When Ezra Edelman set out to construct the documentary O.J .: Made in America , he had one goal: To make a five-hour movie about howthe 1995 O.J. Simpson murder case became a flashpoint for talking about race and the American criminal justice system. Not merely didhe make his aim, but he overshot that runtime by about three hours.
” No sane person would do this ,” Edelman says now, sitting in a sofa in New York’s Post Factory, where his doc was edited. Talking about it now its like’ This is fucking crazy .’ The whole thing was a great leap of faith. You have no knowledge of what exists from an archival standpointyou dont know anything. You just go,’ Lets try to tackle this to the best of our abilities.'”
In the end, he took some 800 hours of footagesome from archive material, some from interviews with 72 peopleand boiled it down into one single 467 -minute movie. It took him more than two years. But he didnt do it alone. In fact, it wasnt even solely his idea. We spoke with Edelman and his creative partners to get the story ofhow they created the wildly ambitious documentary.
February, 2014: The Beginning
Connor Schell, executive producer and senior VP, ESPN Films : Weve been producing a series of documentary films at ESPN called 30 for 30 since 2009. In that time, we gained more of a foothold in documentary filmmaking, working with various directors, and tackling topics of real cultural significance where sports is your window in. I surely knew Ezras work and Id been thinking about O.J. Simpson for a long time, but our pursuit of was intended to do something on O.J. Simpson always started from, Well, how do you conceive of something thats not obvious? This is territory thats very well-covered, be that in volumes, articles, or other documentary films. Plainly, theres a section of this story thats from[ the murder of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman in] June 1994 to[ Simpson’s acquittal in] October of 1995 that, if you make a project about O.J. Simpson, youre going to have to cover. But I was always interested in the full picture. What came before and what came after. And where could O.J.s story take you? That led to a few dialogues between Ezra and I and he conceived of this approach and of this film. Edelman : The thing he first said was We want to make a five-hour cinema. Thats what interested me. That was before he even told me what it was about. When he told me what it was about I was not that interested. My thought was What can I add to this story? They had already done a movie on O.J. June 17, 1994 , Brett Morgens rendition of the day of the Bronco chase. Connor want to get do something more challenging and that jibed with something I wanted to do. Schell : We were interested in the context, in the histories of race, of celebrity, and how O.J. helps you tell that narrative. We started the conversation about a really long movie by saying OK, when you get to that period, why was it so meaningful? Why did it mean so much to white American and black American and why did they view it so differently? Thats a story were really interestedin telling and therefore, it needs to be long.
April 2014: The Research
Because Edelmans movie details thehistory of the relationship between the the Los Angeles Police Department and African-American communities long before Simpson was a student the University of Southern California, his team had to find footage of events like the Watts riots and households from the South moving to LA . Edelman : From there it was a few months of me just reading. That’sall I did: I get up and I read. Jeffrey Toobins book The Run of His Life , Lawrence Schillers book American Tragedy . This great book by Lou Cannon called Official Negligence , which is about the history of the LAPD. But the first thing I did, was address the practical question of How the fuck do we get this done? So that mean only calling Caroline[ Waterlow, the movies producer] and being like Caroline, so theres this thing. Its going to be big. I think itll be interesting. It might not be so fun, but I can think of no other person who I would want to help me craft this. Caroline Waterlow : I remember we had pizza. My initial reaction was O.J .? You feel like its a story that surely we know about. All the movies Ive worked on have been predominantly archival, historical docs, so the idea of being able to get into the early context and history became interesting to me quickly. Then my job was to hire people to figure out how to do that. This is not a job for a young associate producer whos like just starting out. You cant ask them,” So, can you call the former DA of Los Angeles ?” We needed really experienced people who knew what they were doing. Edelman : She found all the people for the team and from there it was just the combined effects of experience and alchemy. Edelman and and Waterlow soon brought on producer Tamara Rosenberg, who was tasked with tracking down all of the docs sources, and producer Nina Krstic, who had to find and create a database of 500-600 hours of archival footage . Tamara Rosenberg : I got a phone call from Caroline first and I was like, O.J .? Nothing in my resume phases me towards that subject. But then I had my first meeting with Ezra and he already had an outline of what he wanted to do and it was very apparent to me that that wasnt going to be any other O.J. tale. This was going to be differentand great. Nina Krstic : His enthusiasm was a clincher. Also, it was like,” How can you reject such a challenge ?” How do you find archive of that that someone has never seen before? I think it was a challenge Id dreamed about my whole life and there it was. Edelman :[ Deadpan] I merely want, for the record, to note how much both of them talked about my enthusiasm. Schell : He jokes about it, but when hes engaged, its all he can think or talk about. Hes in. Edelman : Which I imagine is comforting for an executive. [ Laughs .]
