A British woman whom I have never met named Freda Kelly is responsible for one of my most cherished childhood moments. In 1969, I turned seven years old and was already a full-blown, hardcore, serious Beatlemaniac. I had the records, posters, magazines, buttons, you name it. I played “Beatle Boyfriend” with my girlfriends on playdates. Everything would stop if the Beatles were on the radio or TV; nothing was more important! As soon as I was old enough to compose something I thought was worthy, I wrote a letter to my crush, Paul McCartney, and sent it to the Official Beatles Fan Club in Liverpool. At seven, your mind walks a line between soaring fantasy and simple realities – the idea of receiving a letter back from Paul floated on blind, thrilling hope, made a bit wobbly knowing that I was really just some little kid in rural Wisconsin, in the days when children were still strongly expected to be seen and not heard.

So with that in mind, imagine how I felt the morning my mom came back from getting our mail from the post office, holding a thin, tan envelope from ENGLAND addressed TO ME. I can’t even convey the level of anticipation and joy I felt. Christmas morning + lottery win + lifetime candy supply doesn’t even come close. Even my mother was excited, and she wasn’t a Beatle fan. We opened it together right at the front door, ever-so-careful to not rip anything.

The letter contained three things: a black-and-white promo photo of the Beatles (from the “Hey Jude” sessions, it looked like), a typed letter on Official Beatles Fan Club stationery, and, in smudged, cobalt-blue ink…a small piece of paper with an autograph that read “Paul McCartney xo.” The letter read, “Dear Marianne, Paul asked me to write and thank you for your letter. He also asked me to send the enclosed photograph, I hope you like it.” I think I screamed or cried or both and my mom hugged me and we jumped up and down together.

This small kindness, repeated thousands of times for thousands of other kids over the Beatle years by fan club secretary Freda Kelly, brought a piece of the group’s magic right into my hands, and it never left my heart. This is why I want to tell you about Freda and the documentary that is being made about her life, called “Good Ol’ Freda.” Remarkably, the modest, private, and down-to-earth Freda has never shared her story before, and it’s an amazing one to tell. Hand-picked at age 17 by Beatle manager Brian Epstein to run the Beatles Fan Club in 1962 as their fame was just beginning, she stayed on for 10 years, still answering fan letters two years after the group had disbanded. Her unique experience, from her friendships with the Beatles and their families to the deep responsibility she felt towards everyday Beatle fans like me, is truly fascinating. But “Good Ol’ Freda” cannot be made without our help, and a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign only has until November 11, 2011 to make its goal, or the entire project may be in jeopardy.

Good Ol' Freda - Kickstarter Video from Tripod Media on Vimeo.

I had the fantastic opportunity to interview “Good Ol’ Freda” director Ryan White yesterday. White is an experienced documentary director and producer (2010’s Pelada is his most recent film) and his enthusiasm for this project is contagious. I framed my questions with a definite slant towards the intricacies of producing an independent film, my experiences in supporting friend Geoff Edgers and his great “Do It Again” Kinks/fan documentary fresh in my mind.

Popthomology: Tell me how this opportunity to make a film about Freda’s life and Beatle experiences came your way, and why you decided to take it on. 

Ryan White: My family has been friends with Freda's family for over 50 years, and I feel very privileged that Freda trusts me to tell her story honestly, and to get to go through this process with her. I respect how private of a person she is, so this is all new to her. She hasn't shared many of these stories even with her closest family members! 

Pop: Why didn’t Freda tell her story sooner? There have been so many Beatle projects, and some very well done. Did she generally stay connected to the rock n’ roll world, or did she leave it behind after she stopped working for them?

RW: Freda worked for the band until 1972, and then decided she wanted to get away from that world a live a quiet family life. She and her husband moved to the English countryside and raised their two kids - with her new married name, she was able to assume a life of anonymity far away from the Beatles spotlight. As Freda will say, "I was now Freda the Mother - I talked about the price of eggs and homework, not John and Paul and what the next album or movie release would be." And I don't think she regrets any of that, she has never liked the attention and always preferred a more private life. The reason that Freda cites in the Kickstarter video for making this movie finally - that it's a document for her grandson - is a true motive. I think if anything the Beatles Era showed her that life is short (when she lists the amount of people from that inner circle who are dead now it really is unbelievable), so she really just wants to have a document of her life for her grandson Niall to see that his grandma did some pretty cool things back in her day. I think we will be pretty impressed!

Pop: Did Freda hang on to most of her Beatle memorabilia, or was it lost over time? How will you share those items in the film?

