Shooting Flag Football for Public Consumption

Flag football kicks off the 2008 season this weekend, weather permitting.  I’ve already been out to Daniel’s practices, camcorder at the ready.  With a little practice and a little patience, football actually lends itself to being shot by a single camera unlike – say, basketball, where you need at least two cameras (three is better) to reasonably capture all the action.  Football games also lend themselves being shot as narrative.  Basketball is broadcast live with play by play.  Football is as well, but NFL Films has made an art form of editing highlights in the style of Sergei Eisenstein.

I’ve read a lot of articles that recommend shooting small snippets of the games and concentrate solely on your child’s achievements.  I disagree.  A football game, like all sports, is improvisation.  You don’t know the outcome or even where it could be going.  While I edit in camera for most things, I shoot every play of Daniel’s football games with the idea I will be editing it down later; once I know which plays are important and which aren’t.  I follow the ball wherever it leads.  Last year, Daniel played safety on defense.  He was a good fifteen yards away from the ball on most plays and wouldn’t have made a very exciting movie.

The nice thing about flag football is the time between each play.  It provides a natural place for editing.  It also provides the cameraman time to look away from the action on the field for “cutaway” shots.  Last year, I grabbed pictures of the referees, the crowd of parents, the coaches and the men on the sidelines with the down markers.  These shots came in handy to splice in-between the plays to add to the drama.

At the most, a flag football game runs about an hour.  Last year, I found I shot about 45 minutes of raw footage per game.  I got there early to capture practices and calisthenics.  I also shot everything as zoomed in as possible to reduce the depth of field.  This gave the shots a film-like look with soft backgrounds.  My video editing computer was a dinosaur.  I was running a free copy of Ulead VideoStudio that came with my DVD burner.  I dumped all the footage into my machine and would splice together a rough “highlights reel”.  This would include all the touchdown runs and any other spectacular plays.  From there, I would start filling in the gaps.  I added scenes here and there of Daniel and the other kids on his team if they happened to be in on the action and hadn’t been shown otherwise.  I also added the cutaways in true Eisenstein fashion: the crowd watching could be anticipating a touchdown score or dreading an interception; it depended on what was surrounding it in the narrative.

Once I had a pretty good idea of what the game would look like, I started playing with the playback speed.  NFL Films traditional use of slow motion can be emulated in even basic video editing software.  In Ulead VideoStudio, you have to adjust “playback speed” to a certain percentage.  If there was a lot of camera movement, I would slow things to 80% normal.  A steadier shot could be slowed down to 60%.  Crowds and referees could be slowed down to as much as 40% of normal without issues.  As Steve Sabol noticed in the 1960’s, football in slow motion is much more dramatic and the plays flow smoothly.

I bought a box set of the actual NFL Films music library.  Fans of the game know many of the themes by heart.  Like a lot of “industrial” music, the music for NFL Films tends to follow some general patterns through each song: for example, happy opening then sad then triumphant.  I could quickly trim the scenes to match the mood in the music.  Finally, I had to write some narration for the game.  This was a lot of fun for me; I tried to pay loving tribute to John Facenda and some of the great, over-the-top writing he performed for NFL Films.  While I’m no Facenda, I tried to keep that same low cadence throughout the narration.  The biggest difficulty was trying not to laugh out loud while doing it.


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