Features July 20, 2016

Q&A: How an Aussie got big-name acts to cover The Beatles for his kids TV show

Former Editor
Q&A: How an Aussie got big-name acts to cover The Beatles for his kids TV show

On July 25, Newcastle-born director, screenwriter and producer Josh Wakely will launch his most career-defining project yet, an original animated series for kids, Beat Bugs.

Licensed to Netflix globally and set to premiere nationally on Channel 7, Wakely enlisted a host of big-name artists for the project, including Eddie Vedder, P!nk, James Bay, Sia, The Shins, Of Monsters and Men, Chris Cornell, Regina Spektor, James Corden and Robbie Williams. 

Beat Bugs sees the artists take on hits by one of the most iconic bands in the world, The Beatles. As part of Wakely’s vision, some of the globe’s biggest names will cover tracks like Help!, Come Together, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and Magical Mystery Tour to introduce The Beatles to a new generation.
In the Q&A below, Wakely chats to TMN about how the series was developed, the role Sony/ATV’s Damian Trotter played in materialising his vision, his dynamic with long-time friend Daniel Johns, and more.


You’ve spent five years developing the series; how similar is your initial concept to the finished work?

My vision for the series remained exactly intact and this is what I am the most proud of. The animation, quality of the scriptwriting, storytelling, depth of the characters, the scale, ambition and quality of the music is absolutely how I saw the show and has absolutely been achieved. 

This is due to the hard work of a lot of people…. Not just me. A lot of the people decided to be ‘once-in-a-lifetime-ambitious’ about this. I don’t know if I will ever work on another project in which the vision of the series remains so intact. I hope I do, it is my favourite part of the entire experience.

It has come with a lot of with lots of ups and downs, but we have achieved the vision which I set out with and that is no small miracle.


What kinds of hoops did you have to jump through to obtain the publishing rights to The Beatles catalogue from Sony/ATV and Northern Songs?

There were, as there should have been, a tremendous number of challenges with obtaining the rights.

I wouldn’t say “jumping through hoops”. But there were numerous tasks I needed to accomplish to prove that I was capable of being in charge of such an important catalogue and continuing the legacy of the most important band ever.

Damian Trotter, the Head of Sony ATV in Australia, is a genius and shared my vision once it was explained to him.

But it took a huge amount of stamina and a reckless amount of self-belief that I would get the rights. But I was lucky to have Damian, who came on early and used his gravitas to convince the company of what this could mean. It took years and was very difficult, but ultimately we got them.


During your pitches to artists including P!nk, Eddie Vedder, Sia, among others, who gave your favourite response and what was it?

I individually approached all artists who were involved in Beat Bugs. I went to every one of them because I was a fan of their music. It became a mind melting experience when, almost as a rule, the artists I wanted for season 1 said “yes”. They did it for the same reason I did it – because they wanted to bring some of the most important music and melodies to a new generation.

They were shockingly generous and amazingly professional. Working with each of them was the greatest experience thus far in my professional life.


How involved have the artists been in bringing Beat Bugs to life? Did they choose the songs they covered? Did any of them contribute to storylines and/or character development?

None of the artists contributed to storylines or character development. But, I would present them the story, animation and script, along with the finished version of the song. But in the end what they contributed was their amount of heart and passion within the songs, which gave new life to each of the stories.

The vulnerability and strength which Sia brought to Blackbird; the other worldliness and magic which Pink brought to Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds; and the showmanship and heart that Eddie Vedder brought to Magical Mystery Tour – this is what each artist contributed.


You studied acting at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA); will your voice ever feature on Beat Bugs?

Interesting question… If you listen very closely you may realise there is a one line cameo, but I will leave that to the viewer to figure out. 

I was asked many times by my cast, who I loved because they brought such life to Walter, Jay, Kumi, Buzz, Crick…and all the other characters. They asked me several times to jump in, but I always replaced myself.

I may in time be involved. But I had superb actors who I felt very confident in. I am very grateful for the experience I had a WAAPA, but what I love best about my job is getting the best out of people.


You’re a long-time friend and a professional associate of Daniel Johns; how have you kept the two relationships separate during your work on Beat Bugs and short film My Mind’s Own Melody before that?

Daniel and I are longtime colleagues and friends. We are so passionate about the work and it is so engrained in our personalities, that there is in some ways no difference between our friendship and professional association.

We take our friendship very seriously and go out of our way to honour and protect that. But we are always talking about the work. I cannot remember many occasions with Daniel where we weren’t crafting the next plan to create something together.

Our personalities are so closely related to how we identify as artists. It is such a rare and special collaboration that it happens instinctively when we are around each other. But he is also a person, who I have gained great inspiration from working with. He is a truly gifted artist and a gifted friend.


Are there any plans to take Beat Bugs to the stage with some of the artists dropping in to perform their Beatles renditions live?

The thought of bringing the characters to the stage is a nice one. It would be incredible if we got to see Sia sing her version of Blackbird, or Eddie Vedder sing Magical Mystery Tour, or Pink bring Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds to the crowds of Australia.

I hope the artists do it individually in their own concerts…there are going to be many platforms and lives for the Beat Bugs.


Is it by coincidence or your own intervention that Australia gets the world premiere and the accompanying digital soundtrack?

I am really glad that Australia gets the world premiere. It means my Mum will finally get to work out what I have been doing all these years.


Beat Bugs launches in Australia on July 25 with a digital soundtrack released via Republic Records globally in early August.

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