August 2014: Constructing the Story
Edelman : With this large of a canvas, there was a need and an ambition to tell O.J.s story with some sort of thoroughness. I was interested in telling the story of what happened to him after the trial; at the same day, I wanted to tell this other story about therelationship between the black community and the police department in LA, and that that was going to inform this greater tale about race in America. Then there was this story about him as a cultural icon that existed on this other level. But it all came back where we were going with the trial. It feels like the ultimate American Studies paper.
O.J. Simpson arrives next door to Watts a year after the riots, but hes in this really white, conservative, apolitical place, right next to a place that had just burned out of frustration. You find all these parallel ways and its like,’ Isnt this everything we were talking about with the trial year later ?’ Thats a core place to start the story.director Ezra Edelman
O.J. becomes famous for football, and thats all he has to do to get noticed. Then right down the coast theres their home communities of people in Watts that were so frustrated and outraged with how they were being treated by the police that this sort of objective up provoking the riots in 1965. And this is what this community is doing to have their voices heard. So theres this juxtaposition. Then O.J.arrives next door to that like a year later, but hes in this really white, conservative, apolitical place, right next to a place that had just burned out of annoyance. You insure all these parallel tracks and its like, Isnt this everything we were talking about with the trial year later?
Waterlow : There was a big bulletin board that I had constructed. That was the first place that we started constructing timelines of O.J.s life and what was going on in the world. Then only names.[ Prosecutor] Marcia Clark, of course, but also the names of childhood friends. It was just a board of a million names. Edelman : It was organized chaos. I was looking for first-person voices :p eople who lived through this history at every point, whether its O.J.s football career or the LAPD. When you look at the people who are the most important and impactful people in the film, youre like I didnt know who any of these people were. I was standing on a train platform somewhere in Connecticut, and Tamaracalled me up and she was like, So I only talked these guys, I dunno, they were a couple of O.J.s childhood friends … and I had never heard of them, but thats exactly where this whole thing comes together. Every time that happens, its like a small victory. Rosenberg : My character list is a 100 -page Word document. In there are people we did interview, people who were maybes, and merely people we looked at, and people who just said no. It was a big casting job. It was a constant dialogue with Ezra. As he felt ready to tackle a certain period of O.J.s life, then we started inhabiting those areas with people. So it would be OK, were ready to talk about his USC years, and then I would go on the hunt for his team players from those years.
We had a great PA on the team, who was very good at tracking people down. I would just send names to him, and he would triangulate and I dont know what to find people. He would post on message boards. I dont even know what he did and I dont want to know. He would just send me a phone number and be like I have a good feeling about this one .” Then it was just a job of calling them and saying Hey, this is what were doing and really trying to impress upon them that this was not just another O.J. doc, and that was hard because a lot of these people had approached by the press before, so we were guilty by association.
Waterlow : And then as soon as we find a person it was a matter of Is there any footage of that amazing USC game? and Nina[ Krstic] would have to get involved. Nina Krstic : When I got started in September the first goal was: find every single interview with O.J. And then it was filling in the historical stuff. So there weretwo layers to it. There was also discovering stuff that was pre-9 0s and then it was Rodney King, murder trial, and everything else. Once you get to the 90 s theres tons of stuff, but we dont want to see the same footage all over again. Also, with news tales, I wanted raw footage, because I dont want a news editor from 94 choosing whats good and whats not good.