RW: Freda could be a millionaire if she'd hung on to everything. But she's so generous - when she was wrapping up the fan club, she gave so much of that stuff away to the fans for free. But she did keep some things - and going through her boxes was like an excavation, a lot of it she had never looked at literally since her Beatles days. When it's relevant, a lot of those items will be featured in the film. When it's not relevant we won't include it. It won't be a gratuitous movie to show off rare Beatles memorabilia. 

Pop: How will you frame Freda’s story to appeal to the rabid Beatlemanic, the casual rock fan, and someone who may not know much about the Beatles? Is it difficult to balance the film expectations that those very different types of viewers would have? 

RW: This is the challenge I love. It was the challenge with my last film Pelada which was about global soccer - I think we did a good job of straddling both worlds, appealing to the die-hard soccer fans but also to film festivals screenings full of elderly women. I wasn't a soccer fan before I made the film, but I knew there was a human story there that was intrinsically interesting whatever the backdrop was. I think that crossover appeal is possible with this film as well - Freda's story is universal and appealing from a very basic sense. A girl who is picked from obscurity and thrown into the job that had newspapers labeling her "the luckiest girl in the world." It's (seemingly) like a Cinderella story in some ways. Obviously her birds-eye view of what went on is going to make her stories very interesting to the die-hard Beatles fan. But as someone who would consider himself more of a casual Beatles fan, I think these stories also have a broader appeal. These were real people and Freda's presentation is so matter-of-fact and honest - so to hear her depiction of the "four lads" as she calls them, or Brian Epstein, or the Beatles' families and girlfriends - she really humanizes them in a way that I think will hopefully please the die-hard fans and also people who just love a great story of a team's incredible rise to fame.

Pop: What is your ideal placement for the finished film? Film fests? A theater run? DVD/streaming video? Cable/public TV? Do you see any possibility of a book release to compliment the film?

RW: A lot of this depends on how long the film takes to complete, but ideally it would do a festival run and see all of the distribution realms that you mentioned: theatrical screenings, DVD, digital/streaming, broadcast, etc. Freda will have to decide on the book for herself! 

Pop: Licensing music for films can be an incredibly expensive and difficult venture, yet it would be impossible to tell this story without the music of the Beatles. How do you balance what you’d like to use with what you will be able to afford? 

RW: This will all depend on how much money we raise (and why we're definitely not stopping at $50k if we reach that goal!) As everyone knows, licensing Beatles music is extremely laborious and often prohibitively expensive. We're going to do whatever we can to afford it, but in the end that will be determined by how much money we've raised. 

Pop: Do you have an editor selected yet? If so, who will that be?

RW: I will be editing it! I've edited many films, including my previous film Pelada. Editing is not a one-man process though - we will have many Beatles experts and authors weighing in on the editing to make sure we're making it as interesting as possible!

Pop: How many locations do you plan to use for filming?

RW: We’ll shoot interviews with Freda in many of the famous Beatles landmarks like “the lads’” childhood homes, Liverpool clubs and theaters – all these amazing places that come to life again through Freda’s wonderful memories.

Pop: If I hadn’t been lucky enough to see a re-tweet of the Kickstarter link (via the Flaming Lips) on my Twitter stream, I might not have discovered this film and been able to donate! Tell people how they can best use social media to get the message out about “Good Ol’ Freda” and get this film funded on time!

RW: We could just use the help in any way people are willing to give over the next week to get the word out! Even small donations of $1 to $5 are greatly appreciated, every little bit helps. Twitter and Facebook have been great platforms for us and we hope people will continue to use them to spread the word.

It’s always been such a struggle for me to properly express to my kids or anyone else who didn’t live through the ‘60s what “Beatlemania” was really like and how it felt. I feel so incredibly grateful to have been born when I was, and to have been able to experience that as a child, for in so many ways the Beatles changed the way people thought about music and the world. But it’s still so hard to explain to those who came later just why the world loved them so much. Now think about this: Freda Kelly is the person who links all the pieces of the puzzle together, through her relationships with the Beatles themselves, their families, and the fans. I think her perspective is inestimably valuable in helping to explore a social phenomenon we probably won’t ever see again. 

I can’t wait to see “Good Ol’ Freda,” so let’s do this thing! Get on over to Kickstarter, tell your friends to do the same, and let’s all make a movie! They are offering some extremely cool premiums at all donation levels, too, so that's just another great incentive to pitch in! Spread the word, tell your friends...the clock is ticking! GO!

Many thanks to Ryan White…and of course, to Freda Kelly herself. This ex-seven-year-old will never forget you.