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Ask a Filmmaker: David Dart, NFL Films - Answers

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David Dart, NFL Films staff cinematographer

The questions are in and the answers are back! A big Thank You to NFL Films cinematographer Dave Dart for taking the time during playoffs to answer questions from our readers! You all came up with some great ones with topics including focus pulling, film stock preference, shooting style, and the romanticism of football on film.

There's a reason NFL Films has won over 100 Emmy® awards, and here's a sneak peak at how they do it!

I've loved "Inside the NFL" for over 30 years. Even as a young kid I was aware that the incredible footage I was captivated by was on film. I'm sure most of today's audience can feel the difference of the aesthetic, but do you think most people know why?

I’ve had this thought many times. Live television and video based shows have a “this is happening right now” feel. With film the simple fact that it has to go through a chemical process doesn’t have a live feel. I have always thought Inside the NFL felt like going to the movies because we shoot it on film. We like to think of it as more romantic, if football can be romantic.

What is the most important piece of advice you would give to a young cinematographer?

First is take art classes. Learn what is good composition, lighting and color. Now that you know that, get a still camera and put all that knowledge to good use. If you have access to motion picture cameras, start shooting movies using the principles from the stills, after all we are shooting 24 still frames a second. Work wise, work all jobs because you can learn from everything. Weddings for portraits. News covering events. Sports following fast action. Get behind the camera and shoot.

There have been a number of games played in very cold weather recently. What challenges do you face with cold weather? (I.e. how do you keep the lens from fogging up?)

To start with, I need to keep warm so I can do my job. Layers are the best way to stay warm and not get to bulky. Only during extreme weather have we had problems. I’m talking well below 0 degrees. I’ve never had problems with lenses fogging up in cold, the problem is the viewfinder. That fogs up quick. The cameras have heated eyepieces. ... Putting a rain cover or sound barney on the camera can also help keep it warm. I’ve had to go into locker rooms right after a cold game and this is where the lens will fog up. I’ve learned to keep a second lens warm for the inside shoots coming in from the cold.

Can you give some tips on how to focus from the baseline on a player with the ball who is running toward your direction (basketball/ football game)?

First, don’t try to anticipate focus. When the subject is running towards you as soon as it starts to look out of focus then start focusing. I know it doesn’t sound right but with practice you will understand. Chasing focus is the worst feeling, you will feel nothing is ever in focus. Also, zooming out as the subject is getting closer will help keep focus.

What is your favorite film stock to shoot, and why?

I try not to have a favorite because I want to use what is best for the project. I’ve used 500 ISO in bright daylight and 50 ISO at night. It’s all project driven.

When the 50 yard line is lit up by the sun, but the 20 yard lines are in shadows, do you rack your f-stop at all when a play goes from sunlight to shadow?

Our colorists don’t like us to change the iris. It’s easier for them to do it in post. What we do is set our iris in the middle. If the shadow is T4 and the sun T16 we shoot T8

What's a typical shooting ratio from week to week in terms of usable footage being shown in highlight reels?

It’s around four or five to one. Our ground cameras shoot 10 to 15 rolls of film depending on how many frames per second they shoot. The editors then special roll the footage for all the good plays and it ends up being two to four rolls, maybe five, if the game is particularly good.

Because NFL Films produces so many types of shows besides just highlight reels, how does that affect how you shoot a game?

It really doesn’t. We have to cover the game. Sometimes we will get special requests to focus on certain players, but only if it doesn’t affect our normal game coverage

What is one of the challenges you have faced on game day, and how did you “tackle” it?

For me it’s always the bad weather. Blowing rain is the worst. When I have to wipe the lens clean after every play it gets annoying.

What do you think makes NFL Films so special and unique?

First, it is the people. We have great camera men, sound men, producers, editors, production managers and post production personal that make our job easier. Then, the building itself. In the one building we write, shoot, process film, color correct, edit, music, post everything and even record a symphony when needed. It’s a great place to work.

Thank you again to Dave Dart for giving us an opportunity to get a glimpse of what being an NFL Films cinematographer is like. Looking forward to seeing your footage after the big game Sunday!

About David Dart

David Dart is an NFL Films staff cinematographer. Over the last 27 years, he has shot Super Bowls, World Series, NBA Finals, Woman’s World Cup Finals, and for the last 14 years the Kentucky Derby. David has won three Emmys® for outstanding sports cinematography. In addition to shooting game action for NFL Films, David and the staff are busy filming commercials, biographies, documentaries, and the HBO series “Hard Knocks.” David first began shooting sports over 30 years ago while attending the University of Kansas.

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Tweet from local sports reporter John Kucko who recently caught up with the NFL Films crew in Tampa, Florida.