ESPN Films Expands Under Libby Geist, Signs Deal With 'O.J.: Made in America' Filmmaker (Exclusive)

David Livingston/Getty Images; Rich Arden/ESPN
Ezra Edelman, Libby Geist

Ezra Edelman will produce sports-related nonfiction projects for the sports net.

Libby Geist, the well-regarded ESPN executive, has been promoted to vice president and executive producer of ESPN Films and 30 for 30, where she will continue to work closely with senior vp Connor Schell. The promotion marks an expansion of the ESPN Films shingle, which in June will launch 30 for 30 podcasts. Geist's purview will encompass development, production, distribution and strategy for all ESPN Films documentaries and series including the 30 for 30 series and short films, documentary series and specials, along with content partnerships with Disney, and FiveThirtyEight's video content.

As part of that expansion, ESPN Films has signed Ezra Edelman to a first-look deal for sports-related nonfiction projects. The news comes on the heels of an Oscar win for Edelman’s groundbreaking O.J.: Made in America and effectively keeps the in-demand filmmaker in the ESPN fold, as network executives look to leverage the success of Made in America to expand the breadth of ESPN Films.

Schell noted that the multipart Made in America — which clocked in at seven hours and 47 minutes — has altered the company’s “ambitions in the original content space.” The documentary’s scope in revisiting the infamous crime through the cultural and sociological realities of America in the late 20th century was a big creative swing even for ESPN Films, which was arguably a pioneer in the nonfiction storytelling space with the creation 10 years ago of the 30 for 30 franchise. Schell co-create the franchise with Bill Simmons and Geist has been a driving force behind many of the shingle's efforts, including the successful 2013 spinoff Nine for IX, which marked the 40th anniversary of Title IX. 

Geist, 36, is currently in conversations with Edelman about new projects he is interested in pursuing with ESPN Films, though his schedule means that a new complete film is a ways down the road. ESPN Films has about a dozen 30 for 30 projects currently in development. And Schell gives much credit to Geist for skills in identifying talent and developing relationships with filmmakers such as Edelman, who previously had done a handful of documentaries for HBO Sports, including The Curious Case of Curt Flood and Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals.

‘We don’t want to be in the business of, 'Hey, come pitch us some packaged idea that you’re pitching to six other people and we’re going to compete to buy it,'" Schell tells The Hollywood Reporter

For his part, Edelman, who is in demand across the content landscape, was effusive about his experience with Geist and her ESPN team.

“I fear I've been spoiled by Libby,” he said in a statement to THR. “Between her steadfast ambition to create unique, quality work and boundless support for those of us who try to produce it, she is a dream executive with whom to make a film. Libby was indispensable bringing O.J.: Made in America to life, and I can't wait for future projects with her at the helm of ESPN Films. She also happens to be hilarious, though I'll forever deny that to her face.”

Schell and Geist also noted that the pitches they are fielding now are no longer just for the standard two-hour doc.

O.J.: Made in America, said Geist, “has proven the value of context. You think you know the story and so much of our audience lived that story. But I think that’s something that this country needs right now, which is a little perspective and understanding.”

The longform documentary genre has exploded as SVOD players, especially Netflix, have provided a platform for many rising filmmakers. 

Added Schell: "O.J. changed our ambitions in the original content space. I’m hesitant to say it out loud — that we want to do more like that because what Ezra accomplished with that project was so exceptional. I don’t want to ever think, 'Well, yeah, we’ll go do that again.' That’s a really high bar. But those are the creative swings we want to take.”