NFL Films

Good Grades: Color Grading at NFL Films with Chris Pepperman

March 23, 2021

In this installment of Good Grades we sit down with Sr. Managing Colorist at NFL Films, Chris Pepperman.


Series

Good Grades Episode 3: Chris Pepperman

Hello Mixing Light! Welcome to another episode of Good Grades.

We’re back with a deep dive at one of the most celebrated sports filmmaking and broadcasting companies in the world: NFL Films.

Every trip to NFL Films starts by passing by the statue of former NFL Films president Steve Sabol, son of NFL Films founder Ed Sabol. Steve lost a battle to brain cancer in 2012 and is considered one of the greatest sports documentarians in history. Image courtesy of NFL Films

Today, we’re speaking with Chris Pepperman. He’s the Managing Senior Colorist at NFL Films in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey. Since 1989, Chris has been working in post-production, spending the majority of his career at the NFL. I worked for Chris for two seasons as a colorist on his team.

NFL Films’ new HDR grading theater, featuring a Sony-X310 and Flanders XM651U. Image courtesy of NFL Films

In order to understand the context of Chris’ job, as well as NFL Films as an organization, let’s break down the fundamentals of what Chris’ department handles.

About NFL Films

When you watch a football game on a Sunday, there are two groups of cameras rolling at the stadiums. First, there are the broadcast cameras that telecast the live games to networks like CBS, Fox, and NBC. Those are not the cameras we’ll discuss in the episode.

The second group of cameras makes up the production arm of NFL Films. Dating back to the 1940’s, film cameras have been used to capture every NFL game. They shoot pre-game, every play, and everything that happens in-between from multiple angles. Until the early 2010s, S16mm and 35mm film cameras were used before the league switched things up. Now, Arri Amira cameras are utilized.

 

Here’s NFL Films’ lab, operating at full capacity back in the day. Image courtesy of NFL Films

Every NFL game has a top camera in the stands recording a wide shot of every play at 24p. Down below at field level, any game can have various amounts of cameras recording between 24-120fps throughout the entire game. The Super Bowl utilizes up to 32 cameras!

NFL Films shot (and now archives) a lot of film dating all the way back to the 1940’s. Image courtesy of NFL films

There are also cameras capturing sound, as well as special cameras that might follow a coach or star player. These teams of ‘combat cinematographers and sound mixers’ along with Chris’ team of colorists at NFL Films headquarters make up the timeless, glorious ‘NFL Films look’.

In addition to the Sunday workflow, NFL Films produces (and grades) the majority of content for NFL Network, as well as some of the most beloved sports documentary programs on TV across HBO, Showtime, Amazon, ESPN, NBC, and more. They set the bar for sports journalism and filmmaking.

One of many walls of Emmy’s that fill out NFL Films offices. Image courtesy of NFL films

That’s enough background, on with the interview! In this installment, we discuss:

      • Chris’ origins in telecine color correction at Manhattan Transfer (which would eventually morph into what we know as Company 3)
      • The meat and potatoes of what a career in color correction takes
      • Forming collaboration and report with cinematographers
      • NFL Films’ Sunday workflow, evolving from the ’90s through the 2020s
      • NFL’s film lab (yes, we’re talking celluloid, folks!)
      • The challenge of coordinating 8 colorists over a 16-hour shift
      • The importance of relying on core primary grading tools
      • Creating NFL Films’ custom LUTs
      • Discussing Chris’ finishing work for top brands and agencies
      • The creation of NFL Network, and the shift in supporting it at Films
      • Discussing Chris’ work on top football shows like Hard Knocks, All or Nothing, Inside the NFL, and Peyton’s Places
      • Working remotely for the first time in NFL history
      • Creating a safe hybrid working environment for in-office color correction
      • Building a top-notch HDR grading theater
      • Working in real-time creating Super Bowl content while the game is happening
      • NFL Films’ elite internship program
      • Advice for college students and new colorists
Chris’ home grading setup – I dig the scopes above the reference monitor. Image courtesy of Chris Pepperman

Thanks for watching, listening, and exploring. See you next time! Let me know who we should interview soon in the comments : )

-Jason


 

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