The network’s ESPN Films division has ordered a second “30 for 30” documentary on Miami’s football program following the immensely popular “The U” that aired in 2009. It focused on the fusion between the growing hip-hop culture in Miami and the swaggering football program that won four national titles between 1983 and 1991.
The working title is “The U: Part 2” and reunites “The U” director Billy Corben and producer Alfred Spellman. The documentary will air this winter as part of ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, and the running time is expected to be two hours.
"The original film followed the transformation from a Miami football program that went largely unnoticed to ‘The U’ and all that [associated with it] both on and off the field," said an ESPN Films spokesperson. "It became a cult classic and remains one of the most talked-about ‘30 for 30’ films we’ve ever done. But that narrative didn’t end in the early 90’s and this sequel will pick up where the original left off."
The original “The U” film was watched by 2.368 million viewers during its Dec. 12, 2009 debut, which was ESPN’s highest-rated documentary at the time. Executives at ESPN Films will tell you that more people ask about “The U” than any other documentary they’ve done.
Miami’s most successful and well-known filmmaking crew is about to kick things up a notch.
Billy Corben and Alfred Spellman, founders of the media studio rakontur, made their initial media splash in 2001, when their controversial documentary Raw Deal: A Question of Consent, an exploration of a purported rape, premiered at the Sundance International Film Festival and made the cover of the New York Post.
Then came Cocaine Cowboys in 2006, a recounting of the early-1980s South Florida drug wars that convincingly argued that the backbone of Miami’s infrastructure was built on the cocaine trade.
That film earned Corben and Spellman, whose headquarters are housed in South Beach, a devoted cult following that grew with each successive film (Limelight, Square Grouper, The U, Broke).
“The energy that they have is infectious, and it comes across in their movies,” says Connor Schell, vice president of production for ESPN Films, which aired The U and Broke. “Their style is so frenetic, and their movies have such an interesting pace that when Billy pitched us on how they wanted to do The U [originally titled Hurricane Season], we bought into it immediately. We’ve had a great relationship with them. Their style is very innovative, and we’re talking to them about collaborating on another documentary now.”
Brad Abramson, vice president of original programming for VH1, says he was impressed by Corben and Spellman when they lobbied to direct the four-part miniseries The Tanning of America: One Nation Under Hip-Hop, which aired in February.
“They knew an incredible amount about hip hop for a couple of white Jewish kids from Miami,” Abramson says. “They blew us away with their knowledge of all the details and their love of the culture. They are a boutique company: They work on one project at a time and give it their all. We were aware of them from the Cocaine Cowboys days. They are the kings of the hidden anecdote. They know how to find just the right nugget to bring out.”
“Filmmaking is like a band,” Spellman says. “Everyone has to play their own instrument and their own role in making a film. David has been editing our docs. Billy and I have a great partnership because we play off each other’s strengths. He directs, and I produce. When you look at other filmmaking teams, they all have a certain rapport. I think we’ve developed our own rhythm and style. We make a pretty formidable team.”
Take, for instance, “The Fab Five.” People knew about the Fab Five. What were you able to do to take that story to another level?
Tell it from the Fab Five’s point of view, go inside that group of players, and the fact that Jalen (Rose) was going to be a key part of that telling of the story with his teammates and that group, that it’s like a chance to look at the Fab Five from the inside out instead of the outside in.
That to me is what makes “The U” (on Miami’s wild football teams) special. I think one reason people responded to it was it was The U according to The U. (Director) Billy Corben didn’t just go out and line up a bunch of critics of The U. He didn’t go out and get all the people who don’t like Miami. He wanted to tell the story, he had a very specific vision; tell the story of The U through The U, through the people who are either playing for, coached it, or are part of that program in some way.
#TheU Blu-rays have arrived @30for30
Don Aronow was a family man who moved to Miami in the ’60s after making a fortune in New Jersey construction, but soon his focus turned to building and racing cigarette boats. He became world famous, selling boats and fostering close relationships with some of the most powerful men in the world. But during that time in Miami, the people who needed Aronow’s products the most (and some of the only ones who could afford the hefty price tag) were drug smugglers. Aronow’s tale would end in a hail of bullets, leaving questions that still haven’t been answered.
.@30for30 #TheU on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon.
#Broke @wale #30for30 #rakontur
"Like oh, let ‘em know that’s how n***as go from that ballin’ to 30 for 30 Broke”
Shooting @billycorben’s director statement for our new @ESPN_Films 30 for 30 doc BROKE (Taken with Instagram)
@rakonturmiami’s Director of Photography Alexa Harris (Taken with Instagram)
Last day of shooting our new @ESPN_Films doc BROKE with New York Times columnist Joe Nocera (Taken with Instagram)
The rakontur crew on the red carpet at the Tribeca screening of their new @ESPN_Films doc Broke
To answer one of the questions we get asked most often, yes, there will be a third Cocaine Cowboys documentary. It won’t be CC3 — the working title is Cocaine Cowboys: Los Muchachos.
We’ve been shooting interviews for it over the past couple of years and we recently started post-production. Sam Rega, who edited Limelight and is finishing Dawg Fight, has been working with Billy and Dave to assemble a cut.
Cocaine Cowboys: Los Muchachos, about the astonishing legal trials of Sal Magluta and Willy Falcon, arguably the two biggest drug traffickers in South Florida history, is nearly finished and already looks to be 10 times more outrageous than the original film.
For those of you coming on Friday night to the O Cinema retrospective, we’ll probably show a teaser.
No release date has been set, as our new ESPN 30 for 30 doc Broke and Dawg Fight will come out first, but it’s on the slate.