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FiveThirtyEight and ESPN Films Announce Debut of Signals

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“The Man Vs. The Machine,” directed by Frank Marshall, premieres October 22

FiveThirtyEight and ESPN Films today revealed the initial films that will be featured in Signals, the digital short series that is the latest project to come out of ESPN content unit Exit 31. Signals will debut on FiveThirtyEight.com on Wednesday, October 22 with “The Man Vs. The Machine,” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and looks at a story Nate Silver explored in a chapter of his best-selling book, The Signal and the Noise – that of World Chess Champion Gary Kasparov and his historic matches with IBM’s “Deep Blue.” Filmmakers and producers in the series include: Colin Hanks, Gillian Jacobs, Steven Leckart, Frank Marshall, Mark Polish and Jamie Schultz.

“The films in the Signals series are developed to showcase stories where analytics and data meet compelling narratives, not necessarily sports, but across many spectrums,” said Dan Silver, Sr. Director of Development, ESPN Films, who oversees the series. “Similar in structure to our 30 for 30 Shorts, Signals is a diverse anthology with each piece being helmed by a different director, and it is a collaborative effort with the team at FiveThirtyEight to identify and develop these film ideas.” 

Signals will be supported by ABC News, with the unit promoting each short through various digital and social outlets. When possible, related features and visualizations on FiveThirtyEight.com will accompany the films to provide greater context. New films from the Signals series will debut approximately every six weeks.

 Signals Film Summaries (exact premiere dates to be announced):

The Man Vs. The Machine (Directed by Frank Marshall) – October 22

On May 3, 1997, Gary Kasparov sat down in New York City to do battle against his longtime nemesis, the IBM chess-playing machine “Deep Blue.” While the much hyped match of man versus machine consisted of six chess games over nine days, there are many who would claim the entire contest was decided in just one move: the 44th move of the second game when Deep Blue made an “error” in moving its king. Immediately following the game, Kasparov accused IBM of cheating, claiming there must have been a human influence to the move. The IBM computer scientists who’d built Deep Blue said the machine had been programmed to do just what it had done. And more recently, a third theory has been put forward that the move was actually the result of a computer bug.

The Cowboys and The Indian (Directed by Mark Polish) – December

In the early 1960’s the Dallas Cowboys wanted to develop a computer system that would evaluate draft eligible college players. It was this sophisticated player-draft system the Cowboys conceived that would propel them onto five Super Bowl appearances in the 1970’s thus winning two World Championships. This story of ingenuity is made more interesting because the key team member has since been forgotten.

A. Salam Qureishi, a brilliant Indian computer programmer and statistician, was a young man who grew up halfway across the world and knew nothing about American football. Up until this system, pro scouting was done on hunches rather than hard numbers. Qureishi’s programming changed all that. His computer model helped draft such legendary players as Mel Renfro, Bullet Bob Hayes, Roger Staubach, Craig Morton, Jethro Pugh, Walt Garrison, Rayfield Wright, Larry Cole, Calvin Hill and Duane Thomas.

The Queens of Code (Directed by Gillian Jacobs) – January

The Queens of Code revisits the early days of computing, when software development was helmed by the great Grace Hopper. She dedicated her life to bringing computers to the masses, when most of her colleagues supposed the technology would only be useful for scientists and the military. Through her genius, she taught software English, so that everyone could communicate with computers.  This film aims to celebrate Grace’s quirky brilliance, and shine a light on the underrepresented history of computer science.

Zormelo (Directed by Jamie Schultz) – February

At the intersection of genius and athleticism lies the mind of Justin Zormelo. As a trained mathematician and basketball expert, Zormelo uses advanced analytics to propel players into perfection. In his most recent undertaking, Zormelo will be training seventeen-year-old 7′ 1” Sudan native, Thon Maker — who has already made a name for himself as an International Jr. All-Star. The teenager shows great promise, but will Zormelo be able to give him the perfect edge to become the next big name in basketball history?

Gold Hunters (Directed by Steven Leckart) – April

In 1857, off the Carolina coast, the SS Central America sank in a Category 2 hurricane and with it, thirty thousand pounds of gold valued today at roughly $548 million dollars. Over a century later and after many failed attempts to locate “The Ship of Gold,” a team of explorers led by Tommy Thompson skillfully implemented Bayesian Search theory, statistically limiting the possible locations where the ship went down. Only months later, they ultimately they struck gold. But when the financiers of his expedition came looking for their cut, Tommy Thompson disappeared. “Gold Hunters” investigates this dramatic modern day treasure hunt and the incredible roots of Bayesian Search.

FiveThirtyEight, which launched as an ESPN entity in 2014, is a data journalism organization delivering compelling stories across the verticals of politics, economy, science, life and sports. The site, founded by award-winning author and statistician Nate Silver, first gained national attention during the 2008 presidential election, when it correctly predicted the results of the presidential election in 49 of 50 states, along with all 35 U.S. Senate races. Since its debut at ESPN, FiveThirtyEight has built a team with a broad set of skills and experiences in order to apply statistical analysis, data visualization, and data-literate reporting to topics in the news and in everyday life.

Created in March 2008, ESPN Films produces high-quality films showcasing some of the most compelling stories in sports. In October 2009, ESPN Films launched its signature 30 for 30 film series, which has since won a Peabody Award, Producer’s Guild Award and an Emmy Award. Inspired by ESPN’s 30th Anniversary, the films that made up the series were a thoughtful and innovative reflection on the past three decades told through the lens of diverse and interesting sports fans and social commentators. The strong reaction from both critics and fans led to the launch of 30 for 30 Volume II, which is currently underway. Additional projects from ESPN Films include the critically-acclaimed Nine for IX series, SEC Storied and the Webby Award- and Emmy Award-winning 30 for 30 Shorts.

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