Chat with Brett Morgen
Welcome to SportsNation! On Tuesday, filmmaker Brett Morgen drops by to chat about the 20th anniversary of June 17, 1994, a day Morgen created a film around named, simply, "June 17th, 1994."
Morgen's documentary originally aired on June 16, 2010, as one of the original 30 for 30 films. It tells the story of one day with Arnold Palmer's last U.S. Open round, the World Cup kickoff in Chicago, the New York Rangers' Stanley Cup parade, the Knicks-Rockets NBA Finals, MLB readies for a strike and all topped off with O.J. Simpson's car chase.
"June 17th, 1994" re-airs Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN Classic.
Send your questions now and join Morgen Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET!
Buzzmaster (3:00 PM)
Brett is here!
Of all the films and projects you've worked on, where does this one fit and rank among the others?
Brett Morgen (3:02 PM)
Ranking your films is like ranking your children, you love them all equally. That said, June 17th, 1994 really was a surprise. I usually spend upwards of two years on a film and I think we put this one together in 2 months. It came together fluidly and painlessly. I wasn't sure how people would respond to it and I've been overwhelmed to the response to the film. I think people really responded to the route we took without the talking heads. Seeing that response has been really satisfying.
was making a film like this easier or harder than other films, from the stand point that it was just news footage and no interviews?
Brett Morgen (3:05 PM)
Definitely easier. The fact that the scope was one day made it about as accessible as any project one could do. On a movie like Chicago 10, I was dealing with hours of material and photographs. With this one, we were focusing almost entirely on media from that date. It was a much easier project to approach and tackle. The biggest problem was dealing with the timeline. If you notice on the film, we don't put PT or ET. Most of the events on the East Coast were over long before the chase started. We had to decide how we would address that. If we went with ET, we would have to deal with everything on the East Coast prior to that. We had to create a universal clock, where 2:20 pm PT was also 2:20 pm ET.
How did you come up with your approach to this film? what was the thinking that led to just using news footage from the day of sports?
Brett Morgen (3:06 PM)
I wanted to create an immersive experience, which would allow the viewer to experience things unfiltered. As the director, I am the filter, but I wanted the audience to see it as it unfolded, without the lens of someone's memory of it. Up to this point in my career, I've gotten rid of talking heads in all my work, because I find them to be academic and journalistic. With my films, I want it to be immersive.
There was a lot of sports action that day, but do you think we'd remember the day as much as we do if it weren't for OJ?
Brett Morgen (3:08 PM)
No. We wouldn't remember anything from that day. If I asked you what you were doing June 17, 1997, I am sure everyone would draw a blank. In fact, when we dusted off the history books when we were putting the film together, we would have been hard pressed to think of anything other than OJ. When we decided to do this film, we started from the stand point of what else happened other than the OJ chase, we realized there was a wealth of material.
What are your personal memories of June 17, 1994?
Brett Morgen (3:10 PM)
I was a film student at NYU. I was in an edit room all day. I had no idea what was happening. I walked back to my apartment. There was a guy who lived on my street and as I approached my front door, he said "OJ's on the run, man!" And put his headphones on me. On that day, I think everyone was watching OJ Simpson the icon in the chase. For me, it was different, because I had gone to school with his daughter, so for me it was watching a friend of mine's father on a suicide run. It was personal and intense.
Brett Morgen (3:11 PM)
One of the things I remember was on June 17, the majority of people still were holding out hope for his innocence. That was one of the challenges of the film, was since that day most people have suggested that he was guilty -- the civil courts have decided that as well. In order to suspend belief and put the audience back in that time and place when it was just a lot of confusion and chaos, we wanted to capture that.
Was there anything in this film that you had to cut out that was difficult to do?
Brett Morgen (3:11 PM)
No, not that I remember.
as a filmmaker, was there a piece of footage that you found to be the most compelling that you had in your June 17th film?
Brett Morgen (3:13 PM)
The audio of OJ's conversations with Detective Lange, to me, were the key to the film. Those were released two years after the fact. For whatever reasons they weren't admissible in court. When we heard the audio, we realized we had the chance to really change the way we saw the Bronco chase. For the first time, we could experience it through OJ's perspective. For me, it really changed that narrative of the chase.
how were you able to gain access to a lot of this footage?
Brett Morgen (3:15 PM)
Fortunately, ESPN has an amazing archives and had probably 93% of the footage in their vaults that we used. They didn't have the rights to it and we had to get the license.
When you made your film, it was 15-16 years after that day happened....what made it a good subject for a documentary?
Brett Morgen (3:16 PM)
It's hard to imagine a more dramatic day in sports than June 17, 1994. It appeared to be a perfect canvas to make a film of this nature. We were looking to find a single day in which all of the great emotions of sports were on display. On June 17, you have the tragedy of the chase, the pageantry and hope of the World Cup, the humanity of Arnold Palmer and some of the greatest athleticism on display at MSG in the NBA Finals, coupled with the euphoria of the Stanley Cup parade.
Brett Morgen (3:17 PM)
Anniversaries are created by the media. Good film can hopefully transcend the occasion.
Of course, the OJ car chase was just the start of what turned into the OJ trial...did you follow that as well?
Brett Morgen (3:18 PM)
Yes. Religiously, like most people in the country. I watched as much coverage as I could. It was fascinating drama. The thing about the trial was I remember thinking very vividly at the time, as a filmmaker, we spend upwards of 2-3 years crafting a film to entertain people for 90 minutes and feeling depressed about the fact that I sat during the trial riveted for 6 hours a day on a single camera shot unedited. I'm talking about 5 hours of DNA testimony. The trial was that riveting.
Brett Morgen (3:20 PM)
I really appreciate all of the outpouring of feelings that people have about this program. I wasn't expecting much when we put it together and four years after it premiered, I still get emails and tweets about it on a daily basis. I am thrilled that people have responded so well to it.
Buzzmaster (3:20 PM)
Thanks for chatting Brett!