Fall 2014 -Winter 2015: The Interviews
Waterlow : Ezra did every one of those interviews, so to prep for those working was major. Edelman : There is a method to the madness. You know you want Marcia Clark, you know you want these bigger characters, but youre not going to call them up initially. You want to be as prepared before you get to that phase. But also, you just have to start. So we interviewed 72 people; 66 are currently under film, but two of the people that arent we interviewed on the first day because you simply need to get going. Rosenberg : Some people I would talk to for many months before we finally got them. Hands down, as a group, the jurors[ for Simpsons murder trial] were the hardest to convince. We reached out to a bunch of them. Some we couldnt find. Ezra and I met with Yolanda Crawford at some stage and although she was hard to find, once we detected her and talked to her she was on board. Edelman : We ended up going to shoot in Las Vegas in January of 2015 to interview person we didnt actually end up getting to interview, which is one of the jury consultants for the defense. But we were going there so it was like, We should probably try to talk to people involved in the robbery. Talk about a place were not at yet. But sometimes you just have to figure it out .” Thats where youre making a mini movie within the massive movie. Waterlow : With this film, more than any others that Ive worked on, there was a lot of Dont say nolet me have coffee with you. We had to attain our instance about who we are and what we were doing. There were several journeys to LA, in October, November, and December. Las Vegas in January. There were five or six shoots in the fall.
Some people I would talk to for many months before we finally got them. Hands down, as a group, the jurors were the hardest to convince.producer Tamara Rosenberg
Edelman : The jury was a big part of the canvas, but the prosecution was an all the more important part. And we were having no luck. There were just four main people[ in the prosecution ], and we need at the least one. That was really stressful. I genuinely wanted Chris Darden. I spent a week reading his book and writing him a letterno response , no response , no response. But we had to keep going. I eventually got[ district attorney] Gil Garcetti’semail from a family friend in January or February, four months after wed started shooting, and he said, Youre welcome to come out and talk to me next time youre in LA, but I wont do an interview. You go and have a lovely dialogue for two hours and hes like Im still not doing an interview and Im like, Dude, that could have been the interview. This could be done . But after three dialogues and two visits to his home, it was like 10:30 pm on a Tuesday nightand he wrote me an email or sent me a text and said, Alright, Im going to do it. There was a palpable sense of relief.We had already gotten to the point where we were going to start editing.
February, 2015: Editing Begins
Waterlow : There was lots of archival being assembled the whole day. We knew there would be plenty for[ Bret Granato, one of the film’s three editors] to start. Thirty interviews, maybe. Granato : I had wasted a lot of my sophomore year in college following the trial. When we first started, the first thing I set my hands on was the Watts riots section. When I first talked to Ezra I had mentioned that I knew a lot about the trial, and he was various kinds of unimpressed by that. [ Laughs ] He said that he genuinely wanted Los Angeles to be a character. So that was the first thing we touched. Edelman : While he was working on another movie, before he was officially working on this, he was taking the audio of the interviews that we had shot and listening to them on his own. So he presented up with this sense of where we were going. Granato : How Ezra runs is he creates this 50 -6 0 page document of the roadmap. We met a few hours before the edit to go over that. Its very specific with him: Were going to start with Watts. Krstic : I constructed sure that every segment of O.J.s life had at least a representative amount of footage to give Bret the freedom to start with it. Then there was also the massive task of coordinating over 500 hours of footage, sub-clipping it, keywording it, making the job a year down the line so much easier. My eyes still intersect when I think about this, but I basically made a huge database, and then every entry in the database has a clip and its all searchable. Schell : The amazing thing is the exert in logistics. Ezras off researching and doing an interview, Tamara is three or five shoots ahead of him, trying to get people lined up. Then Brets trying to tell a story around all of these parts
There was the massive undertaking of organizing over 500 hours of footage, sub-clipping it, keywording it, attaining the job a year down the line so much easier. My eyes still cross when I think about this, but I basically made a huge database, and then every entry in the database has a clip and its all searchable.producer Nina Krstic
Waterlow : And Nina is IM-ing all day with three people being like What do you need? What do you need? What do you need? Schell : The notion that it could all come together to fit the vision laid out is quite astonishing. Edelman : Im used to feeling like I have to be in control of everything. But this was the first time where it was like, That shit aint gonna run. I talked to Tamara a lot because were talking about the characters and interviews. And Caroline and I have this its a bit more fraternal. Waterlow : Im the truth-teller. Edelman : We only have our own thing. Bret and I get to talk about the tale, butunfortunately for himIm sitting behind him like Pig-Pen and the sky is always falling and hes like Dude, this is hard enough. But with Nina, shes the one person, and I say this lovingly, shes a machine . Krstic : It was never-ending. Even when we were locked, there was still always one little thing marriage need. Granato : I feel like all of our scenes were built initially to just tell it the best way it could be told, then we would make it betterbut “when hes” constructing it better, we werent inevitably stimulating it shorter.
