During Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s royal tour style trip to New York, they were accompanied by a personal photographer and videographer, and Harry was mic-ep up on Friday as the Sussexes made their various stops in New York. As I wrote yesterday, Harry and Meghan are celebrities, have always been celebrities – and they’re now free to lean into that, released from the restrictions of British royal protocol or whateverness they’re so precious about.
For celebrities, especially the top tier celebrities, it’s not unusual to see them accompanied by camera crew, documenting their moves. And the footage can be used in a variety of different ways. Madonna did this decades ago with Truth or Dare. Beyoncé has taken it to the next level: she’s been archiving her personal and professional moments since the beginning of her career and reportedly has a temperature-controlled facility that houses thousands of hours, if not more, of recordings that she releases drip by drip, in music videos, in concert videos, on her website, on Instagram, and of course documentaries on a schedule that only she knows.
Where Harry and Meghan are concerned, the assumption is that whatever was being filmed would end up on Netflix; they signed their deal with Netflix last summer and it’s been widely speculated that one of the projects would indeed be a documentary or a docuseries about their lives. In the site open today I posted about Ted Sarandos’s comments at Vox’s Code Conference and in particular Netflix’s return on talent investment with their multimillion-dollar multi-year deals with many of the industry’s most high-profile creatives, prioritising original content over licencing – and Sarandos’s point was that it has paid off, handsomely, in subscriptions and engagement.
Harry and Meghan, then, are part of that Netflix talent recruitment strategy. Though it’s never been confirmed, their Netflix deal was reported at the time to be in the $100 million neighbourhood. To put this in context, that’s what Shonda Rhimes’s initial Netflix deal was said to be worth (although we subsequently learned that that figure was underreported and that it was significantly bigger than even the impressive at the time $100 million) before it was extended and expanded this past summer. Shonda, though, had a proven track record coming into Netflix. There was no doubt she could create more shows that would take over the culture.
In terms of producing content, though, while there is all kinds of potential, Harry and Meghan are still unproven. Especially on this scale. They’ve shown us glimpses of their creativity in short form, through social media posts before they quit social media altogether, and now in quick videos on the Archewell website, but we can all agree, that’s not Netflix – Netflix is a much bigger undertaking. And Netflix typically likes things sooner rather than later. It’s now been over a year since the deal was made. Which means that Harry and Meghan being followed around by cameras fits the broad timeline. It means that something is in production. It’s just a matter of where in the process the New York trip fits – at the beginning, midpoint, or end of the narrative?
Because despite the fact that people, particularly the British tabloids, are always talking about them, they’ve actually had a pretty quiet year. Like, yes, ok, for sure, their Television Event of the Year interview with Oprah was very, very loud, but remember it was also secretive. Nobody knew about it until they chose to let people know. Same goes for Meghan’s book. Same goes for most of the sh-t they announce on their terms, without leaks. My point is, there’s been a lot happening behind-the-scenes, while they’ve been low-key, that they’ve learned and been able to keep behind-the-scenes until they’re ready to reveal. That too is a celebrity skill, and this is one that they’ve actually gotten quite good at.
So the question is…how much of this documentary have they been working on behind-the-scenes? There’s no doubt that some if not much of the focus will be on their philanthropic work. But will it go beyond simple information presentation on the people and organisations they support? For instance, Harry has been rather outspoken about social media reform and the consequences of misinformation, calling on tech giants to do more to make the internet a safer more responsible place. That sets up a connection to the bullsh-t that’s written about them in the British tabloids and perhaps a Framing Britney Spears style layout of all that f-ckery chronologically which is what I would definitely consider if I was producing this, because it can help hit all the points, relating Harry and Meghan’s personal experience with a bigger social ills that effects everyone – and it gets to enough of the gossip.
The other big question too is just how much of their private lives we’ll see. If I had to guess, and if the Sussexes are indeed rolling on their documentary, it will have the same feel of intimacy of Michelle Obama’s Becoming documentary. Mrs Obama was able to give people insight into who she is and where and with whom she spends time, but there was still a lot that remained off-limits. That would be a good straddle for the Sussexes too, but the key is being able to find that sweet spot. And I’m not sure they themselves would be able to see it. Michelle worked with a filmmaker to shape Becoming, an outside eye who could see the story without being in it. Harry and Meghan would greatly benefit from that too, and I’m curious if they can get out of their own way in service of their own story.
To bring it back to Netflix though, and how they’ll benefit – obviously if this does indeed turn out to be a Sussex documentary, that’s priceless cultural interest, an immediate win for the deal. And an enhancement to their algorithm. There is no way that whatever Harry and Meghan produce it won’t sit side-by-side with The Crown. And their Diana documentaries. And that too is part of Netflix’s strategy: not just to attract viewers but to KEEP them, in this case in their royal queue. In a perfect world, does the new season of The Crown drop at the same time as the Sussex documentary or series? And around the same time as the Queen’s diamond jubilee?
Attached - Harry and Meghan at the UN Headquarters in NYC a few days ago.