OJ: Made in America – 10 Questions with Filmmaker Ezra Edleman

"O.J.: Made in America" (ESPN)
“O.J.: Made in America” (ESPN)

Emmy Award winning filmmaker Ezra Edleman (Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals and Brooklyn Dodgers: Ghosts of Flatbush) spoke with us about his latest project, the epic documentary film OJ: Made in America. Airing in 5 parts on ESPN, the film, which runs nearly 8 hours, is available in its entirety On Demand.

  1. How did this project come to you? I was approached by ESPN, and Connors Schell, who runs ESPN Films, and he had a desire after overseeing 80 or 90 films as part of their 30 for 30 series to do something more ambitious. He came to me and said, “Look I have an idea for a 5 hour film.” Immediately I perked up and thought, “A 5 hour film, that sounds challenging.” Then I asked, “But what is the film you have in mind about?” He said, “OJ”. I wasn’t particularly interested in that film. I was initially reluctant and it was only after thinking about that canvas being offered, 5 hours on OJ, that I realized I didn’t have to tell a story that was simply about the murders and the trial, which wasn’t as interest to me. I could actually tell a story about Los Angeles, the city. About a community. About this guy who came from the projects in San Francisco and ended up at this school in USC that was this white temple of a place located next door to a neighborhood that had exploded in violence a year and a half before he got there. There were these sort of positions that I was interested in exploring, and that’s what got me into the film.
  2. How quickly into the process did you decide to place OJ Simpson in a larger context of Los Angeles, race and celebrity culture? Pretty quickly. I knew enough about OJ, and I’m a citizen of the world, and so I understood that there was this dynamic that existed, this troubled history between the black community and the LAPD. Because I knew enough about OJ, and I knew about that time that he spent at USC and understood what USC was as a place I at least had a starting part. I at least had the ground floor of a foundation that I could build upon. That was sort of again pretty immediate.
  3. How did you begin the project? I read a lot, and then I read some more and then I read some more after that. I mean that’s the honest answer. I spent 4 months just reading, thinking about it, trying to understand all of the different sides of this story – the issues, the city, the history of policing there, and of course everything about OJ himself, and the murders and the trial. That’s what I did before I ever picked up the phone to call anybody. That’s sort of fundamental to how I go about doing anything.
  4. Do you have a favorite part or section of this film? Honestly, the whole thing to me is when I look at the film some of it is much greater than the parts. In a weird way, though, I still enjoy the Bronco chase.
  5. There are 70 interviews on screen, but as has been mentioned by others, those who wouldn’t talk to you are also intriguing – mainly Chris Darden and Allen Cowlings. Did you have an off camera dialogue with them even though they wouldn’t talk to you? No, I did not. I personally wrote Darden a letter and called him a couple times; he never responded to me. He had a conversation with our producer Tamara Rosenberg very late it the process. He allowed Tamara finally to at least give her our pitch, and he was unmoved and chose to not participate, which I understand and respect though I was disappointed by it. As for Al Cowlings, there was no dialogue of any point. I think Tamara called him up at one point and he hung up on her when he heard what it was about. That was as far as it got with him.
  6. Why do you think people are still so interested in this story 20 years later? When you think of all that it entails, it really is a defining cultural story of our time. I also think there’s the weirdness of the fact that there is this lack of resolution. As long as we live in this sort of weird world where no one exactly is sure of what happened that night and there’s no defining answer I think people will continue to be interested.
  7. What’s your opinion on what happened that night? I don’t talk about that.
  8. Why not? It’s not important what my opinion is.
  9. Why do you think that? After making this film, you’re an expert on the subject. Because my interest is having people engage with the film itself and whatever I think about OJ’s quilt or innocence is not the point of the film. That is not what I want people to take away from the film.
  10. Last question: How would you suggest people watch this – in parts? Or binge all 7 hours and 43 minutes? That’s totally up to the person and peoples viewing habits. I love the response that we got when we screened the whole thing in theaters, with the 2 intermissions, and we had people were talking about it all day. I understand that you might not sit in front of the television for 8 hours straight watching it. But I just want people to watch it. That’s all I can hope for. It is a little strange that this is a big broadcast event because it’s still a film. It’s not ideal to watch a film with commercials in the middle of it and parts censored out. I just hope people watch it in as pure a form as possible, that’s all I ask.