Blair Productions and its staff sounded impressive, but in fact it consisted only of Sabol, Endy, John Hentz, an editor, and Art Spieller, the production manager. Not for long, though.
With more than his own money now backing him, Sabol began expanding. First he bought an old building owned by M-G-M in Philadelphia. It had space, room for labs, offices, sound rooms, projection rooms and a plush theater as well as what appeared to be hundreds of bathrooms. "I wonder what their problem was?" says Sabol.
Then came the new faces. Sabol requirements were odd, to say the least. Experience? Not necessary. Maturity? Not wanted. Education? Who needs it? Sabol had but one prerequisite: the prospective employee must be insane about football. "They'll get the experience soon enough," was Sabol's explanation. "I want fresh faces with fresh ideas. I want to be shocked and amazed, and if I am you won't see anything ordinary come out of this place. You'll see new concepts, modern, bold, alive. These films will sing," he concluded in the best tradition of Hollywood.
A recent visitor to the studio said, "I didn't know if I had walked into a film company or a discotheque." He may never know. The place throbs with youthful exuberance, and it will so remain if Sabol continues to have his way.
Last fall NFL Films went into an orgy of activity that continues today. Sabol's crews cover every single game with two regular cameras and one slow motion, all in color. Work begins on Friday when editors and cameramen leave Philadelphia for the eight cities (seven if the Eagles are at home) where the games are to be played that week. They spend the next day searching out information, hints and rumors—anything that might give a clue as to what is going to happen in the game and what should be photographed. If Bob Lilly has been a tiger in scrimmages this week, the big Dallas tackle gets special treatment. If Lilly snarls, the cameras will catch it. Lilly gets a finger in his eye, the camera records it. Lilly wipes out a backfield in an explosive rush—got it.
When the sun goes down late Sunday afternoon and the players head for hot showers, the men of NFL Films grab their equipment and dash to the local airport. Their game is on. Washington is the rendezvous point and for good reason. Dan Endy has only 24 hours to get eight game films ready and a fogged-in airport would destroy the schedule. Washington, it was found, has fewer airport shutdowns than any other major city in the East, so NFL Films set up a shop in Georgetown, where the staff works for 24-plus hours from the time the first film arrives on Sunday evening until it is ready to go on the air Monday night.
It is on the plane ride back to Washington that the editors begin studying the shot sheets (the play-by-play account of the game), and by the time they land they have an idea of which plays are meaningful. Then comes the race for the laboratories where the film is processed. By the time the editors are in front of their viewers they know what they want and the job of putting the film together begins. It is hectic work and the pure enthusiasm of Sabol's young staff does not make the task any easier, although it does make things more interesting. "Look at that run," comes a cry from the editor working the Cleveland Browns' game. Time is precious and the editors are bleary-eyed but Leroy Kelly going 80 yards through a broken field is an irresistible interruption.
When the film is ready, Sabol reviews it and one of the editors writes the script. It is now 3 o'clock Monday morning, and while the original film is being whisked back to the plant, where two duplicate copies are made, Sabol's crew can sleep—until 6 a.m. The duplicates are back in the laboratory by then and an hour later the narrators arrive—Chuck Thompson from Baltimore, Jim Gibbons from Washington and Jack Whitaker from New York. When one of these three is not available, Frank Glieber from Cleveland fills in.
While all this is going on, the other working copy of the film is getting the once-over by Music Editor Frank Decola, who is deciding which cool sound goes where. The editors and Decola then coordinate their efforts, so that a clash of cymbals does not drown out Chuck Thompson's description of a blocked field-goal attempt.
And there it is—clean, vibrant and in color—by midafternoon on Monday. Eight hours later the first of the 123 prints are ready and are being rushed to the airport by motorcycle for shipment to 42 cities.