SportsCenter to feature short films; debuts tonight with Spike Lee project

Short films will be getting an even bigger spotlight starting today with the debut of the new SportsCenter segment, Friday Night Movie Night. A short film from ESPN content unit Exit 31 – an umbrella group overseeing ESPN Films, Grantland and FiveThirtyEight – will air in SC’s 6 p.m. ET hour each Friday.

Kicking off the series tonight will be Ray Allen/AKA-Jesus Shuttlesworth, an exploration of nicknames in the NBA with a focus on Ray Allen as “Jesus Shuttlesworth,” the character he played in Lee’s movie “He Got Game.” The film is the first short from a new series executive produced by Spike Lee called Spike Lee’s Lil’ Joints. As Lee puts it, “People today have a thirst for new voices, for new visions, new filmmakers and Spike Lee’s Lil’ Joints is that platform.”

Front Row caught up with Dan Silver, ESPN Films senior director of development, to find out more about the new SportsCenter/Exit 31 collaboration.

How did Friday Night Movie Night come about?
Since the inception of 30 for 30 shorts, we’ve had a terrific working relationship with SportsCenter as many of the pieces have aired at one time or another. As such, there was a mutual desire to further increase the relationship and collaborate on ways to tell great stories.

In a “Eureka!” moment during a very general meeting in Bristol, [Senior Vice President, SportsCenter and News] Rob King floated the idea of Friday Night Movie Night, and given the output of short films we have coming from Exit 31 there wasn’t a moment of hesitation. SportsCenter is the ideal platform to present our content and to launch and showcase series like Spike Lee’s Lil Joints, Eva Longoria’s Versus, and Marvel’s 1 of 1 – Origins.

What can viewers expect out of the weekly segment?
Although Friday Night Movie Night is a weekly segment on SportsCenter, the scheduling of the shorts will be quite varied. Fans will not be served up the same thing week to week. Ultimately, our viewers will see a diverse set of stories, characters, themes and tones and in keeping with ESPN Films’ edict of remaining filmmaker-focused, each short will be distinctive to their storyteller and, in turn, stretch the definition of true-to-life sports storytelling.

What is the genesis of Spike Lee’s ‘Lil Joints shorts series?
More than a year ago, we sat with Spike (whom many of us worked with on his prior ESPN Film Kobe Doin’ Work), and he expressed a desire to shine a light on stories that he was personally passionate about and felt should be told. Additionally, he wanted to empower up-and-coming young filmmakers, and was fascinated by not only the narrative flexibility and freedom of short form content, but also its malleability when it comes to distribution. And as these sentiments fall very much in line with our core beliefs at Exit 31, the conversation moved very quickly, and Spike Lee’s Lil Joints was born.

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