Emmy-winning drive for NFL Films covered 100 million feet of film

By John Rice

It was a daunting task, chronicling 40 years of Super Bowl history. But in the end the hard work paid off as NFL Films won a Sports Emmy for the NFL Network series :America’s Game: The Super Bowl Champions. ” The team at NFL Films culled through it’s library of roughly 100 million feet of film to tell the stories of each winning team. “We think it’s one of the best things we’ve ever done,” says NFL Film’s Executive in Charge of Production Operations, Bil Driber. “And we’ve done some good stuff over the years.”

The series was awarded a Sports Emmy award last week for Outstanding Edited Sports Series/Anthology. According to Driber, the project began in June, 2005 when they started pulling film from their archives, but it didn’t go “full bore” until November, 2005 when the decision was made to do the whole project in High Definition. By March 2007, all 40 episodes were completed (NFL Films has continued the series chronicling Super Bowl XLI champs, The Indianapolis Colts and is currently at work on an episode on the New York Giants’ Super Bowl XLII victory. “We’ll continue doing this until someone tells us to stop,” says Driber.)

For each episode of the series, three or four players from each winning team were selected to tell the team’s story. “Each of those interviews lasted a minimum of four hours,” explains Driber. “Some of them were five hours or longer.”

Simultaneously, NFL Films producers were researching and pulling footage from the library. Driber explains that only about 10 or 11 percent of the 100 million feet of archived film has been transferred to tape. And of that, only about one percent was on HD. They began transferring footage to HD, selecting shots from previously edited shows and highlight or “special” rolls.

According to Driber, NFL Films began a migration to 16:9 and HD in 1997, shooting in Super 16. But for material shot previous to that date, the decision was made to maintain the original 4:3 aspect ratio in the series.

As each episode moved forward, producers often returned to the vaults for additional material. “We didn’t just dive into the particular year that they won,” Driber explains, “A lot of time, we went back one or two years to show the team being built up, how it got put together, and how everybody came to mesh and blend to make a championship team.”

The interviews often inspired additional archival research. “If a player said ‘well, the key thing was this guy joining us three years ago’, then we go back three years and pull that highlight film,” adds Driber.

Driber says the project was possible because NFL Films has “everything in house.” The facility’s six telecines were often running around the clock. Driber explains that all film elements were transferred at 1080i “because it has that film look.” When they shoot in HD, they shoot at 1080 24p and cross-covert to 1080i to retains the film look.

NFL Films employs a variety of editing and graphics systems to accomplish its work. “The producer all cut on Avid’s which are in their offices,” he says. “They can digitize locally or we have Unity systems they can tap in to.” The facilities also feature Avid Symphonys, Apple Final Cut Pro rooms, linear rooms and recording studios and mixing rooms. “We composed [all of the music] and recorded it here,” says Driber. “It all comes together in one building.”

Driber says the production scenario for “America’s Game: The Superbowl Champions” was “pretty much the same” as their other on-going work. “The only thing that was really different was the massive amount of research and re-transfer of our material to get it into the HD form,” he explains. “We have our systems and our ways. And it seems to work for us.