Our MIPDOC 2023 Case Study analyzed CHARLES IN HIS OWN WORDS by 1895 Films for Nat Geo, Disney+ and Hulu.
It’s about a character who is a mega-celebrity… one who most viewers think they already know, and who many actively dislike.
Its promotion was tied to the Coronation, an event followed by billions.
The challenge: How can the network and filmmaker deliver an original special amid wall-to-wall media coverage?
Our Case Study is based on my conversations and MIPDOC panel with 1895 Films’ Tom Jennings with highlights from Nat Geo’s Simon Raikes.
- Charles: In His Own Words is a comprehensive account of Charles’ life – from his early days as heir apparent to his formative experiences as schoolboy, bachelor, husband, father, outspoken rebel prince, tireless steward of the arts and environment – and now – the first and oldest British monarch to be crowned king in nearly three-quarters of a century.
- “Having produced the standout success Diana: In Her Own Words (2017) and Being the Queen (2020), we were certain that our all-archive style of storytelling would make for a great film about Britain’s new king.”
- To National Geographic Channel (UK) in September 2022.
- “Following the death of Queen Elizabeth, our basic pitch was that we could do something in our “In Their Own Words” style for Charles. That was the pitch!”
- Nat Geo “knew they wanted something for the Coronation on May 6, 2023, but had not decided. Our idea was one of their options.”
- The network asked: “Is there enough accessible archive of Charles to make an ‘In Their Own Words’ film on him?”
- “Having gone through footage for Diana: In Her Own Words and Being the Queen, I knew there was plenty. I made that guarantee before our researchers began to search.”
- Late December 2022.
- At our MIPDOC panel, Nat Geo executive producer Simon Raikes said: “Once we committed to the concept, we felt that 1895 Films was the only production company that we could rely on to deliver an archive-based production on such a fast track.”
Prince Charles in his room at Trinity College in 1969. (Central Press/Getty Images)
“The key questions that we had to answer were:
- How to be sure it was not a typical biography told in a linear format?
- How to make the footage from the past feel relevant, and even current, today?”
“Relevance” and the Leaky Pen
- “Simon and I solved the ‘relevance’ problem during our first conversation. My pitch was to start the story the day the Queen dies. We would then follow current events in the run-up to the Coronation, using those events as touchstones to spin back in time in pursuit of a theme that reveals Charles’ character.”
- “A great example is the infamous footage of Charles loudly complaining about a leaky fountain pen that went viral. We used that episode as a ‘current’ introduction to Charles and the press. It showed that no matter what Charles says or does, it’s photographed by the press and amplified times one thousand. Even being upset about a leaky pen is enough to make front-page news.”
A Theme Emerges from the Archive
- “Our initial story structure was to develop themes that dominated the public and personal life of Charles.”
- “Several of those themes remained – The Rebel Prince, Search for a Queen and The Boy Becomes a Man.”
- “However, one theme kept coming up again and again in our search for archives – Charles in the Spotlight.”
- “Since the day he was born, everything about Charles was documented by the press. Through the years, he constantly comments about the intrusion of the media into his life.”
- “We made this the first theme in the film. It became the major thread woven throughout the program.”
- “Within two weeks of starting this film, we were in edit. The usual key steps in our process did not exist.”
- “As soon as the first screeners were in house, editors started working to assemble something that would meet our editorial mandate.”
- “As more footage came in, everything went into the edit bays.”
- “We built the show based on what archive we could find as we found it.”
- A staff of 16 worked non-stop from January 2023 through March 2023.
- Post-production: “10 weeks for everything, from ingesting footage to delivery of master.”
- The typical time to complete an 1895 Films production is around 10+/- months.
- A commission, fully-funded and owned by NGC.
- Budget is typical for an archive-based special.
- 52 libraries were used.
- They include Getty Images, the British Library, the National Library of Wales, the National Film and Sound Archive Australia, and BBC.
- The theme song was composed from Hans Zimmer’s Bleeding Fingers Music.
- The score includes library tracks from Zimmer’s Extreme Music library.
- One-hour documentary for initial broadcast on National Geographic Channel, followed by streaming on Hulu and Disney+.
- “The film had to be structured in such a way that there are natural act breaks for network broadcast and that the storytelling would also play seamlessly in a streaming format.”
Watch: Billy Bush interviews Director Tom Jennings on “Charles: In His Own Words” for Extra (US).
- Format: 4K
- Versions: 1 x 46-minute documentary for broadcast and streaming.
- April 28, 2023, on National Geographic Channel.
- Hulu, April 29.
- Disney+, May 5.
Tom Jennings’ Takeaways
- “We went into producing this film with our eyes wide open. Normally, something like this takes 9-10 months to do right. We had three.”
- “To make this film happen in that short of a time we all knew we would be gathering footage, writing, editing, rewriting and re-editing on the fly. We had to accept the fact that creating cuts, and getting notes from the network, while constantly adding new material would be a challenge that had failure written all over it.”
