Armchair quarterbacks wouldn’t be able to enjoy Monday night football if it weren’t for the inventor, Thomas Edison. His technology made moving images a viable possibility with his development of the Kinetoscope.
Edison described a device which would "do for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear," namely record and reproduce objects in motion. In 1891, he filed for a patent for the Kinetograph camera which used 18mm wide film and the accompanying Kinetoscope, a peep-hole viewer.
He derived the name from Greek words "kineto" meaning movement and "scopos" meaning to watch. As we celebrate his 164th birthday, let’s look at what the inventor did for sports fans. David Robinson says in his book, From Peep Show to Palace: The Birth of American Film, that the film "ran horizontally between two spools, at continuous speed.
A rapidly moving shutter gave intermittent exposures when the apparatus was used as a camera, and intermittent glimpses of the positive print when it was used as a viewer--when the spectator looked through the same aperture that housed the camera lens." A peephole with magnifying lenses was at the top of the box, inside, film was moved by a sprocket wheel using holes punched in the film’s edge, and beneath the film, was Edison’s earlier invention, an electric lamp.
Our ability to enjoy football games via NFL Films without ever being in the stadium, is just one of the many benefits to grow out of this humble beginning. Moving images that were projected onto a screen appeared in 1896.
In 1911, the first film studio opened in what was to become the center of the movie film industry, Hollywood. Three years later, the first feature length moving picture film was released by Samuel Goldwyn, Cecil B. DeMille, and Jesse Lasky with a now politically incorrect title, The Squaw Man.
In 1928, George Eastman, who helped develop the film that was used in early motion picture machines posed with Edison, the man who arguably started it all. The industry, obviously improved over the last century. NFL Films chronicling football in the US is the beneficiary of all those improvements.
NFL Films uses equipment far removed from the Kinetoscope to capture National Football action. However, they still use mostly film saying: “Film has a sense of history about it, video is too immediate. Film is like wood, it has texture. Video is like formica – it is shallow and one dimensional.” NFL Films operates its own in-house 16mm and 35mm color negative processing lab.
NY Giants' Deon Grant (34) stops intended receiver Green Bay Packers' Jordy Nelson (87).
The sports recording company, as legend would have it, began with a 16mm camera that Ed Sabol received as a wedding gift and subsequently used to shoot his son’s football games. Later, as Blair Motion Pictures, he bid and won the rights to film the 1962 football championship game at Yankee Stadium between the New York Giants and the franchise that was to win the 2011 Super Bowl, the Green Bay Packers. See the video at the end of this story.
Sabol convinced the NFL that they needed to promote the sport with their own film company. His studio became the NFL Film Studio and put out their first film, They Call it Pro Football, in 1965 with narration by John Facenda, a baritone-voiced newscaster.
Steve Sabol said of Facenda: "His voice enabled us to write lean, simple, muscular scripts that conveyed the passion and the struggle and the intensity of the game.” Sam Spence was the musical partner, composing 700 original scores with a 64 piece orchestra for the films before retiring. The first season of the NFL Films Presents series debuted on TV in 1967.
NFL Films Cameraman Stu Jacobs
Photo: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
The founder’s son, Steve Sabol, is now president of NFL Films. During football games, their productions take advantage of three camera positions which carry their own nicknames: Tree cameras mounted above the field capture every play; on the ground, Mole cameras shoot action from the player’s perspective, and Weasels are busy capturing the activity of sideline coaches, fans, and in the locker room.
Slow motion shots of the spiraling ball dropping into the hands of the receiver are a trademark technique that leaves viewers amazed. Camera equipment has included Sony HDCAMs, a Panasonic AG-HVX200, GoPro helmet cams, a Nikon D300 SLR camera, a Canon EOS 5D SLR camera, and Fujinon lens.
NFL Films’ productions have made them the premier client of Kodak Film’s 16mm. They won their 100th television Emmy for Hard Knocks which looks at NFL training camps. The NFL Films’ vault contains these and all their other films, plus earlier acquired works dating back to 1894. They are converting it all to HD format, but will retain the original film because it probably will not degrade as fast as tape copies might.
See the game that started it all here.