More than two decades after the trial, 2016 gave us two new examinations of the O.J. Simpson case. One was American Crime Story: The People V. O.J. Simpson, an FX series from Ryan Murphy starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as Simpson, Sarah Paulson as prosecutor Marcia Clark, and David Schwimmer as a guy who says “Juice” a lot. The other was O.J.: Made In America, an eight-hour documentary from filmmaker Ezra Edelman that uses Simpson as a means to explore complicated issues of race, privilege, and legacy.
Edelman’s film is a staggering work, thematically rich and thought-provoking. It’s also really, really long. “We were interested in the context, in the story of race, of celebrity, and how O.J. helps you tell that story,” says Connor Schell, executive producer and senior VP of ESPN Films in a new oral history from Wired. “That’s a story we’re really interested in telling—and therefore, it needs to be long.”
It could’ve been longer, too. Among the many fascinating revelations in Angela Watercutter’s lengthy piece is that the film was assembled from 72 different interviews and roughly 800 hours of archival and interview footage. What’s perhaps even more striking than how Edelman and Schell went about conceiving the project is the amount of elbow grease that went into the behind-the-scenes strategy and organizational processes.
“There was a big bulletin board that I had made,” says producer Caroline Waterlow, describing what sounds like a scene out of The Wire.
That was the first place that we started building timelines of O.J.’s life and what was going on in the world. Then just names. [Prosecutor] Marcia Clark, of course, but also the names of childhood friends. It was just a board of a million names.
“It felt infinite,” says editor Bret Granato. “It’s like looking at the sun, though, you don’t want to ever look at the big picture.”
Though the whole crew put in a lion’s share of work, producer Nina Krstic is the clear MVP. She talks of organizing, sub-clipping, and key-wording hundreds of hours of footage: “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 it’s all searchable.”
“She’s the one person,” Edelman says, “and I say this lovingly, she’s a machine.”
Whether you’ve seen the film or not, the piece is worth a read. In addition to the herculean task of making the documentary, the oral history also touches on the documentary’s hard sell, one particularly odd juror, and Edelman’s frustrations with knowing FX’s series would premiere before ESPN’s.