TIFF ’14: NYT Op-Docs readies Errol Morris series

New York Times commissioner Jason Spingarn-Koff (pictured) was on hand at TIFF's Doc Conference to discuss the progress of his Op-Docs video section, which next month launches a new series of Errol Morris shorts.
September 11, 2014

What started three years back as a small forum for short, opinionated documentaries at The New York Times has grown into a collection of 126 films and counting, from the likes of filmmakers such as Errol Morris and Laura Poitras.

Op-Docs’ commissioning editor Jason Spingarn-Koff (pictured) was on hand at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Doc Conference to discuss the progress of the division, which launched in November 2011, and produces original shorts as well as adaptations of feature-length docs.

Spingarn-Koff presented a clip from the forthcoming Op-Docs project by filmmaker Errol Morris, entitled Three Short Films about Peace.

Morris’s films – each 15 minutes in length – are set to premiere on the website in October. The clip shown featured musician and activist Bob Geldof, who discussed his involvement in the Live Aid organization and philanthropic work with U2′s Bono.

The series will be Morris’s fifth project with the Op-Docs team, said Spingarn-Koff.

The growth of Op-Docs stems from a concerted digital push by The New York Times, which now has 830,000 online subscribers, and 40 million worldwide visitors per month. In light of 31 percent of the website’s traffic originating from these international readers, the Op-Docs offerings are not geo-blocked, and can be viewed by non-subscribers.

Spingarn-Koff pointed out that a documentary short directed by Laura Poitras entitled The Program, posted in August 2012, made such an impact on National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden that he reached out to the filmmaker shortly after, ultimately working with her to produce stories on the leaked NSA documents.

“These videos do reach the right audience,” said Spingarn-Koff. “Our viewers are in positions of influence.”

Op-Docs videos can also be found on platforms such as Hulu, Vimeo, Yahoo! and AOL, Spingarn-Koff told audiences. “The strategy is ‘video everywhere,’ not just walled inside,” he said.

The editor capped his session by encouraging delegates to pitch their work to Op-Docs, using the email The division is open to both finished work as well as paper pitches, though worldwide rights must be cleared across all media.

About The Author