|Predecessor||Blair Motion Pictures|
|Headquarters||Mount Laurel, New Jersey, United States|
|Steve Sabol (1962–2012)
John Facenda (1966–1984)
Harry Kalas (1975-2009)
|Parent||National Football League|
NFL Films is a Mount Laurel, New Jersey-based company devoted to producing commercials, television programs, feature films, and documentaries on the National Football League, as well as other unrelated major events and awards shows. Founded as Blair Motion Pictures by Ed Sabol in 1962, and run by his son Steve Sabol until his death, it is currently owned by the NFL and produces most of its videotaped content except its live game coverage, which is handled separately by the individual networks.
Founder Ed Sabol was a World War II veteran who worked selling topcoats after returning to the United States. In his spare time, he often used a motion picture camera, received as a wedding gift, to record his son Steve’s high school football games. Inspired by his own work, Sabol founded a small film company called Blair Motion Pictures, named after his daughter Blair. Sabol won the bidding for the rights to film the 1962 NFL championship game for $5,000, double the bid for the 1961 championship game. The film of that game impressed NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who asked the owners of the NFL to agree to buy out Sabol's company. Although the owners rejected Rozelle's proposal in 1964, they agreed a year later and renamed Sabol's company NFL Films. He received $20,000 in seed money from each of the league's 14 owners, and in return would shoot all NFL games and produce a highlight film for each team. Ed Sabol died on Monday, February 9, 2015, at his home in Arizona.
On August 6, 2011, Ed Sabol was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a major contributor to the National Football League.
Much has been made of the Films style. Salon.com television critic Matt Zoller Seitz has called NFL Films "the greatest in-house P.R. machine in pro sports history . . . an outfit that could make even a tedius stalemate seem as momentous as the battle for the Alamo."
NFL Films productions follow certain patterns. Film is mostly used, one camera is dedicated entirely to slow motion shots, microphones are present on the sidelines and near the field to pick up both the sounds of the games as well as the talk on the sidelines, and narrators with deep, powerful, baritone voices are preferred. Narrators have generally been from the Philadelphia metropolitan area, with well-known announcers such as Jefferson Kaye, Harry Kalas, John Facenda, Andy Musser, Jack Whitaker and current announcer Scott Graham all having narrated NFL Films presentations at various points in time. J.K. Simmons was tapped to narrate the company's one-hour recap of the 16-0 regular season of the 2007 New England Patriots, while actor Burt Lancaster was tabbed for narrations during 1969. Burl Ives narrated the 1971 Washington Redskins highlight film.
Team-specific films such as year-in-review films have occasionally been narrated by broadcasters or personalities involved with the team in question. Examples include the 1985, 2000 and 2001 Oakland Raiders season reviews being narrated by actor and former Raiders player Carl Weathers. Former Giant Frank Gifford periodically narrated New York Giants season reviews (notably the company's throwback-themed 2013 season recap) until his death in 2015, and ex-Giants teammate Pat Summerall narrated highlight films for many teams until his death in 2013. New England Patriots play-by-play announcer Gil Santos narrated the year-in-review films of the 1974, 1976, and 1978 seasons, and New Orleans Saints films from their inception in 1967 through 1979 were narrated by Don Criqui, who called Saints games for the NFL on CBS in the team's early years, and radio announcers Al Wester and Wayne Mack.
The style has been called tight on the spiral, a reference to the frequently-used slow-motion shot of the spinning football as it travels from the quarterback's hand to the receiver. This shot usually consists of showing the quarterback throwing the football, then the camera zooming in to focus on the spinning ball, then, as the ball starts to descend, the camera zooms out, showing the end result of the ball traveling into the receiver's hands. NFL Films also dubs sound bites of local radio broadcasts over key plays, because radio announcers are typically more enthusiastic about their home teams than are network television broadcasters. In addition, NFL Films often uses multiple camera angles (with an emphasis on close-up shots that often exaggerate the speed of the players in real time). The company's films also employ muscular orchestral scores from a wide variety of musicians, notably Sam Spence, Johnny Pearson (whose "Heavy Action" became the theme for Monday Night Football) Frank Rothman, Ralph Dollimore, Udi Harpaz, Malcolm Lockyer, Jan Stoeckart (under his varied stage names such as Jack Trombey), Peter Reno, Paul Lewis, Prameela Tomashek, Dave Robidoux and Tom Hedden. The company's use of KPM Musichouse tracks also notably included Syd Dale; tracks include "Malestrom" for the company's 1968 Minnesota Vikings season highlight reel and also the psychedelic-flavored jazz track "Artful Dodger" on the film recap of Super Bowl V, specifically during the montage which shows Johnny Unitas' 75-yard touchdown pass to John Mackey which was tipped in flight by Eddie Hinton and Mel Renfro before bounding to Mackey.