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Spring/ Summer, 2015: Interviews Continue
Rosenberg : We determined Carrie Bess, one of the jurors, pretty early on and Ezra and I gratified her and had coffee and she was fairly non-committal. I made it a habit ever time wedded land in LA to drive to her place. She didnt use email and barely employed the phone, so it was just about me demonstrating up and saying hi. She would give me lemons from her lemon tree. We had a cute relationship that way. But she never fully committed. So ultimately on one of our last trips to LA, I recollect sitting with her under her lemon tree and saying, Carrie, you have to do this. Fortunately enough she was like, OK, come back in a couple of days. Edelman : She didnt have any interest in us and this thing. Sometimes shes engaged and sometimes not. Sometimes shed say something profound and wonderful, sometimes she says something kooky. Theres a realness to her. As a documentary filmmaker, what more do you want? Rosenberg : I had a feeling on the day of the interview that I had to show up before the team, so I drove over and of course Carrie Bess had completely forgotten. She was covered in paint because she was re-painting her home. I pushed her in the shower and went to her closet and opened it and took out like three different outfitsand was like Wear this! Edelman : That wasnt even the last LA trip. The last real shoot that Tamara and I went on in LA was we interviewed[ Ron Goldmans father] Fred Goldman and Mark Fuhrman.Fuhrmanwas unwilling to do the interview and, like a lot of people, was not thrilled at the idea of this being donebut healso didnt know who “were in”. Why would you trust someone with your sensitive impressions and your past? I detected someone who engaged us respectfully, and in a trusting way. I think the guy deserves a lot of credit. Waterlow : Thats a testament to the job Tamara and Ezra did on the interviews. Many people after the interview would say Thats the smartest interview anybodys ever done and Ive talked about this a lot. Including Marcia Clark.
I remember simply sitting for a whole week just reading Marcia Clark’s book, reading articles, watching stuff, and not picking up the phone.producer Tamara Rosenberg
Rosenberg : I remember simply sitting for a whole week only reading her book, reading articles, watching stuff, and not picking up the phone. I think its in Slouching Towards Bethlehem where Joan Didion only sits next to the phone for three hours, staring at it. I had the same thing. And by the time I talked to her I was fully prepared. The first 10 minutes of the phone call did not run so well, and I recollect in that call where I was like, Ugh, shes gonna say no. Then we turned a corner. She asked me what I was doing during the trial and I wasnt here.[ Rosenberg was studying in Israel .] I think that made a huge difference. The fact that I wasnt one of these people who was obsessively following it and aware of every single flaw and “whats going on” with her hair and wardrobe, that changed something. Then she was great. I love Marcia. And she sat for how long? Six hours? Edelman : About five hours. Shes pretty fierce. She is so in control of who she is and what she experienced. Rosenberg : Somebody like[ news helicopter pilot] Zoey Tur, was one of those wonderful moments where archival and casting were working together because she was on both our radars for different reasons. Nina was looking at her because the footage she had shoot of the riots and the Bronco chase and I had her on my radar as a storyteller. We both pursued her and got this large material.
It felt infinite. Its like looking at the sunshine, though, you dont wishes to ever look at the big picture.editor Bret Granato
Waterlow : And I loved how unabashed she was about things. Shes like Yeah, Im a journalist, Im going to get the fucking tale. She represented that so well, and owned it. Krstic : All told, there was about between 500 -6 00 hours of archival footage and then 72 interviews. Waterlow : Its likely 800 hours total, if were talking about interviews and archival footage. Granato : It felt infinite. Its like looking at the sunlight, though, you dont wishes to ever look at the big picture. You trust the process. My task is to create as obliging a five-minute thingas I can, and then take a step back and see if it connects. But I wouldve melted if Id actually thought about what we were trying to do. Its too much to comprehend.
