The Five Spot: Libby Geist, VP and Executive Producer, ESPN Films and Original Content

ESPN+ gives sports programmer’s documentary maven an even bigger canvas
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Libby Geist has an important job at ESPN, one that’s grown with the launch of the ESPN+ streaming service, for which she helps create original series and studio shows. She oversees development, production, distribution, branding and strategy of all projects under the ESPN Films umbrella, including the popular 30 for 30 series; Detail, with various athletes breaking down top performances, including late basketball star Kobe Bryant spotlighting key moments in NBA games; and the 30 for 30 podcasts. She may be best known as an executive producer of O.J.: Made in America, the 2017 Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature. The daughter of retired CBS News correspondent Bill Geist, her proximity to Oscar glory brought public congratulations from her brother, NBC Sunday Today host Willie Geist. She recently debuted two new docs at the Sundance Film Festival, one about Lance Armstrong and the other about Bruce Lee. She chatted with Multichannel News content director Kent Gibbons.

What was the first documentary you ever made and how old were you? The first documentary I ever worked on was as a production assistant on Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story, with director Dan Klores. I was 24, had just started at Shoot the Moon Productions and the film was underway. I absolutely loved production and the intimate process of making a documentary immediately.

Do any one of the ESPN 30 for 30s stand out to you as iconic, and why? A predictable answer, but O.J.: Made in America best represented what we try to accomplish with every project we take on: a sports story supported by cultural context that sparks important conversation. That film raised the bar for all of our work going forward and reminded us of what we should be aiming for every time.

Who are some other women filmmakers whose work you admire? We’ve been lucky to work with some of the most talented female directors in documentary film: Nanette Burstein, Barbara Kopple, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, Shola Lynch and many others. Marina Zenovich directed our Duke lacrosse film, Fantastic Lies, and we just got back from the Sundance Film Festival where she premiered our upcoming film, LANCE, that I think is her best work yet.

What’s something surprising about Bruce Lee and Lance Armstrong viewers will learn from the docs that debuted at Sundance? Be Water, our Bruce Lee doc, is archival-only — so the film is jam-packed with incredible footage of him throughout his life. If you’re a Bruce Lee fan, it’s such an emotional, great watch. And people think they know Lance Armstrong and his story, but the interviews and access that Marina got from him for LANCE make you realize what a truly complicated person he is. You can’t keep your eyes off him.

How has winning an Oscar changed your life, and where do you keep it? Ah! Technically the film and our director, Ezra Edelman, and lead producer, Caroline Waterlow, won — so the statues are safe with them. But that night was surreal and adding “Oscar winner” to 30 for 30 is something we never imagined. Now there’s pressure to keep delivering, but I like the challenge!

BONUS FIVE

What’s on your DVR? America’s Funniest Home Videos (people falling down make my boys and I laugh) and Sunday Today!
Destination bucket list? Bali, of course!
Favorite podcast? Up First and ESPN’s The Daily
What books are on your night table? Amerikanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
What is your most recent memorable meal — what and where? New Year’s/my birthday dinner. Sushi in the Bahamas with family, in a gorgeous place — what more do I want?

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