- “To the credit of the staff, and our network executive Simon Raikes, we pulled off something that none of us thought was possible – at least at the level of quality of the final film. This stretched the limits of every aspect of filmmaking – storytelling, finding material, editing and post. In the end, it’s one of the best programs we’ve ever done.”
- “My key people are standouts: Writer-Producer Ron Nelson, who kept hammering the story multiple times until we got it right. Archive Producer Johnny Stark, who led his team to literally go to the ends of the earth looking for lost footage. He was able to get several places to digitize footage that had never seen the light of day. Editor Brian Kallies, who worked day and night, along with other editors, under extraordinary deadline pressure to re-edit and re-edit and re-edit until the cut reached perfection” (see bios below).
- “To create an archive-only film, with a unique and compelling story approach, all done in 12 weeks, is a reminder that you must have the best people doing their best work while pushing themselves to the limit.”
- I’ve never bought into Charles’ overwhelmingly negative reputation for one reason: I know a half-dozen documentarians who have worked on his films, and they all describe an attentive, intelligent and fair-minded boss who is deeply committed to his message.
- For example, see my post Charles III is a Documentary Patron.
- I thoroughly enjoyed Tom Jennings’ sympathetic portrait that reveals a man who had suffered from a hyper-critical though largely absent father, and who has been hounded by Britain’s press barons, led by Rupert Murdoch, who I have dubbed “the Aussie Prince.”
Press Reaction: “Concise masterpiece”
- LAUGHING PLACE: ‘Charles: In His Own Words’ is an Honest and Detailed Look at the Man Who is to Be King
- DEADLINE: ‘Charles: In His Own Words’: Watch Clip Of New British King Charming Welsh Protestors In Nat Geo Doc
- PEOPLE: Rare Footage Shows King Charles as a ‘Very Sincere’ Father, Director Says of New Doc
- TOWN & COUNTRY: ‘Charles: In His Own Words’ Draws a Comparison Between the King and Prince Harry
Key Team Members
Director: Tom Jennings
- Tom Jennings has earned a reputation as one of the most compelling storytellers of our time. An award-winning content creator, he blends creativity and mastery of the filmmaking craft with curiosity to find story angles in places not previously considered. Throughout his career, he has delivered hundreds of hours of premium content and truly unforgettable moments for audiences across platforms. His work has received numerous honors, including an Emmy, a Peabody, and a Producers Guild of America Award for Outstanding Producer of Televised or Streamed Motion Pictures.
Writer/Producer: Ron Nelson
- Ron Nelson has written, produced and directed more than 300 hours of documentary television, covering topics including history, technology, sports, espionage and crime. He was the supervising producer of the History Channel’s acclaimed series Modern Marvels and a writer for NBC’s long-running series Unsolved Mysteries. He’s written narration for stars ranging from Johnny Depp to Christopher Plummer. Ron began his career as a researcher for producer David Wolper, a pioneer in documentary television responsible for Roots and L.A. Confidential.
Editor: Brian Kallies
- Brian Kallies began his career editing and producing critically acclaimed historical documentaries, docuseries, and short subjects at WTTW/ Chicago. His award-winning independent documentaries ranging from comedy clubs (Phunny Business) to WWII (Heroes on Deck) have been seen on Showtime, Amazon, APT and national syndication. Brian directed and edited the environmental documentary Everglades of the North which inspired a national wildlife refuge and water trail. His most recent credits include the Discovery+ series Shock Docs, HBO’s Gaming Wall Street, and History’s The UnXplained.
Archive Producer: Johnny Stark
- Johnny Stark is an award-winning Writer, Producer and Coordinator with a specialization in Documentary and Archival Media. He has worked in every phase of production from development to field to post. Johnny has produced and coordinated programs for ESPN, History Channel, Discovery+, AHC, Nat Geo and Red Bull TV, as well as numerous commercial and corporate projects.
Peter, Simon and Tom at MIPDOC 2023
More Case Studies and Coverage in Documentary Business
- Netflix’s ‘THE CROWN’ creates a social media tsunami for a DIANA documentary – podcast with Tom Jennings
- PGA’s Outstanding Producer Award for APOLLO Signals Boom-time for the Documentary Genre
- Princess Diana: The Archive Wave. Or Archive Wars?
- The Fidel Archive Case Study: Inside a PBS / NGC International Coproduction
- Nat Geo Takes The Archive Global. Case Study: ‘Challenger Disaster: The Lost Tapes’
- TRUE ROYALTY: The Netflix for “super-engaged Royals fans”. A Podcast with CEO Gregor Angus
- Charles III is a Documentary Patron.
The film is dedicated to Hamish Mykura, the longtime Nat Geo programming executive who was a great friend to 1895 Films. Hamish passed away earlier this year.
Thanks to Rx Global’s Tania Dugaro and Carole Ollerdissen for managing the MIPDOC program and panel, and to our associate editor Caitlin Cooper.
Simon and Tom at MIPDOC 2023: