06 August 2011

NFL Films

NFL Films is making the news since its founder Ed Sabol was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I found it fascinating to learn that the company pioneered sports film making and even had an influence on Hollywood. This is a company started by a 45 year old overcoat salesman whose only experience was shooting his 14 year old son's football games! Ed Sabol was uncompromising in his artistic vision. NFL Films has shot over 100 million feet of film (Sabol jokes that no other subject has been shot as much on 16 mm film, except WWII.) Some even claim that NFL Films was the propaganda machine that transformed the NFL from a middling sport to the billion dollar money making machine it is today.

This is an amazing American success story and an inspiration to artists. Since I started doing photography a couple years ago, I have developed a better visual eye and am starting to appreciate great camera work more and more.

Here are some quotes from various articles around the web. First, CNN's article:
Big Ed calls that first film his favorite and points to the end scene as something that set his group apart. The last shot is of the empty stadium after the game. Wind blows newspapers and programs around the lonely goal posts.

"I had a saying that I always told all of our cameramen: 'Finish like a pro,' " he said, "and this cameraman got this memorable shot because he finished like a pro."
"NFL highlight reels had a real impact on how movies get made, particularly montages," two-time Academy Award winning director Ron Howard told the New York Times in 2000. "Lots of different images. Images on images. Using the slow-motion, combined with the live action. The hard-hitting sound effects, juxtaposed against incredible music, powerful music, creating a really emotional experience for the viewer."
From the Canton Repository:
The company’s methodology was — and is — mythology, with innovation and creativity its foundation. Sabol told the stories of professional football through close-ups, various camera angles, hypnotic slow-motion, the wiring of coaches and players for sound, unique narration and musical scores.
Fans saw football in a way never displayed before. Action was not shot from a single angle high above the field. There were multiple angles, including ground-level. There were zoom shots of live action. There was slow motion. Montages of highlights were put with composer Sam Spence’s scores and narrator John Facenda’s haunting voice.

Players went from distant, almost indistinguishable figures to instantly recognizable heroes. Images of Jack Lambert’s teeth-challenged snarl and Gale Sayer’s graceful strides became imbedded in fans’ minds.

They saw Willie Brown’s zoomed-in stare — eyes on the end zone, helmet bouncing ever so slightly — as he returned an interception from Fran Tarkenton in Super Bowl XI. They heard Chiefs coach Hank Stram, who became a close friend of Ed Sabol, offer his famous line, “Just keep matriculating the ball down the field, boys,” as Kansas City won Super Bowl IV. They witnessed the spiraling flight of the football and the carnage of line play. They even saw blooper films.

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