On Tuesday, we shared the news that it appeared that ESPN was looking to do a 5 hour (you heard that right) 30 for 30 on OJ Simpson. Details were scant at the time but since then Awful Announcing has learned more about the project, most specifically the film’s director.
We’ve heard Ezra Edelman is at the helm for this ambitious project at this time and that ESPN looked to Edelman for this specific project rather than the typical process of external filmmakers pitching ESPN. That’s not hard to believe given Edelman’s previous works which includes the 30 For 30 Requiem For The Big East (a film I gave a very favorable review of) as well as HBO’s very well received Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals.
ESPN told AA it was too early in the process to provide comment and that many things could change with the project, but we’ve been able to verify Edelman’s involvement with by tying him to the production company currently handling the film, Laylow Films.
The Simpson project was green-lighted as far back as January as there are several postings on message boards from researchers looking for specific information from Simpson’s time in Buffalo.
“I’m currently part of a team working on a 5 hour ESPN 30-for-30 film concentrated upon the life and career of O.J. Simpson. Rather than merely re-examining the trial, the film will feature his entire life, from his childhood in San Francisco up until the present day, with a definite focus on his years playing for the Bills. We’re currently looking for anyone with off-the-field images or footage of OJ during his time in Buffalo. We’ve interviewed a number of former players, reviewed old game footage, and we’re now looking for off-the-field, lifestyle material. If you have any material or if you know anyone who may have any material…..”
October will be the 20 year anniversary of the not guilty verdict and given it is typically the most active month for 30 for 30’s, it’s a good bet we’ll see the film debut then, although after the Heisman ceremony in December could be another possibility.
The Heisman ceremony offers a larger lead-in audience and has typically been the slot for some of the better films (usually football specific) but airing in October would allow for ESPN to invest more heavily in their normal cross platform promotion with SportsCenter, E:60, OTL, Grantland, and other ESPN brands getting involved in looking back on the anniversary of one of the most memorable stories over the last 50 years.
One of the larger questions is how ESPN will air such a long piece? 1 hour a day during the week? Breaking it up into two 2 1/2 hour pieces?
The length of the project certainly raised eyebrows but if you consider all the aspects of Simpson’s life that could be 1 hour to 90 minute films themselves, and the effect the verdict had on society as well, getting to five hours isn’t that much of a stretch. HBO’s recent Sinatra documentary was four hours, The Jinx in total was around four hours, and Spike Lee’s documentary on Hurricane Katrina was over four hours, so the length isn’t entirely unheard of in documentary filmmaking.
It’s likely given the film’s length and considering some of the whispers we’ve heard about the film, that a theme throughout the film will be race in America. While many associate race and OJ Simpson with his trial and the reaction to it, many forget Simpson was one of the highest profile African American spokesmen and sports commentators at a time when both were sparse.
This is essentially the most ambitious 30 for 30 to date in terms of scope, subject matter, and length and one that has a very high risk and high reward attached to it. Given the choice of director and the fact that this project has been underway for quite some time already, I’m optimistic ESPN will be rewarded for rolling the dice and thinking big.