When ESPN’s Conor Schell first approached Ezra Edelman about making a documentary about O.J. Simpson, the director’s first instinct was to say no. Edelman didn’t want to relive the events surrounding the 1994 murder of Nicole Brown, Simpson’s white Bronco ride down the Los Angeles freeway and the subsequent trial that captivated America. There was nothing new he could offer about those events, nor did he have any interest in trying to dig up any new details on story that had been told by countless before him.
ESPN though was looking for Edelman to make the company’s first entry into documentary long form and Schell’s instinct was that Edelman, whose previous films focused on the intersection of race and sports, was the right filmmaker to put the Simpson story in a larger perspective. Once the non-fiction filmmaker saw that with the larger canvas he could use O.J. as a jumping off point to explore race in America, he was sold.
So how do you make an eight hour film?
While at the Savannah Film Festival, where “Made in America” screened in it’s entirety, Edelman sat down with IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit to break down the process and discuss his approach to structuring the film. He also discussed his approach to archival footage and how the backdrop to O.J.’s story — the history of racism and brutality in the LAPD, the Watts riots and the Rodney King verdict — became the A-story, rather than simply the B-Roll.
Off the doc’s phenomenal success this summer on ESPN, followed by re-airings on Hulu, “O.J.: Made in America” is back in theaters as it reaches for an Oscar nomination. Reflecting on the film’s success, Edelman wonders if the film could have been made if Simpson weren’t in prison and if he’ll ever escape the story of the subject he’s never met.
Listen to the entire episode above.
Previous episodes include Ira Sachs on “Little Men,” Web Series 101, “Kate Plays Christine” director Robert Greene, Kirsten Johnson discussing her life as a “Cameraperson,” the “Night of” location manager on shooting in New York, Andrea Arnold on “American Honey,” Kelly Reichardt, Barry Jenkins on “Moonlight.”
The music used in this podcast is from the “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” score, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.