When ESPN approached Ezra Edelman about doing a massive documentary on O.J. Simpson, he had little interest in following the beats of the so-called trial of the century. Instead, he saw the project as a lens through which to examine race in America. He tells us about seeking out tough interviews and how his opus grew from five hours to nearly eight.
Ezra Edelman knew he had a rare opportunity when ESPN approached him to make a five-hour documentary about O.J. Simpson. But Edelman had no interest in following the beats of the so-called trial of the century. Instead, his opus is a deep dive into race in america. Now with his nearly eight-hour film, O.J.: Made in America, short-listed in the Oscar race, Edelman talks about how he tackled this massive project, how he got Mark Fuhrman to talk, and why he hasn't watched the FX series The People v. O.J. Simpson.
Photo: Ezra Edelman, director of O.J.: Made in America
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This year has produced not one, but two extraordinary series on an unlikely subject: O.J. Simpson. In February, FX began airing The People v. O.J. Simpson, the limited series that followed the aftermath of the brutal murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. It went on to win nine Emmys.
The very existence of that series was unwelcome news for our guest today, filmmaker Ezra Edelman. He had his own project, O.J.: Made in America, that was set to start airing on ESPN in June. Edelman's film is a seven-hour-plus documentary exploring not only Simpson's life but the racial tensions that gripped the country during his rise to fame in the late 1960s as well as in the lead-up to the trial in the early 1990s. The film is now one of 15 on the Oscar shortlist for best documentary.
Edelman grew up as a bi-racial child in a political household: his parents, Marian Wright Edelman and Peter Edelman, are lawyers and civil rights activists. Though Edelman did not follow directly in their footsteps, his tells us his background does have a way of manifesting itself in his film work, including this project.
Edelman shares why he enjoyed the creative challenge of making a multi-hour documentary, but did not always love the process itself. He tells us how he decided which interviews to relentlessly pursue and which ones to let go. And he explains what it was like to learn FX was also working on an O.J. Simpson series, and why his decision not to watch The People vs. O.J. Simpson was a move of self-protection.