Stephanie Crets / Retail Merchandiser
Has your child ever dreamed about what it would be like to wander through strawberry fields forever, live in a yellow submarine or go on a magical mystery tour? Beat Bugs, a new, original Netflix series from creator, writer and director Josh Wakely, is bringing those dreams to life this summer through 3-D animation and the music of the Beatles for families all over the world.
“It’s the greatest music catalogue of all time, and I knew they had messages of hope, love, community and peace,” Wakely says. “I thought ‘All You Need is Love’ is a great message to bring to children.”
Beat Bugs will feature original characters living in an overgrown backyard, learning lessons and going on adventures, with a Beatles song tied to the theme of each episode. Children can experience the episodes in short bursts of 26 11-minute episodes or view 13 half-hour episodes, depending on their preference. The first season will be available this summer, with another coming this fall, just in time for the holiday season.
“I’ve been a screenwriter and director my entire life, so I’m bringing the same rigor, quality control and craft of a live-action movie to this series,” Wakely explains. “Every episode has been crafted and poured over so that it lasts more than 20 years – the same way the Beatles music is ever-present in pop culture. We’ve taken those songs, made them really child-friendly with awesome animation and the musical storytelling of the Beatles. It is a beautiful combination and a series I believe in.”
Wakely created the series with his Australia-based film and television production studio Grace, along with talented writers and animators in Los Angeles, Vancouver and Australia. Everyone involved in the series has worked for more than five years to bring about a show that Wakely hopes will last for decades to come.
Netflix was chosen as the vehicle with which to launch the series because of its incredible global reach. “When the show is ready, Netflix presses a magic button and it goes out to 190 countries around the world on the same day, at the same time,” Wakely says. “With a network that has a reach like no other, it’s really powerful for me. Netflix allows the budget, resources and power of a showrunner like me to do things that could only be seen in cinema at best.
“Now, we are in the golden age of television, so you can bring that film-quality level of animation to television,” he continues. “I want to bring that same level of storytelling craft and that same level of quality to children, and Netflix is the best way to do that.”
The music of the Beatles was a key piece to Beat Bugs’ storytelling. However, acquiring the rights to the Beatles’ songs from the publisher was not a task to be taken lightly, as Wakely learned. He says he first thought it would take only a few months, but he worked for three years to acquire the rights and prove the show would be a successful product commercially and worldwide.
“It was my full-time job at that time,” he recalls. “I was so passionate and clear it would be an extraordinary combination for children. Sony/ATV Music Publishing just understood the power of bringing this catalogue of music to children.”
The next monumental task was to find the right record label to cover the Beatles songs. Republic Records’ film and TV department picked up on the buzz of the show as it was being shopped around to different studios and joined Wakely as Beat Bugs’ music partner. Republic Records selected P!nk, Sia, Eddie Vedder, The Shins, Regina Spektor and a variety of other big-name artists to cover the Beatles songs. Some of the songs featured include Help!, Come Together, Penny Lane, Yellow Submarine, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, With a Little Help from My Friends and Magical Mystery Tour.
“We always look at ways to integrate our artists on the roster with any film and TV project that we are working on,” says Jim Roppo, executive vice president of marketing and commerce at Republic Records. “But those synergies must musically work in an organic fashion. With Eddie Vedder, James Bay and Of Monsters and Men, it just worked and those artists nailed their performances.”
Wakely says the goal with the show was for every episode to reflect the theme and the music of a particular Beatles song, which is why the artists were just as important as the show itself. “We can never have an off day because we’re dealing with great material,” he says. “We have to make every episode spectacular, which is tiring but also deeply rewarding.”
Republic Records has always been a company to push the boundaries and innovate into new areas, Roppo notes. Now, the company is working with Wakely and Netflix on the marketing and commerce front to promote, market and sell the new versions of some beloved Beatles songs.
“[Beat Bugs] is so different and innovative; there is nothing on TV for children like it,” Roppo says. “It has this revolutionary relationship between amazing content, animation and storytelling with the music of the Beatles. I’m just thrilled for people around the world to finally see and experience this show. We have been working on it for a long time, now it’s time for the world to discover it.”