Behind the Making of ‘Framing Britney Spears’
The director and a senior editor of the Times documentary answered viewer questions about the media response, the star’s mother and searching for clues on Instagram.· NY Times
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The premiere last week of the film “Framing Britney Spears,” part of the TV documentary series “The New York Times Presents,” looked closely at Ms. Spears’s legal battle with her father, Jamie Spears, over control of her finances. For more than a decade, that control has been held largely by Mr. Spears in a conservatorship, a complex legal arrangement typically used for the sick or elderly.
Since the film’s release on FX and Hulu, celebrities and fans have expressed their support for Ms. Spears on social media. The latest court hearing in the fight was scheduled for Thursday in Los Angeles. On Wednesday, Samantha Stark, the director, and Liz Day, a senior editor on the film, answered questions from readers in an “Ask Me Anything” session on the website Reddit. The following are edited excerpts.
Were there any legal hurdles you faced in making the film?
LIZ DAY We did not receive any direct legal threats while making the documentary. Reporting any investigative story requires extreme attention to factual accuracy and fairness, and this project was no different, though it was made even more difficult by an ongoing court case, attorney-client privilege, medical privacy, celebrity nondisclosure agreements, distrust of the press and other factors.
What is the involvement of Lynne Spears, Britney’s mother, in all of this?
SAMANTHA STARK So what we know about Lynne Spears is that she is not legally a part of Britney’s conservatorship team. We know she recently petitioned to be included to have access to more information and to be able to have her lawyer speak during the hearings, and that she filed as an “interested party” to do that.
It’s unclear what involvement Lynne had related to the conservatorship up until recently. In a Nov. 10 hearing, Lynne said, through her lawyer (and I’m paraphrasing) that she thanked Jamie for the work he had been doing but that she wanted Britney to wake up to see brighter days. It’s very hard to understand what role Jamie, Lynne or a number of other people have played throughout the conservatorship because so many of the court records are sealed.
What’s your view on the media response to the documentary? It feels as if many of the outlets that disparaged Britney years ago are now doing thinkpieces about how the media destroyed her.
STARK There’s one thing I noticed in the past week doing interviews with media outlets that I never even thought of before the film came out. When Britney was being shamed for her sexuality as a teenager and stalked as a young adult, the gatekeepers to all these media outlets — the ones doing the shaming — were in their 30s, 40s, 50s. We as teenagers watched that happen. Now that my/our generation are a lot of the gatekeepers, we’re saying “no more.”
How should those media outlets respond after playing a part in all the derision that Britney endured?
STARK I think they should respond by not ever doing anything like it ever again. I think they should take a note from Britney’s book and be kindhearted, open and nonjudgmental.
Did you contact any of Britney’s ex-husbands or boyfriends, like Jason Alexander, Kevin Federline, Jason Trawick or Charlie Ebersol, or some of her photographers/videographers, like David LaChappelle and Nigel Dick?
DAY Yes, at the end of the doc we listed the members of Ms. Spears’s family who we requested on-camera interviews with but who did not respond or declined. But we reached out to a lot more people than just that list, including the ex-husbands/boyfriends mentioned. We spoke with Nigel Dick and reached out to David LaChappelle too. There were many people we spoke with on background who did not appear on camera. There were also a few people whose on-camera interviews we did not include because of time.
What are your thoughts on the obsessive Britney fans who question and dissect her social media posts?
STARK There’s such a tight circle around Ms. Spears, seemingly enabled by the conservatorship, that it’s really hard to ask her how she is or what she thinks. We know that she hasn’t done interviews in a long time and that when she did for many years she was likely under very careful watch. So I honestly think it makes sense for people to look to her Instagram to try and parse how she might be doing. It’s the only place we’ve been able to see or hear from her for quite some time.
Did you look at the financial records? Forbes has estimated her wealth at $60 million. Shouldn’t it be higher?
DAY Excellent question. Britney’s true net worth is a mystery, and there’s speculation that there may be a lot more money beyond $60 million outside of her estate, in trusts or elsewhere as royalties, intellectual property and more. There are lots of companies set up as private LLCs, of which records are scant. One thing I would add is that often when you hear big Hollywood paychecks, you have to consider everyone who is taking a cut — managers, lawyers and government taxes, for example.
Did you expect this film would result in a big resurgence of the #FreeBritney movement?
STARK When making a film, I never know what parts of the piece will hit people in the emotional gut. I really had no idea this would happen.