EXCLUSIVE: When Emmy-nominated EP Christian Beetz set out to explore the story of disgraced former Spanish King Juan Carlos I, he could never have imagined the “nightmare trip” that followed.
As Sky and NBCUniversal Global Distribution prepare to unveil Juan Carlos: Downfall of the King at Mip TV, Beetz revealed to Deadline that he believed he and his production team were being followed and their conversations listened to during the making of the four-parter last year.
“After doing our first round of interviews with journalists we got an anonymous call saying ‘Be careful what you’re doing here’,” he told us. “This was the start of a nightmare trip.”
Beetz believes his emails were being read and phone was being tapped, and his team started taking precautions, including placing their phones in the fridge – a move made famous by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
“When these things are happening you know you are on the right track,” he said. “Someone clearly cared about what we were doing, which was good for us.”
Several months ago, the disgraced former King won an appeal to use sovereign immunity as a defense against harassment allegations made by Corinna Zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn, his former mistress, who filed a suit in 2020.
While Beetz doesn’t disclose any more detail, he paints a picture of a tense period during which he and his team were constantly looking over their shoulder. This is reflected in the doc, according to Beetz, whose team backed up his version of events. Deadline has reached out to the Spanish government for comment.
“Not a hagiography by any stretch”
From Beetz and Georg Tschurtschenthaler’s Gebrüder Beetz Filmproduktion, Juan Carlos: Downfall of the King charts the monarch’s rise and fall. For nearly four decades, King Carlos was celebrated around the world for reforming Spain in the post-Franco era but a fateful hunting trip to Botswana revealed his secret love affair with Sayn-Wittgenstein and soon after a series of corruption charges brought him down. Juan Carlos abdicated in 2014 and went into exile in Abu Dhabi in 2020.
Gebrueder’s doc is “not a hagiography by any stretch,” according to Sky Studios Director of Factual Barnaby Shingleton, while Beetz described it as “more like a fiction film.”
Shingleton added: “Audiences have quite quickly warmed up to the idea that a doc can be entertaining and isn’t a televized lecture. The last few years have really seen a transformation in the nature of storytelling. Now, we want our docs to be viewed by people who don’t necessarily like docs.”
With shows on Prince Harry, Meghan Markle and the UK’s royal family having dominated the landscape of late, both Sky and Gebrueder have tended to eschew royal docs, but the pair said Juan Carlos’ personality and high-octane lifestyle made Downfall of the King feel more than your standard monarchy exploration.
“Royal family docs aren’t a subject we would deliberately commission, which tends to distinguish us from other broadcasters,” added Shingleton. “I would never say to producers ‘Let’s develop a doc about the royal family’ but this one really hinges on an extraordinary character.”
Beetz, meanwhile, was drawn in by a House of Cards-esque story about a man rumored to have had thousands of love affairs, more than $1B hidden in offshore accounts and who once competed in the Olympic sailing competition.
The doc has been gestating for more than two years and features interviews with Carlos’ closest friends and enemies, with Sky and distributor NBCUniversal Global Distribution set to present it to buyers at Mip TV.
Gebruder, whose past credits include Academy Award-nominated Open Heart, A Perfect Crime and The Cleaners, was acquired by German media outfit Leonine last year and is working on a doc about Benjamin Netanyahu.