Chris Smith, director of the new HBO docuseries, “Branson,” says Richard Branson didn’t want the opening scene, which shows him recording an after-death farewell video, included in the docuseries.
“We had that footage because we shot it, but it was never intended for us to be able to use,” Smith told TheWrap.
“Branson” is a four-part docuseries that delves into the life, achievements and career obstacles of Virgin Group co-founder Richard Branson. Each episode focuses on pivotal moments in the businessman’s life, starting with his early beginnings dropping out of high school at age 16 to and starting Student magazine to the controversy around him asking the U.K. government for a bailout loan in order to help keep his Virgin Atlantic airline business afloat while carrying a multibillion dollar net worth.
The series also highlights his challenges being dyslexic, how his often outrageous stunts boosted his business while negatively impacting the emotional health of his family and how his mother encouraged and inspired him to be the businessman he is today.
Smith says Branson — who today controls more than 400 companies — gave him was full jurisdiction over the creative outcome of the series.
“They never asked us what we were going to ask, or what we wanted to tell him. We had full access to do as we pleased,” Smith said. “I don’t think that’s always the easiest decision, but I definitely think it’s one that results in better work. If that wasn’t what the situation was, I don’t think I would have stuck around or have been interested.”
However, what Branson did have an opinion on the opening of the series, which takes place on Friday, June 25, 2011, 16 days before Branson is set to fly into space on his Virgin Galactic spacecraft. The docuseries opens with a video recording of Branson making an after-death farewell video that would be shared in the event of his death; Branson appears frazzled and uneasy, at one point completely stopping to take a break. Smith says Branson didn’t want the opening scene to make Smith’s final product.
“I thought it was a very, a very humanizing moment,” Smith said.
“We had that footage because we shot it, but it was never intended for us to be able to use, and when Richard found out that we wanted to use it, his first reaction was ‘absolutely not,’” Smith continued. “That was something that was personal to him, and should only be shown in a certain circumstance. But, to me, there was something so honest about it. Not only the messaging, but sort of the delivery that was a really important thing that was captured. It help set the tone that this was going to be something slightly different than what you might expect.”
The series is one of the latest projects from HBO Documentary Films, and it was executive produced by Kate Noble, Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller. Tina Nguyen served as senior producer. Watch the trailer for the series below. It premiered on HBO Max on Dec. 1.