U.S. net ESPN has unveiled a raft of short doc initiatives, including partnerships with Marvel Entertainment and actor Eva Longoria (pictured), and a Friday night shorts slot.
The partnership with Longoria will see the two parties launching a shorts strand called ‘Versus,’ which Longoria will exec produce.
Launching this spring on SportsCenter, the series will explore “moments of inspiration, when the world of sports transcended the action on the field,” according to ESPN.
‘Versus’ will consist of five films that will premiere monthly from May through September. Each film will premiere on a Friday episode of SportsCenter, followed by a tiered rollout to the SportsCenter app and additional digital platforms, including ESPN.com, Twitter, Facebook and others. There will be a second season of ‘Versus’ in 2016.
Longoria directs the first short, Go, Sebastian, Go!, which will kick off the series in May. Other directors will include Retta (Parks and Recreations), Ricardo Chavira (Desperate Housewives) and Melissa Johnson (Brittney Griner: Lifesize).
“There are so many moments from the world of sports that represent a broad cultural theme, while at the same time focus on a uniquely human story,” said Longoria. “I’m excited to be working with ESPN Films, along with a variety of talented filmmakers, to tell these stories of courage and perseverance.”
Longoria’s Unbelievable Entertainment is producing the strand for ESPN Films, and Unbelievable’s Ben Spector will exec produce alongside Longoria.
Both the doc and the short film series provide viewers with “a unique look at some of the world’s most successful athletes, by mixing the award-winning non-fiction style of ESPN Films with classic Marvel comic book art, design and creative animation, to truly bring a unique perspective to the journeys of these key figures,” according to the network.
The short film series will launch this summer on SportsCenter and across ESPN’s digital platforms simultaneously. Each short film focuses on a single athlete, focusing on their origins and their ascent to greatness in their sport.
The series is directed by Emmy-winning director/producer Eric Drath (No Mas, Cornered: A Life Caught in the Ring), produced by Emmy-winner Dan Silver, and exec produced by Tracy McAndrew and John Cerilli.
The documentary film, currently available through select digital retailers, explores the question of whether top athletes are born or created.
“In many ways, athletes are blessed in their chosen fields with superhuman powers, much like those of some of the great Marvel superheroes,” said Connor Schell, ESPN’s VP and exec producer for ESPN Films and Original Content. “Like those characters, every great athlete has the moment where they learn to harness, develop and use their unique abilities to achieve.”
Finally, ESPN is prepping a weekly segment called ‘Friday Night Movie Night,’ in which a short film from one of ESPN Films’ documentary series will air in the 6 p.m. EST hour on SportsCenter each Friday, beginning February 6.
The weekly presentation will showcase “a variety of shorts over time, most of which will be making their TV or world premiere,” ESPN said.
The series, Spike Lee’s Lil’ Joints, will showcase narratives that are personally curated by the filmmaker, with the majority revolving around African-American stories that are not widely known. Each short will be preceded by an introduction from Lee.
“People today have a thirst for new voices, for new visions, new filmmakers, and Spike Lee’s Lil’ Joints is that platform,” said the filmmaker in a statement. “There are great stories out there that might not warrant a full-length documentary, but they are great stories nonetheless. This endeavor will let those stores be told.”
Spike Lee’s Lil’ Joints will be comprised of eight episodes that will debut monthly from February through September 2015, with a second season in 2016. After premiering on SportsCenter, each short will be available online via ESPN.com and ESPN’s social and mobile outlets.