January, 2016: That Other Massive O.J. Show
Edelman had known about it for a while, but in January 2016, when he took his forthcoming doc to a Television Critics Association event, he had to come face-to-face with the fact that Ryan Murphy and his FX juggernaut were also releasing a massive retelling of Simpson’s tale: The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story . Not only would it be based on a book by Jeffrey Toobin, who was one of Edelman’s sources, it would be coming out months before Made in America made theaters or ESPN .
When youre making this huge thing and you find out someone else is doing a 10 -hour series nominally about the same thing, youre like’ What the fucking ?’ director Ezra Edelman on The People v. O.J. Simpson
Edelman : To be honest, there were concurrent documentary projects that were being done that were causing a lot more stress than that. Having said that when youre making this huge thing and you find out someone else is doing a 10 -hour series nominally about the same thing, youre like What the fuck? But you can only worry about it so much. Ill admit to being personally not thrilled. What are the odds? When we went to the TCAs in January to basically publicly announce the existence of this film three weeks before Sundance, all the journalists in the room had already seen the first six episodes of the FX series and they were all telling us how incredible it was. Waterlow : We maintained being like,” I didnt attain that. I dont know how to answer that .” Edelman : My legitimate dread was: Here is a 10 -hour television series about O.J ., about the trial, its going to be on television before ours will be out in the world, I dont know that people have that appetite to watch another huge thing about O.J. Thats why it was important for me for it to screen at Sundance, because that was before it was on Tv. That style it was clear we werent drafting off of the success of that. That built “i m feeling” OK. Frankly, that didI can now sayabsolutely whet the appetite and re-engage people with this story in such a way that they wanted the non-fiction narration. It worked.
January to May 2016: The End( Sort of)
Granato : Ezra and I would remain late nights and work on the movie and I dont think there was a single walk back to the train that wasnt about the cinema and how to build the movie better. Edelman : I didnt ask about your kid? Granato : Did you know I have a kid? [ Laughs ] The last night when we locked itit didnt feel like a lock, but it was my last night therewe were still talking about the movie. I dont know that I ever had a moment where I was like Ah, thats done! It is such a living, breathing animal. It still doesnt feel done. Schell : Even when we had gotten to picture lock and submitted the film to Sundance, and it was accepted Even after it screened there, Ezra was preoccupied with the fact that it was still a temp score. Edelman : That was causing me a lot of angst. Itwas a continual process. The first few months of this year, I was still working on the cinema. We upgraded footage after Sundance, we swapped out the score. We were working up until the time it was screened in theaters in the middle of May. We were working up to the day we had to deliver the hard drives[ to theaters ]. I watched the last two hours of this on Vice the other night, against my better judgment, and if I could go into the edit room today there would be some things Id want to do. Waterlow : Because we had these intermissions built in, theres three drives for each version of the movie. I recollect calling box office and calling theater managers and being like Did you get it ?!
Because we had these intermissions built in, theres three drives for each version of the film that we had to send. I recollect calling box offices and calling theater managers and being like’ Did you get it ?!’ producer Caroline Waterlow
Schell : This is not a small ask of someones period, to have people commit to an entire day of having someone watch something. But then to understand how engaged they are and the conversations they want to have afterwards is incredible to see. Edelman : Again, if we knew what we were doing, we wouldve never started. Schell : But to add to that, whats incredible about the media environment we exist in right now, is that this can exist as a cinema, and including information on ESPN and via video-on-demand, and via DVD, and streaming.We can expose millions of people to that story. Edelman : People dont inevitably have eight hours and 15 minutes to spend in a movie theatre. I get that. So, we worked really hard to create this thing, and if people watch it on their Tvs streaming, thats penalty. Ive never seen it on Tv. Ill never watch something Ive done on ESPN with commercials. Not the previous movie I did , not this one. It constructs me want to throw up in my mouth. I know this should be experienced as this beginning-to-end thing, but we have fractured lives. Thats not the world we live in.