered very thickly with Beatles' music but all purposely placed. There are over 70 songs in this film. It's very important to me. Music is such a driving force.
Madeline: You filmed this in Liverpool and London. What was that like?
Todd Thompson: I had never been to England before. My first trip to England was in February 2019. We got to meet everyone and do some scouting and roll cameras. I visited the houses that John and Paul grew up in. I spent time at The Cavern Club. We spent a little time in London before my second trip which was in July 2019 and we went directly to London that time. We shot some interviews at Abbey Road Studios. We worked in Studio 3 where The Beatles recorded. Pink Floyd recorded "Dark Side of the Moon" in that studio too. It was such an amazing experience at a historic place. There's a man who works there. His name is Lester. Lester has seen everything. He has been there since the beginning. When we were on a break, he said, "I'm going to take us down to the cage..." Inside, every single microphone was perfectly preserved, and they all had a story-- like: this is the mic that Paul sang "Let It Be" on.
But the best part of filming this project was getting to grow up with these guys for five years and live their lives with them again as they told their stories. I got to go back to the fifties and experience everything with them all over again.
Madeline: Is PRE FAB! a story that a lot of people haven't heard before?
Todd Thompson: Yes, which is what I love about it. It's very similar to my film about Nichelle Nichols (Woman in Motion). Not a lot of people know what she did for NASA to change the space program. Pre Fab is such a comedy of errors. The only kid in town with a drum set (Colin Hanton) happened to be friends with John and Paul. They started off playing skiffle music, but as soon as Buddy Holly and Elvis made their way over the pond, they fell in love with rock n' roll. Of course, Colin could have been Ringo but life didn't have that in store for him. PRE FAB is based on Colin's memoir that he published in 2018.
Colin Hanton is the only person on earth who was there when John met Paul and when John fell in love with rock n' roll. It was John, George, Paul, and Colin for three years. Then they went off to Germany without Colin.
There's a scene where he does his last gig with The Quarrymen as their drummer. I don't want to give too much away but after the performance he decides to get off the bus early and Colin's book describes how the bus drove off into darkness. I think we were able to really recreate that powerful visual for the film. Colin's story with the original Quarry Men stops when the bus goes around that corner.
Madeline: Tell me about this photo.
Todd Thompson: This photo was taken 30 minutes before John Lennon met Paul McCartney. I love how John is looking directly at you in the photo. My wife is a photographer so she was able to really improve the resolution and quality of this photo.
Madeline: I watched the trailer and it refers to Colin Hanton as an "almost Beatle". He seems to have such a sweet and happy demeanor. If I were that close to being a Beatle, I'd probably need serious therapy for the rest of my life.
Todd Thompson: He's very "go with the flow". He's a "whatever life brings me kind of guy".
I guess if you think back to when you were 17 years old- you probably didn't have a lot of 13 and 14 year old friends. John, Paul, and George were super young for him. It was a crazy age gap, but they were bound together by the music. They just got together to play. Nobody thought it would turn into what it became.
Madeline: what's the most rewarding part about being a filmmaker and the best part about making documentaries?
Todd Thompson: I literally love what I do. I get up every day and I get to tell stories-
whether it's a 30 second commercial or a 90 minute film. It's exactly what I loved doing when I was a child and I don't know how many people get to do what they played at growing up.
When creating a documentary, I enjoy the combination of research, exploration, discovery, and story telling. Of course, when you script a regular film, you have a blue print based on scenes and script notes. It pieces together a little more smoothly than putting together sound bites from interviews for a documentary. So documentaries can be more challenging in that sense- figuring out how the people you interview fit into the story. When making a documentary, you have to have a good editor or you'll sink like a yellow submarine.
Madeline: Favorite Beatles song?
Todd Thompson: I love the peppiness of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." I actually didn't come into this project as a huge Beatles fan, but I have a whole new appreciation for their music.
Madeline: Favorite Beatle?
Todd Thompson: For me it’s tied between John and Sir Paul. I connect with the artistic and creative passion in both, but I definitely relate to Sir Paul’s professional drive and determination.