The company also makes prolific use of footage of players and coaches in the locker room after the game. With these techniques NFL Films turns football games into events that mimic ballet, opera, and epic battle stories. Among the company's most famous creations is the poem and accompanying music cue "The Autumn Wind", which have become official themes for the Oakland Raiders.
One of NFL Films' most popular series is Hard Knocks. With production run entirely from the field and the NFL Films facility, NFL Films and HBO are granted unprecedented, exclusive access to one NFL team as they go through training camp, leading up to the beginning of the season. Hard Knocks won consecutive Outstanding Edited Sports Series Emmys in 2009 & 2010.
NFL Films produces the Greatest Moments series, which details classic games from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s (decade); the Lost Treasures series, which uses old NFL Films footage which had previously never been shown on television to give an inside and largely uncut look at football players, coaches, and referees; and NFL Films Presents, which shows games of today that NFL Films produces in their traditional, dramatic style. They appear on either ESPN or the NFL Network.
NFL Films also produces the NFL Game of the Week, which showcases a previous-week's game of the current season. ION Television has purchased the rights to air Game of the Week, Saturdays at 6PM ET beginning September 15, with the Giants-Cowboys game from September 9, 2007. ESPN Classic has been known to air classic episodes of Game of the Week.
NFL Films' game highlights were also a staple of HBO's Inside the NFL for its entire run; this will continue on that show's new network Showtime, in addition to having the company produce the show. NFL Films also produced for Showtime the five-part miniseries Full Color Football: The History of the American Football League, which aired in fall 2009 as part of the American Football League 50th anniversary celebration.
NFL Films is famous for producing an annual highlight film for each team every season. If a team had a good year the film often revels in each victory, while breezing through, or skipping altogether, losses during the season. Inversely, if a team suffered through a poor season, the highlights commonly attempt to still show the team in a good light, however difficult that may be. Losses and pitiful play is commonly, and conveniently, edited out, leaving only isolated moments of success, prompting the viewer to not always realize how bad the team might have actually been. Most films conclude by portraying teams optimistically for the upcoming season, whether founded or not.
The Sabols have used NFL Films to showcase their senses of humor, as in the Football Follies series. The Follies used blooper plays, such as fumbles, dropped passes, deflected or bobbled passes, players slipping and falling, mascots, the quarterback lining up behind the guard instead of the center, and disorganization, and outtakes and silly narration.
The presence of NFL Films' cameras allowed for the preservation of video footage from many of the NFL's 1960s era games in an era when sports telecasts were either broadcast live without any recording or whose films and tapes were destroyed and recycled for later use, a practice that did not fully stop until 1978. Without the presence of NFL Films, there would be no surviving footage of several of the early Super Bowls. In comparison, other major leagues that lacked the film resources that the NFL had have archives missing all the way up through the 1970s, with much of the time before that preserved only by Canadian television broadcasters.
Although NFL Films earns more than $50 million in revenue a year and is expanding at a double digit rate, compared to the $18 billion in revenue that the NFL earns from television alone, most consider this to be minor. The real value of NFL Films is how it packages and sells the game and many credit it as a key reason that the NFL has become the most watched league in the United States.
In addition to covering the National Football League, NFL Films has also ventured into other unrelated documentary films, such as documenting the Munich Olympics massacre for one of NBC's Olympics telecasts, and serving as back-up film photography for other major events, including the Stanley Cup Finals (NHL Original Productions), the NBA Finals (NBA Entertainment) and the World Series (MLB Productions). It also produced the video for Journey's 1983 hit single "Faithfully". NFL Films also has worked with Volkswagen Group in producing Audi's Truth in 24 series about Audi's efforts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans using the signature style to package and sell the marque's efforts in France.
The company has also done films for major college football programs, such as Colorado State University; the company's 1977 film on CSU's football program used John Denver's song Rocky Mountain High as well as an instrumental cover of The Beatles' song Tell Me What You See, and noted alumni of the team who had gone on to NFL careers, such as Bill Larson of the Lions and Bill Kennedy of the Colts, Kevin McClain of the Rams, and Greg Stamrick of the Oilers.
