Power Play

Photograph by ESPN images

It wasn’t just the Patriots who made sports history this past February, and Connor Schell is living proof. Connor’s 30 for 30 series, which he co-created and executive-produces for ESPN, became the first sports television production to win an Oscar for the documentary O.J.: Made in America. (If you haven’t watched, don’t be deterred by its eight-hour run—you won’t want it to end.) Lucky for us, Connor took a time-out from managing development and production for ESPN Films, ESPN’s studio shows, the ESPYS, its NBA studio shows, ESPN Audio and the network’s talent office to chat about his journey. Catch Connor at the Greenwich International Film Festival’s Producing Sports panel on Saturday, June 3, where he’ll talk more about how the worlds of sports and entertainment are colliding. greenwichfilm.org

Q What does it mean for you that O.J.: Made in America won an Oscar?
A It was a pretty exciting week. It was a fairly surreal experience. Back in 2008 when my cocreator Bill Simmons and I set out to do the 30 for 30 series, with the goal of telling thirty stories to celebrate thirty years of ESPN, I remember thinking: Man, thirty’s a big number. That’s really ambitious. Are we going to be able to be interesting thirty different times? Eight years later, having done close to 100 films with another ten or fifteen in production, I feel like we could do 300. as the sports world and American culture keep revealing themselves in new and different ways we keep finding stories.

Q HOW DO YOU THINK O.J. TRANSCENDED THE SPORTS GENRE TO COMPETE IN THE MOTION PICTURE BIG LEAGUES?
A In 30 for 30, we try to tell very specific, human stories about American culture where sports is your window. They happen to be framed within the sports world, but we go really far afield. O.J.’s story was a cultural event of the 1990s and it resonated for so many reasons. We were really interested in the idea of why it mattered, and how did we get there. We didn’t want just a few frames of footage of Rodney King and a couple of sound bites about how there was racial injustice in the justice system. So that meant it had to be a longer, sweeping project. What our talented director Ezra Edelman did here better than anything we’ve ever done is that he contextualized it. By telling the story through a much wider lens, he gave us a depth of understanding people had never seen. That said, there does seem to be an insatiable interest in O.J. and this story because it’s about everything—crime and race and media and celebrity and sexuality and our justice system. It is a story with so many elements that people can latch onto.

Q WHAT DOES THE OSCAR SAY ABOUT THE FUTURE OF SPORTS STORYTELLING?
A One of the things I’m most proud of is that we pushed and found a new form and a new format. This was the longest film to ever win an Academy Award, because people don’t make eight-hour movies and they certainly don’t make eight-hour documentaries. I think as technology changes, as consumption habits change, we have the ability to break out of traditional formats. So to be at the forefront of that with this project feels really good; it opens up a new way to tell stories and provides people with background and something to engage with over a really long form. People will sit down and hyper-engage with a story or series that they love. To have done that in nonfiction form is really cool.

Q WERE THERE ANY SPORTS FILMS YOU SAW AS A KID THAT LEFT AN IMPRINT ON YOU?
A The first documentary I ever saw in a theater was Hoop Dreams. I am someone who has always loved sports and history. It was the first time I was ever aware that documentaries could be something I was interested in. The term documentary was sort of like medicine. Even sports documentaries seemed to be black-and-white footage about a baseball player from the 1950s that I had no connection to. Bill and I just thought there was an appetite for something new. How do you bring sports stories that we love talking about to life?

Q HOW DOES THE WORLD OF SPORTS PROVIDE A UNIQUE LENS TO REACH AUDIENCES?
A Whether we want to admit it or not, sports is the predominant form of American culture. It’s sort of the last place that unites everyone across socioeconomic divides, among racial and political divides, across gender, across generations. Everybody can be a Yankees fan no matter what they believe in in the rest of their lives. And so it provides this unique way to talk about our culture, because it’s so universal. The best sports stories, when we tell them well, create a deeper level of understanding and emotional connection with the sport and subject matter. I do believe that leads to a rooting interest and a level of accessibility that maybe you don’t have if you don’t have the understanding of what someone went through. My core belief is if we do our job well and tell really, really good stories, they will have meaning for everyone.

For more information on the GIFF Sports Panel visit greenwichfilm.org

 

 

Odd Mom In

Above: Sprinkle Glitter on My Grave explores life, death and everything in between—all with Jill’s  signature sarcasm, wit and intelligence.

Jill Kargman is the coolest Anti-It Girl you’ve never met, and that’s precisely why women are inhaling her Bravo hit series Odd Mom Out (OMO) like aromatherapy-scented crack. If you’re itching for your next hit of Jill and can’t survive until season 3 of OMO next summer, catch her one-woman, heavy-metal cabaret show, Stairway to Cabaret, at the Carlyle in New York City in January. We caught up with the author, actress and stand-up star for a little holiday chick chat.


GM: You had a signing in Greenwich for your book of hilarious essays, Sprinkle Glitter on My Grave. Were you surprised that the line literally wrapped around the block?

JK: I knew from the RSVPs that a lot of people were coming, but it’s always a surprise when you don’t know the crowd. I felt like the only brunette in the room and wanted to ask if there was an attic I could hide in. But what I love is that I might get a thin, blonde, Aryan-looking group from Darien or New Canaan that looks like Lilly Pulitzer threw up on them, but they tell me they feel like the odd mom out. It’s not what you look like, it’s how you feel, and I love that the show resonates with women everywhere.

GM: You’ve had a handful of guest stars on OMO. Who’s on your wish list?

JK: I’d like to write a role for Jamie Lee Curtis and would love to have Woody Allen, who has always been one of my idols. I’d love to have Blythe Danner on again. Maybe Greenwich will be a guest star.

GM: How do you keep your kids grounded living on the Upper East Side?

JK: Our family does things our own way. We don’t have a second home in the Hamptons. Our kids don’t come to us saying, “Mommy, she bought this, why can’t I have it?” I shut that s**t down when they were three. It’s hard sometimes with my eldest daughter who is now a teenager, but you’re not going to see my thirteen-year-old walking around with a Miu Miu bag.

GM: You confess to having Suburban Panic Disorder and would rather live in a 55th floor walk-up than a Greenwich mansion. tell us about that.

JK: The city is where I grew up, and I like the anonymity. Some people love being in a homogenous suburban environment, but I thrive on being in a diverse one. The parents at my kids’ schools are an eclectic group—an artist here, a brain surgeon there—and that energizes me.

GM: What’s the most obnoxious holiday environment you’ve encountered?

JK: I went to an over-the-top Christmas party on Park Avenue. The host didn’t decorate the tree herself—she hired someone. I’m Jewish, but I thought tree decorating was a time to bond with your family. It was decked out in Tiffany and Cartier hand-blown glass ornaments that must’ve been $300 each, and then this drunk guy backed into the tree and broke everything.

GM: What’s your favorite holiday hostess gift?

JK: I buy quirky coasters from Maison 24 with crossed tennis rackets that say “Overserved” in drunken scrawl.

GM: Fill in the blank: My New Year’s resolution is ______.

JK: The same one I had last year, which is to say “no” more often to events that I don’t want to be at. I don’t even give an excuse anymore…I just say I can’t go.

GM: How do you deal with holiday stress?

JK: Pinot Noir.