How Yesterday Was Able To Use So Much Of The Beatles' Music

Himesh Patel in Yesterday
(Image credit: (Working Title Films))

Every time a filmmaker’s places a hit song in their movie, they have to secure the rights to it and pay for its inclusion in their film. In Danny Boyle’s Yesterday, he tasked himself with including some of the most recognizable songs in the world when he set out to helm a film full of Beatles covers. He needed the big ones too: “Hey Jude”, “Let It Be”, “Help” and so forth. So how did he pull it off and what was the price tag?

What made things easier was the production company behind Yesterday, Working Title Films already had a deal with Apple and Sony to allow screenwriter Richard Curtis and Boyle to choose up to 18 songs, and even switch up their picks while they were shooting and editing the film. The filmmakers had to choose the Beatles most recognizable tracks. Here’s why according to Curtis’ words to NY Daily News:

For the jokes to work it has to be songs people recognize… if Jack sat down at the piano in that Ed Sheeran scene and plays “Not a Second Time,” most people won’t know it’s the Beatles.

Yesterday follows Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) as a struggling musician who becomes the only person who remembers the Beatles exist after being hit by a bus at the same time as a freak global blackout. He then capitalizes on this knowledge to become a universally recognized singer himself, bringing the Fab Four’s hits to the present day.

With this premise in mind, the movie’s jokes needed to bounce off the familiarity of the songs Jack  is covering. Danny Boyle admitted the biggest challenge was picking the songs to go along with the film. Thankfully they already had a deal with the record label, but Boyle also wrote letters to surviving members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr and the widows to George Harrison and John Lennon, Olivia Harrison and Yoko Ono on his intentions for the film. Here’s what Boyle told Billboard about obtaining the rights:

Apple and Sony are very picky about not only who uses the band’s music but how it is used. Working Title did that first because there’s no point in spending money on a film like Yesterday unless you can guarantee you’ve got the music. It made for a top-heavy budget -- the costs for the songs were very expensive, a substantial part of the film’s budget. But they made a clever deal, allowing us the freedom to change songs up to the last minute.

Billboard estimates it cost $10 million for the songs to be featured in Yesterday, making up about 40% of the musical comedy's $26 million production budget. The film also scored Ed Sheeran (Boyle’s second choice to Coldplay frontman Chris Martin), Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’s Lily James and SNL’s Kate McKinnon.

The film has already scored $56 million, maintaining its No. 3 spot during its two weekends at the box office. This weekend it will go up against new releases Crawl and Stuber.

Have you checked out Yesterday yet? It’s among many exciting 2019 summer releases worth hitting the theaters for.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.