A Hard Day's Day
Film directed by DAVID K. KESSLER
Review and interview by Ronnie
(Additional questions by Christine "Darling" Feldman)


A HARD DAY'S DAY is a 'must have' for Beatles fans, if for no other reason than to see if you can point out all the Beatle references cleverly placed throughout the film. Although the short film only clocks in at 9 minutes (the video at 7), it is a thoroughly enjoyable tribute to the Beatles. Loosely based on the HARD DAY'S NIGHT theme, it is really a combination of the zany, fast-paced HARD DAY'S NIGHT with the surrealistic feel of HELP (and the musical comedy of the Rutles thrown in for good measure)!

Basically, the film is about the 'day in the life' of a Beatles tribute band. I don't want to give away all the "goodies", so I'll only mention a few of the obvious. The HARD DAYS NIGHT references are easy to spot, like the chase scene at the beginning, a "This Boy" scene where the Asian Ringo (John calls him Chingo at one point?!) sadly contemplates being kicked out of the group, the running up and down of stairs when they try to find Chingo, and finally the "Are you a mod or a rocker" question complete with a hilarious variation! The surrealistic images of HELP are subtler - such as the marathon runners during the chase scene, the overweight fan chasing Paul, and the band waiting 3 hours for a bus to their meeting in LA. I nearly fell out of my chair when John explained, "Sorry…I only pointed out the fact that Ringo's nose is bigger than most noses. I didn't say we were bigger than Moses…"

And then there's the music. It would have been to costly to get the original Beatles music - plus I feel you would lose some of the effect, since this IS a faux Beatles band! There are basically 4 songs used throughout the film. The opening song sounds, of course, like a variation of "A Hard Day's Night" - cleverly using the middle guitar break from the original song to form a similar melody. When Chingo is sadly walking during his "This Boy" scene, of course the song is a clever take on "This Boy." A Beatles-sounding variation of "Roll Over Beethoven" is used during the scene where the Mop Tops are frantically searching for Chingo. Finally, there is the ending song where the band has their "big gig" and starts into "Twist & Shout". Or is it? I'm not going to give this one away - only going to tell you that you will be in hysterics when you hear what song they are really singing!

Like I mentioned at the beginning, my review copy was a videotape version. They have almost met their pre-order to get DVD versions made of A HARD DAY'S DAY. So, if you are a Beatles fan, you will WANT to get on the waiting list for this DVD! It's gear man…


What follows is an interview with the film's director, David Kessler...

EC: First, I want to tell you how much I enjoyed the film. Even though it's only 7-minutes long, it is thoroughly enjoyable and chocked full of Beatle references! Your website mentions a little about how the film came about, seeing a Beatles tribute band and wondering if they did their accents off-stage as well. But tell me more about how the storyline came about?

David Kessler: Yeah, the seed was planned when I saw that flyer in NYC for a Beatle tribute band on Bleeker Street ( full story www.aHardDaysDay.com). I basically structured it around HARD DAY'S NIGHT, with the band trying to get to a gig. But the whole thing came together when a friend of mine saw the Beatle band I was "courting" to be in the piece play a bar mitzvah he was catering. That was real payoff for me in terms of story and comedy. Quinton (Paul) fleshed out the scene with the manager which had had been very, very short, making that scene longer, giving the MopTops and the manager more dialogue which was fast and Beatle-esque.

EC: When it came to auditioning "Beatles" for your film - it is hilarious in the film when the band are auditioning for a new "Ringo"! Did you have any people like that audition in real life? I'm asking because my wife once produced a play about the life of John Lennon and she had some strange people audition - ones that had NO British accent and didn't even remotely look like the Beatles!

David Kessler: It was murder finding a Paul. In LA, the city of a billion actors, no one really looks like Paul and if they did, they tended to be heavier and suck at the accent or / and was a bad actor. One guy was a young very effeminate guy with a nose ring who barely knew of the Beatles. Another guy did an endless monologue in a bad Paul accent about how John Lennon was a jerk and jealous of him. Painful.

I lucked out by spotting Quinton at a party and finding out he had already played Paul in a RHINO FILMS film called MY DINNER WITH JIMI (unreleased as of 1/04). But when I was looking for look-a-likes, I remember some ugly fat balding guy sent me his headshot and said it was his dream to play Jim Morrison. I guess he was high when he wrote me. A prominent Jim Morrison look-a-like (the singer in a popular local Doors band) balked when I said he couldn't sing Doors songs (because of legal issues) but he could read Morrison-ish poetry or act drunk and loud and generally improvise in the talent office scene. He fired off a curt e-mail to me saying I was planning to make fun of "The Man."

