Despite Battling the Elements, NFL Network’s Football Town Scores

FUJINON Cabrio lenses help give a cinematic feel to documentary series

Coinciding with the kickoff of the NFL season, NFL Network launched a documentary series that showcases the sport away from the spotlight of the major franchise markets. And nowhere is farther from the glare than Barrow, AK.

Over the course of eight episodes, Football Town: Barrow, Alaska follows the Barrow High School Whalers as they attempt to win the school’s first state championship. To tell their story in a cinematic way, NFL Network selected three FUJINON Cabrio PL lenses — two 19-90 mm and one 85-300 mm — for its two Sony F55 cameras.

Football Town“I’ve been interested in these lenses since they came out,” says Director of Photography David J. Frederick. “We had this opportunity to design a nimble documentary package with a desired cinema look, and the Cabrio lenses were a perfect fit.”

Because he wanted to work with the Cabrio lenses to achieve a more cinematic look, the crew needed a camera that could accommodate the size of the lens. The Sony F55 provided the compact size required for filming on the shoulder, with the performance of a larger camera and the ability to support a larger lens.

According to Frederick, 85% of filming was done on the shoulder, with tripods used mainly for interviewing players. The resulting configuration, he says, was heavy, “but the optical purity and zero wide-angle distortion was appreciated, and that outweighed the burden of carrying these on the cameras.”

As the Sony F55s and FUJINON Cabrio lenses handled the more “stylized” shots — shooting in 60 frames per second up to 180 fps — NFL Network turned to a number of other cameras to round out the complement: Sony PDW-F800s with FUJINON 17X lenses, Canon EOS C300s with Canon EF lenses, and Canon EOS 5D Mark III cameras.

Football Town: Barrow, Alaska is co-produced by NFL Network in association with Leftfield Pictures and Northern Lights Media. Frederick was joined on location by EP/director Eric Salat. Associate Producer Elizabeth Newman, producer/shooters Joe Quigley and NaiChe Sol Chavira, AC/additional camera operator Andrew Brinkman, Audio Supervisor Peter Redding, Media Manager Wes Schult, and Field Coordinator Amanda Hansen.

Summertime, and the Living Is … Cold
In selecting Barrow, AK, as the site of the premier season of Football Town, the NFL Network crew certainly had their work cut out for them. Located 320 miles north of the Artic Circle, Barrow is the northern-most point of the U.S. Throughout the two-month shoot, average temperature hovered just above freezing.

“During practice and game days, it was not uncommon to have horizontal rain or snow hitting us as we filmed on the playing field,” says Frederick. “The difficulty was a fogging eyepiece and rain on the polarizing filter, so I always had a microfiber cloth in my hand to keep shooting. Seeing the weather on the lens was also part of the story, but only ‘just the right amount.’”

The crew also contended with the radical shifts in temperature that occurred when, say, the team entered the locker room or boarded a heated bus. “The hardest part was — and it can happen anywhere — shooting outside and getting everything cold and going in where it’s warm,” say Frederick. “We’d get fogged-up lenses.”

In addition to the weather conditions, Barrow — a chiefly Iñupiat community of 4,000 — is extremely remote. With no highway roads in or out of the town, the team must travel to every home game by airplane. NFL Network had to rely on air travel as well. Working with CineVerse in Los Angeles, NFL Network had the cameras and lenses shipped via Alaska Airlines from Los Angeles to Anchorage and then up to Barrow.

All in all, though, the equipment made it to Barrow and, over the course of two months, despite subfreezing temperatures, snow, and wind gusts exceeding 50 mph, not only survived but created a compelling, cinema-quality product.

“The FUJINON Cabrio lenses paired perfectly with the Sony F55 cameras,” says Frederick. “We are all very happy with the results.”

After premiering on Sept. 22, the show will air Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on NFL Network, with a special encore presentation of each episode every Thursday following the Thursday Night Football postgame show.