Mary McCartney Details Making Her Directorial Debut With Abbey Road Studios Documentary ‘If These Walls Could Sing’


The names “Abbey Road Studios” and “McCartney” are so intertwined as to be almost synonymous. The studio, located on the now universally known Abbey Road in north London, is where Paul McCartney and his bandmates recorded most of their albums, eventually naming their seventh after the road itself (the studio, then still known as EMI Recording Studios, was subsequently renamed in honor of the album).

Now a new McCartney is making her mark on the place. Photographer turned filmmaker Mary McCartney, who also happens to be Paul’s eldest daughter, has made her directorial feature debut with a new documentary, “If These Walls Could Sing,” which is set to drop on Disney+ on Jan. 6.

McCartney (pictured above with Ringo Starr, her dad Paul and Elton John at the doc’s U.K. premiere) sat down with Variety at the iconic studio itself to discuss her move into filmmaking, her earliest memories of Abbey Road and whether she has more film projects lined up for the future.

When did you start work on this project?

I started working on this a good couple of years ago in lockdown. I was invited by John Battsek, who is an amazing Oscar-winning documentary-maker who did “Searching Sugarman” and “One Day in September,” to name but just a couple. And he emailed me out of the blue, and said, “Have you thought of directing documentaries?” And I said, “Yes.” And then he sent me through the idea.

How has it been moving from photography to film?

Surprisingly, it felt quite natural. Because when I’m lighting within my photography, in my portrait work, I’ve always used more continuous lighting, which is more what’s used in films. I’m not a flash person. And because when I’m shooting portraits it’s sort of continuous lighting, making a nice space for somebody to feel – the subject to feel – comfortable in, so that it’s collaborative and I get something out of them that maybe they haven’t given before: a look or a feel. It’s about that unknown little, fairy-dust moment that I haven’t planned. And so I approached the interviews in a similar way for the documentary. I did as many of them as I could in Abbey Road Studios, so when the people came in to be interviewed they were in the atmosphere and it made them more reminiscent of the time they’ve spent here.

Did you do all the interviews yourself?


That’s a lot.

Yeah, it’s a lot. Because the interviewing is an art form in itself. But in a way, that’s where my portrait experience came in. It’s interviewing without speaking, so much as encouraging, but it’s getting an interview with someone in a weird way through a portrait. But it was nerve racking because I was making sure it was lit properly, checking the frame and then getting the interview. And the interviews were so important in this documentary because there’s actually a surprising lack of archive footage. Because recording in a studio – I hadn’t even thought of [this] and I grew up in recording studios – the etiquette is you don’t really take pictures and film, because it’s a safe play for the place for the musicians. So you don’t think “Oh, someone’s got a camera,” you’re literally just focusing on making the music. So there’s not a lot of photoshoots that go on inside the recording process. So it was heavily reliant on getting really good interviews.

And not people just saying “Oh, I love Abbey Road, it’s great.” It had to be each person giving their perspective. So each person I interviewed was there for a different reason. Elton John and Jimmy Page were there to talk about their experience as session musicians here. And then John Williams […] spoke a lot about the film scores that were done at Abbey Road. So that’s his section. And then my dad and Ringo were there to talk about the Beatles.

Sir Paul McCartney, in Studio 2 Abbey Road, taken from ‘If These Walls Could Sing’ (courtesy of Disney+)
Credit: Mary McCartney (courtesy of Disney+)

You pretty much grew up at Abbey Road Studios. What are your earliest memories of the place?

My earliest memories are of my mum and dad, they were recording here with Wings. I grew up around the corner, so we would come in, walk around [until] they had breaks, to come and see them. So I remember going into the canteen and snacking and when you walked in in the reception, they had this big gallery of pictures of artists that have recorded here.

When did you realise how iconic the studio was?

When I realised how iconic it was, was coming by and always seeing people on outside, always, on Christmas day, every single day, somebody here making the pilgrimage. But also, just literally every time I walk in, it feels magical. It feels good. It feels healthy to come in here, I kind of feel inspired. And Nile Rodgers says it [in the documentary], musicians are superstitious. And he’s like, when people come in here, it does make you want to up your game a bit. You feel like you’re in a world-class place with really amazing professional people.

When did you tell your dad you were making a documentary about the studio?

I told him about it after I had agreed and signed on. I was with him at the weekend, and I was like, “I’m gonna do this documentary about Abbey Road called ‘If These Walls Could Sing.’” And I remember him going “Oh, I like that title.” And it was good because you could see he was interested and he was really helpful, just giving me little nuggets of information and when I’d see him he was like, “How’s it going on that documentary? What’s going on?” He was quite a proud father when I was interviewing him, in the middle he kind of looked at me and was like, “It’s my daughter directing me.”

Do you plan to do more directing?

I have definitely, definitely got the bug for directing documentary I really just need to get my head down and think about the next subject.

This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity.

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