FYI -- I read that the producers of IN MY LIFE -- that NBC Lennon mini-series from 3 years ago -- had a hard time casting John too. I have an article about it. It's weird, because here in LA alone, I know of 3 ringers right off the bat (Joe Stefanelli from the Moptops, Tim Piper and a guy who now plays with the old MopTops)

EC: Did you ever get a sense of why Joe or the rest of the actors were keen to play the Beatles?

David Kessler: Well, Joe was unfazed - it was just another gig for him. Luckily, he has a great sense of humor about the whole thing, unlike the other Beatles tribute band I tried to get who refused to satirize themselves and what they did for a living.

Initially, Joe played bass for a touring version of the Bay City Rollers, but got a lot of attention and won first prize at a Halloween party when he first dressed up like Lennon. So, he kept doing what anyone else does when they do something that strangers respond so positively to, keep at it to get a sense of approval - love, if you will.

Quinton actually wanted to do a project with the guys he played with in "My Dinner With Jimi" - about Beatles look-a-likes, so when I came along with a script, he was keen on developing it with me. Plus, he likes doing the Paul voice and toying with people who approach him about it. Like Joe, I surmise it's a character that people adore and the real person can hide behind.

EC: Of course I noticed a lot of Hard Day's Night references (John drawing glasses and mustache on a picture and the "mod or rocker" quote), but I noticed that you also put a little surrealism inspired from the second Beatles' film HELP (Paul's wig?). Did you intentionally want to go beyond A Hard Day's Night?

David Kessler: I haven't really watched HELP all the way though, I'm ashamed to say. It bores me to tears -- there's just so much stuff with Leo McKern and the other actors, the Beatles seem to be support players in their own movie. What happened with a wig in that one? Did I want to go beyond AHDN? A little. The lost ring bit has echoes of HELP.

EC: Prior to the shoot of A Hard Day's Day, what images or "snapshots" of the Beatles were you most concerned with capturing in your film? Obviously, the main visual link is to A Hard Day's Night. What were the main images, gestures, or lines that you wanted to make sure to include? How do these images add to the authenticity of the simulation?

David Kessler: The running. I wanted to show pretty quickly that no one was really chasing them, even though they imagined people were. That idea/image was key. And Ringo walking alone. It's such a great part of the original movie - Ringo anonymously strolling along and being treated like a normal Joe (if not worse) instead of being desired and popular. Instead of chased by screaming girls, it's an angry cop.

I also wanted some reference to Lennon's Jesus crack. Flipping it to Judaism tied it in with the bar mitzvah idea.

EC: Did The Rutles "All You Need is Cash" in your "day in life of a Beatles tribute band" idea influence you?

David Kessler: Not really, although it's often brought up when my short is mentioned, I guess since it's the only film that satirizes the Beatles (is there another?). I was both a Beatles and Python fan as a kid, so I did watch CASH when it aired and / or rented the video, but wasn't really drawn to it as one might think. Except for a few bits, I don't think it's that funny - I think you have to be a real Beatle fan to appreciate CASH, because essentially it methodically hits all the Beatles' historical marks, rather than making those marks as funny as they could be. When I was writing HARD DAY'S, I was determined to make every Beatle reference funny, instead of having a reference for reference sake (which I think is a weakness of a lot of parodies).

So as a fan, I do appreciate CASH, but it doesn't make me laugh. But I loved and still love the early Rutles music though. "(I Think) I'm in Love" is a brilliant piece of faux 60's pop, absent of satire (and of any Beatle melody), unlike the other tracks.

FYI, recently Quinton and I met Eric Idle at a screening he had of a sequel (i.e. remake of) to CASH called CAN'T BUY ME LUNCH and we handed him our movie. Now I forever have a memory of horrified Eric Idle looking as if we dropped a turd in his palm.

EC: Did your actors stay in character throughout the shoot?

David Kessler: No, but when I have been out with Joe when he has the costume on, he doesn't drop the Lennon act. Interestingly enough, Joe has a lot of freedom as "John" - he'll say off color things or inappropriate comments to girls, and no one blinks an eye and in fact, they enjoy it. They seem comfortable with and accepting of this approximation of John Lennon, possibly because he was and remains such a persuasive and omnipresent icon.

EC: One of the funniest parts in the film (for me anyways) is when you think the band is playing "Twist & Shout". When the singing starts they are actually singing the Jewish song "Hava Nagila" (well, they were playing at a Bar Mitzvah). Who did the music for the film?

David Kessler: Joe (John, vocals, rhythm guitar), Quinton (Paul, vocals, percussion), Quinton's friend Chris Damerst (lead guitar, vocals, mixing and composer of the theme song), and the basic tracks -- a guy named Steve Goodie. And me a bit (I do the Ringo "Hey" in "hava nagila." Joe did an amazing job of learning the Hebrew and being able to sing it like Lennon. And Chris was our George Martin, making the tracks really sound like the Beatles.

