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  • Sunny Side Global Documentary Decision Makers Guide

The LOST Kennedy Home Movies – Unlocking an Archival Treasure

2013 November 22
by Peter Hamilton

The LOST Kennedy Home Movies’ is a  History U.S. special that captures our lasting fascination with the Kennedy’s.

It is a reminder on a harsh anniversary, that there are original but also tender stories to be told from the Kennedy archive.

And the film carries important lessons for  filmmakers about the patience and skills required to unlock the promise of a hidden archival treasure.

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The LOST Kennedy Home Movies is a two-hour special created by Harrison Engle and Stanley H. Moger.

Unique Archive

  • The project was the decades-long dream of Executive Producer Stanley H. Moger, who owned a 30-min. reel of 16mm Kodachrome home movies inherited from his father.
  • This rare archive footage had been given to Moger’s father, Art Moger, by Kennedy patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy in 1952, to possibly help with John Kennedy’s first senatorial campaign.
  • This footage remained unseen by nearly everyone, including later Kennedy family members, until the film’s premiere in July, 2011.  It may have never even seen a projector.

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Complicating Factor: Access

  • The major problem was that Moger didn’t own the rights to televise this footage.
  • Obtaining approval from so many present-day family members seemed unlikely.
  • Moger held his ground for a more than decade, waiting to finally donate the footage to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, which controlled the Kennedy photo and film archives.
  • Thus it was no longer necessary to get individual family members’ permission to use the footage.

Fraught With Perils

  • The delicate rights situation was fraught with perils, despite a contract with History.
  • If permissions were withheld, and additional archive footage wasn’t obtained, the project could easily have collapsed.
  • According to Engle: “Moger’s persistence, and our incisive storytelling, ultimately won out.”

The Partners

  • Stan Moger has been producing, distributing, marketing and packaging quality television programming for more than 40 years.  His company, SFM Entertainment, is one of the few remaining independent syndicators and creators who has provided product to nearly every major network.   He enjoyed a long relationship with A+E Networks, History’s parent company.
  • Harrison Engle is an award-winning director and producer who has directed or been otherwise involved in 80+ productions for CBS, Discovery, PBS, History, and more.
  • Moger and Engle began their successful collaboration with their 1986 documentary, The Indomitable Teddy Roosevelt.

Core beliefs

  • “Strong stories with human interest and fresh entertainment elements, often dealing with history, biography and the arts.  We believe in telling stories creatively and thoughtfully.”
  • “Viewers want to go on a journey with the filmmakers, and to actively participate in the story as it unfolds.”

Budget

  • Budget: $500,000+/-

Initial Pitch

  • “The Kennedy’s as you’ve never seen them before.”
  • A short pitch reel was assembled as a sales tool for History channel.
  • Stanley Moger then negotiated with John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, finally winning approval to use this material in the special.

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History

  • David McKillop commissioned the program.
  • Susan Werbe was executive producer for History and guided its fit for the network.

Concept / Difficulties 

  • The program was commissioned by History in December 2009.
  • Moger and Engle licensed other very rare archive footage for the production.
  • Compelling family scenes were carefully assembled, often overcoming the challenge of identifying locations and timelines of family members during the years 1938-1963.
  • A technical challenge was re-mastering original 16mm Kodachrome footage from these archives.

Post-production

  • Because of research, HD transfers, writing, the editing took nearly a year.
  • The cost to clean and upgrade the archive to HD  was more than $100,000, according to Moger.

Format

  • 2 Hours (88 minutes)

Elements

The contents of the delivered film are roughly:

  • Moger’s unseen Kennedy footage (one third).
  • Four other archives, including Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation (one third).
  • Other: stills, interviews, etc. (one third).

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Presentation on History

  • The LOST Kennedy Home Movies premiered on History on July 11th, 2011.
  • The critical response was very positive.
  • It has been broadcast frequently since, and particularly this month for the anniversary of JFK’s assassination.

Kennedy Family Reaction

  • Though the Kennedy family had been wary about the project, they were “very pleased” with the final result.
  • Moger and Engle wanted to make a “valentine” to the family, and not a scandal-mongering special like so many others.
  • “That kind of story wasn’t in the nature of the footage.”
  • Some of the lost footage from Art Moger was later used in Rory Kennedy’s HBO film, Ethel.

Contacts

Outreach

  • “The LOST Kennedy Home Movies” was the subject of two panel discussions dealing with the state of history-themed productions at 2012’s WestDoc Conference in Los Angeles.

Takeaways

  • History’s trifecta of huge scripted hits The Bible, Vikings and Hatfields & McCoys blazed a path away from its heritage of archive-based historical series and specials.
  • Discovery and Nat Geo followed suit by ramping up their own pipelines of scripted event specials and series.
  • Nat Geo recently scored record audiences for Killing Kennedy.
  • However, projects with unique access to a fascinating archive are actively considered by History and many other US and international channels, notably the Smithsonian Channel.

MLK Assassination

  • Watch our video coverage at MIPDOC of Tom Jennings Productions’ MLK: The Assassination Tapes for the Smithsonian Channel
  • MLK went on to win the 2013 Peabody Award.

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One Response Post a comment
  1. RobertaG-V permalink
    December 23, 2013

    I don’t think the rights situation was quite as dramatic as all this. Fair u\Use would cover the footage as presented (as Lisa Calif advised) , and as a public figure JFK’s rights to privacy and publicity were curtailed. None of the other footage licensed was “rare.”.

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