Saturday, August 16, 2014

NFL Films Retains Its Name As It Goes Digital

For 50 years, NFL Films has built its reputation by immersing viewers in a cinematic experience unlike watching games on television. Spiraling footballs, muddy linemen battling at the line of scrimmage, wired coaches, leaping receptions and vapor rising from bald heads looked like Hollywood movies, especially when augmented with martial music and over-the-top narration by baritone voices.

You could not speak to Ed Sabol, who founded NFL Films, or his son, Steve, its chief storyteller, without hearing about the warmth and richness of the colors produced on 16-millimeter film. Football became a slow-motion war in an NFL Films production — unless the Sabols took a detour by stringing together a series of comic bloopers worthy of “Benny Hill.” Even fumbles looked better on film.

Within the headquarters of NFL Films in Mount Laurel, N.J., resides more than 100 million feet of film stored in tens of thousands of metal canisters. But that era is about to end: starting this season, NFL Films will shoot all regular-season and postseason games with digital video cameras.

“This is revolutionary,” said Howard Katz, the chief operating officer of NFL Films. “We’ll still be called NFL Films even if we’re not shooting with film.”

NFL Films began to change to all-digital several years ago. Some of the urgency rested in concern about continuing to find a plentiful source of film and some arose from network clients who wanted to get the highlights and other footage they needed for their shows faster.

Testing began on various models with the goal of finding one that would replicate the look of high-speed film and satisfy Steve Sabol, who counted cameraman among his many roles at the company. One problem that Sabol and others at the company wanted to avoid is the fluttering on digital video shot at high speeds, Katz said. The experiment continued after Sabol’s death in September 2012, as cameramen used models from Sony, Panasonic and Arri, mainly for close-ups and bench shots.

“We wanted our cameramen to have the same comfort they’ve had with film cameras all these years,” Katz said.

Eventually, NFL Films chose the Arri Amira and bought 30. Steve Sabol never saw what the Amira could do but did see another Arri model, the Alexa.

“He was impressed with how far the technology had come,” Katz said. “He got comfortable with his.”

Crews working for NFL Films will shoot games this season with digital video cameras. Stentorian narration will remain. CreditJulio Cortez/Associated Press
The shift to shooting all games with digital cameras was supposed to begin with the 2015 season, but that was accelerated with the move of the “Inside the NFL” show on Showtime from Wednesday night to Tuesday night. The show will be repeated on the NFL Network on Wednesday night with an additional segment looking at the Thursday night game.

The change will also make NFL Films more efficient. Storage will be easier and video will be easier to access.

On game days, reels of film will no longer have to be driven or flown from game sites or developed. Instead, the game action captured on digital cards inside each camera will be sent from the stadiums after every quarter to Mount Laurel, where it will be edited and transmitted to the 60 shows on multiple networks that will use the highlights.

“The notion of feeding our shows faster would please Steve,” said Katz, who added, “It’s been an enormous engineering challenge for our people to create an infrastructure to do this in so short a time and a significant operating expense for the bandwidth we needed.”

There is still some unused 16 millimeter film left at NFL Films. Some of it will be used for future documentaries, but the last bit will be used for “NFL Films Presents,” a show that is moving to Fox Sports 1 this season after a long run on ESPN.

The goal at NFL Films has always been to promote the league with a brawny and entertaining form of sports propaganda that presents a separate reality to the games seen on Sunday. Ed Sabol carried himself like an old-time movie mogul, running a studio within the league. Once an overcoat salesman, Sabol altered how football was viewed, but always on film.

“What a story we have,” Steve Sabol said in 2011 before his father’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “The father with the little 16-millimeter camera helps the N.F.L. become the No. 1 sport in the country.”

All done on film. Until now. — 

No comments:

Post a Comment

"Be as smart as you can, but remember that it is always better to be wise than to be smart."

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...