EC: The music on your soundtrack sounds just like the Beatles, yet it isn't the Beatles. I would guess this has to do with copyright issues, but it also goes with the whole impersonation theme as well-that everything is very close to being real, yet is not real. Was that a conscious decision on your part? I know you are not a musician (at least I think not), but what do you automatically associate with the early Beatles sound that you wanted to make sure got into your soundtrack?

David Kessler: The music was a big concern. At first, I was going to have Beatles songs covered by The MopTops and just use the film as a director's reel/comedy sampler/promotional piece. But then I could never sell it or air it on TV. So then I thought maybe just have lesser-known cover songs like "Dizzy Miss Lizzie" and "Bad Boy." Though licensing those songs for festivals was doable, I'd still have to pay a lot more if it ever was broadcasted or sold for commercial use. And I'd have to get the MopTops to record them, which would be expensive and time-consuming.

I realized I could probably record songs that sounded like Beatle songs, because a lot of the early ones are or based on 12 bar blues and no one owns that. So Joe, Quinton, Quinton's gifted friend Chris Damerst, and an engineer and I recorded a 12 bar blues, a vague combo of "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Rock And Roll Music" and a shuffle that had the same chords as "Can't Buy Me Love" that I had come up with. And Chris came up with a song that had the same tempo and chords and opening chord as "A Hard Day's Night," which I wasn't able to write successfully.

We recorded the songs with the same guitars the Beatles used, a 6 string and 12 String Rickenbacker and a Gretsch to get that sound, because it's very distinct - that hollow twang of the Gretsch and the Rickenbaker ring. Other guitars simply wouldn't have sounded like the Beatles. Of course, Joe had them. Chris did a great job of mixing the tracks, adding echo to Joe's voice, sharpening the drums, filtering the guitars through a "Vox" amp sound and putting the music in a "room" on the computer that simulated a studio the size and feel of the original one that the Beatles recorded in.

I was always self conscious of the opening song - The "A Hard Day's Night " knock off because it's the only one that doesn't sound as close to the true thing as the others in the film, but when people watch it, they don't notice at all. I guess the sound of it - the 12 string Rick and the opening chord - feels enough like the Beatles that it's not noticeable that it's not an actual song of theirs. I haven't ever received a comment or question about that track, not even from hard-core Beatles fans.

No one of this was done on purpose - a copy of a copy aesthetic -- only to avoid a lawsuit.

EC: How did the idea of the Asian Ringo come about? That was hilarious!

David Kessler: A popular local Beatle band out here has an Asian-ish looking Ringo. They originally said they would do the film, then wanted script approval, didn't want it to end at a bar mitzvah (they thought it would cheapen their image) then strung me along for months, then totally blew me off. I had to spend months recasting (it all worked out much better -- now Quinton is like my best friend and frequent collaborator and Joe is the best John ever). It was my private jibe at them, but truthfully a lot of tribute bands will have a couple of ringers then someone who doesn't look like anyone in the real band.

EC: What do you find interesting about Beatles tribute bands? In your website, you write about wondering if these guys inhabit their "roles" as Beatles offstage too. Was or is this your main fascination, or are there other aspects of the tribute phenomenon that you find interesting?

David Kessler: I'm fascinated by the whole scene, more so then than now. I no longer want to schelp to the valley at 11pm to see an Elvis Costello tribute band whose lead ends up being Asian and who can't sing or wait for hours for Sticky Fingers to go on at midnight at Below 14.

There's a brilliant documentary called TRIBUTE, which hits the scene right on the head.

EC: Your website says that you are only 200 DVD requests short of making the manufacturing minimum. What's the update - how close is it to release? Also, with there be out-takes, etc on the DVD?

David Kessler: Soon. I have approx. enough requests to break even with the manufacturing. Although I'm trying to come up with some funny extras that'll satirize the featurettes on other DVDs, which might take a few weeks to write, shoot and edit. I want to fill the thing out if I want to sell it for ten bucks (instead of just having a 6 minute movie on there). It's funny, the 250 or so people who want it so far, REALLY REALLY REALLY want it and frequently send me e-mails asking about its status. One of RHINO Records founders actually calls me every month or so asking where his copy is. But the more requests I get -- the better. Down the line, it'll prob. be sold at Abbey Road on The River in Cleveland in AUG at a booth in addition to my website. (aHardDaysDay.com)

There will be the version you have (the shorter 6.5 min version which will be FilmLook-ed and look less video-y) and the longer version, which is on iFilm.com. That (9 minute) version has a full version of the song, a couple extra scenes and a slightly rearranged ending.

EC: Are you planning on producing/directing any more Beatle-related films? Or other music-elated films?

David Kessler: I'd love to make a feature version of HARD DAY'S DAY. I even have an idea for two films, an expanded version of the short and a sequel.

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