Music rights controversy with Sam Spence
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Sam Spence was long been involved in a controversial situation with the NFL regarding the rights to perform or use his music in any media outlets. The case was first reported by composer/historian Alexander Klein in the 2013 April issue  of the film music magazine Film Score Monthly. Through personal conversations with the composer, Klein reported that Spence was convinced to sign a contract that relinquished all of the rights to his music to NFL Films under the promise that the enterprise would return the document to the composer. Spence said: “I received a phone call, in which NFL Films claimed my music had been ‘stolen’ and used in a porn film called Deep Throat (released on June 12, 1972 in the U.S.). They would send me a paper to sign to the effect that NFL Films was empowered to protect the music in a court of law. In all sincerity, I did not see a possible ‘plot’ here at all. However, I unwittingly ‘punctured their balloon’ by explaining that they didn’t have to bother with this at all because GEMA (a German state-authorized performance rights organization) would protect my music and legally proceed after anyone who used it without permission.” As Klein reported, "GEMA sent Spence a video copy of the film and asked him to make a list of “where and how long” his music appeared in it. Thus, the composer dutifully watched the film in order to find possible fragments of his music in it. Yet, the outcome was unexpected. Spence continues: “I was surprised to find not one note of my music in the film. Naïve, trusting person that I was, it never dawned on me it could possibly be a hoax to get me to sign a forthcoming document”. “The next ‘trick’ came several months later,” Spence recalls. “I received a phone call in which I was told that NFL Films had a court case in two days against someone who had illegally used some of my music. Their lawyer had sent me a paper via Federal Express, which they said would be arriving shortly (in that same afternoon) for my signature. After signed, the FedEx courier would immediately send it back to them so they would have it in time for the court case.” The composer received the paper in the afternoon and read it. “After reading the paper, I called them and said that I could not sign a document with that wording,” he continues. “But they assured me that as soon as the case was over, they would send it back to me.” Still unsuspecting, and trusting in the company’s words, Spence signed the document and sent it to NFL Films. He never got the paper back and, to this day, he is not receiving royalties for the many uses of his music in American television shows and commercials. Spence died in 2016.
- The Power and the Glory: The Original Music & Voices of NFL Films (1998)
- Autumn Thunder: 40 Years of NFL Films Music (2004)
- NFL Country (1996)
- Music from National Football League Films, LP NFL-1, c. 1970s.
NFL Films Lab
NFL Films operates its own in-house 16mm and 35mm Color Negative Processing Lab. This enables the film that is shot at each game to be rushed back to the Mt. Laurel facility and processed immediately so as to give the production team the maximum amount of time to produce its weekly shows.
The lab is open to the public for development needs. Clients include feature length and short films shot on location in Philadelphia as well as students at local universities.
The current lab is the third incarnation. The original lab was located in a building next to NFL Films original offices at 230 N 13th St in Philadelphia. The second lab was housed in the center of the NFL Films offices at 330 Fellowship Rd in Mt. Laurel, NJ. That entire one-story building has since been razed and replaced with a modern 4 story office building.
The third lab is located at the NFL Films current location in the Bishop's Gate industrial park in Mt. Laurel behind a two-story glass wall. This allows visitors to the offices to see the inner workings of the entire processing lab. Those on morning tours can often watch as employees develop film for use in weekly shows.
NFL Films Lab is also in charge of the archiving and maintenance of the vault. Containing over 100 continuous years of football footage, the vault houses all of the film that NFL Films has shot or acquired from other sources in its entire history. Currently, NFL Films is in the process of re-transferring all of its footage into high-definition format, although the original film will always be kept as it's likely to outlast tape medium in terms of degradation.
DVD titles are available for purchase on iTunes.
- Ed Sabol: A Football Life television program, 2011
- NFL Films, Inc. , Father-Son Team Establishes Gold Standard For Sports Photography - CBS News
- "Fortune All Access Subscription". Fortune.com. 2010-12-14. Retrieved 2012-09-11.
- Seitz, Matt Zolller (2011-02-07) The Super Bowl's bloated, chaotic spectacle, Salon.com
- ION Media Networks Secures Rights to Air 2007 Season of "NFL Game of the Week" Produced by NFL Films, Yahoo!, September 10, 2007
- List of programs offered by NFL Films.
- "2006 Bears: All For One". National Football League. 2007-09-23. Retrieved 2012-12-08.
- "NFL Films Celebrates Five Emmy Wins". NFL Films. 2013-05-08. Retrieved 2013-05-28.
- Alexander Klein, "The Sam Spence Case: The shocking truth about production companies and royalties," Film Score Monthly, April 2013.
- Official website
- NFL official website
- Capturing the Moment - Domenick Satterberg
- Some early John Facenda and NFL Films history
- The Themes of Fall: Music of Football and Film
- NFL Game of the Week on ION Television
- Brody, Tom C. "C. B. Demille Of The Pros," Sports Illustrated, November 20, 1967.
- Alexander Klein's report on Spence's rights issue with NFL Films