NFL Films: Sounds of Triumph and Defeat For nearly 50 years, NFL Films has shot pro football games, making highlights films and blooper reels and documenting gridiron moments great and small. Each movie has a soundtrack to set the mood.
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NFL Films: Sounds of Triumph and Defeat

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NFL Films: Sounds of Triumph and Defeat

NFL Films: Sounds of Triumph and Defeat

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At noon on Super Bowl Sunday - heh, who's playing this year, anyway? More than six hours before the actual kickoff, CBS will begin its coverage with the NFL Film's production, "Road to the Super Bowl." Now even people who don't consider themselves sports fans have probably seen an NFL Films production, in which much of the action is run in balletic slow motion, the narration is delivered from on high, and the music is magisterial as helmets collide, footballs soar, and linebackers are likened to Greek gods.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: Tom Heddon is the music director for NFL Films and one of the company's two composers. He joins us from NFL Studios in Mount Laurel, New Jersey.

Mr. Heddon, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. TOM HEDDON (Music Director/Composers, NFL Films): Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: What comes first: the football player or the music?

Mr. HEDDON: Often the music comes first. During the football season when we're making the weekly shows and the highly packages, it's too quick to turn things around. So we'll stock the barn full of music in August and put a bunch more in for the playoffs in November, and hope that we can make through the Super Bowl.

SIMON: Now, how does that work? Does someone come to you, as the composer, and say look, I'm looking for a recovered fumble that leads to 11 plays that result in a touchdown?

Mr. HEDDON: When it's a specific event we want to cover, we'll talk about that. But a lot of times it's before the playoffs begin and you have to take a look at the story of the season. And I thing both Dave and I have been doing this for a long time and we were both football players in high school as well as musicians. So we know we need some pathos, and we need some excitement, and we need some hits and rumble, and dark power, and all those kinds of things.

SIMON: Your Dave is your other composer, David Robidoux.

Mr. HEDDON: David Robidoux, yes.

SIMON: Hmm. Let's listen to one of your compositions now, if we can. I gather we call this the "Theme for the Lombardi Trophy." That's the Super Bowl trophy itself, right?

Mr. HEDDON: Yeah. This is actually Dave Robidoux's composition.

(Soundbite of music, "Theme for the Lombardi Trophy")

SIMON: That's great!

Mr. HEDDON: We try.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: It gets my blood pumping. How taxing is it to try and come up with new compositions to - I mean, my love of sports notwithstanding - to describe the same basic set of 20 plays or storylines?

Mr. HEDDON: It is the same stories over and over. It's triumph and it's failure, and it's striving. But it's - they're basically human stories and every person that comes into every game brings a whole new set of circumstances with them. Last week, with the Colts game, you know, you had Adam Vinatieri switching from the Patriots to the Colts last summer. And having beaten the Colts so many times in the playoffs, it was, you know, all we have to do is think about it for a few minutes, that all weeklong Patton Manning and Adam Vinatieri are staring at their ceilings, not sleeping, to know that it's going to be really easy to get inspired to write the music for it.

SIMON: I want you to tell us about this next piece of music that we're about to listen to. It's called "A New Game."

(Soundbite of music, "A New Game")

SIMON: Now, what should we be envisioning in our minds? Wait...

Mr. HEDDON: (unintelligible) some adversities.

SIMON: ...let me guess. The frost on Lambeau Field.

Mr. HEDDON: Absolutely, always. I once had a producer say to me that we're doing a big documentary about Brett Favre, and you need to write some music about Brett Favre. And I said every piece of music I've ever written is about Brett Favre.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: We have to explain Brett Favre is a longtime, and perhaps now retired, quarterback for the Green Bay Packers.

Mr. HEDDON: That piece, "A New Game," actually was written for a much more serious discussion. It's about, I guess, overcoming adversity. And it was written for the film "75 Seasons," to talk about the return of black athletes to the National Football League and the Cleveland Browns of the 1950s, and how really they changed the game of football with the fact that they were welcoming and one of the first teams to be completely integrated.

And I often laugh about how that piece was created. It was driving on the New Jersey Turnpike, so I guess it is about overcoming adversity and on its deepest level.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of music, "A New Game")

SIMON: Now, where is the orchestra come from? Is there an NFL Films Philharmonic?

Mr. HEDDON: Ah, yeah. It's constantly under refinement. But the Eastern Seaboard of the United States is very rich in musical talent, and players come from far a field and right here in the Philadelphia area to play for us.

SIMON: You've been there 15 years?

Mr. HEDDON: Close to 17, actually for me. And Dave, 16.

SIMON: How's the technology changed?

Mr. HEDDON: Immensely. From 1990 till now, it was film mag reels to digital workstations and everything in between. And I know that your listeners may not understand that, but your engineers are laughing. It's like going from stone tools etching on the cave wall to Ferraris.

SIMON: But you still use film no matter how much the technology has changed. Or is that changed to the degree that it's now video transferred to film, or something?

Mr. HEDDON: The preponderance of what we shoot is still film. There is some high-def videos sneaking in on the edges of things, but film is a look that's very hard to duplicate even with the most sophisticated video processes. So we're all still big fans of the film look here.

SIMON: And the name Sam Spence...

Mr. HEDDON: The master. The maestro.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. Sam Spence was the kind of original composer of NFL Films' music?

Mr. HEDDON: Not the first, but definitely the originator of the style. He brought a whole cinematic feel to it, that everyone else that's doing newsreel marches and he was doing big band jazz and orchestral, you know, war movie music. It just was a whole new way of thinking about it.

SIMON: Let's listen one of Sam Spence's compositions, "Up She Rises."

(Soundbite of music, "Up She Rises")

SIMON: I know this one.

(Soundbite of music, "Up She Rises")

Mr. HEDDON: The thing about that piece of music that strikes me as the most powerful part of it, is it started out as a kind of a joke song that was a sea shanty, I guess. And Steve Sabol remembered singing it around the campfire as a kid.

SIMON: Steve Sabol, of course, is the head of NFL Films.

Mr. HEDDON: Yeah, and sang it to Sam. And then described to Sam that he wanted it to come across like a winter battle at the Gates of Moscow. And you take those two elements and put them together and that's what you get. And somehow perfect to the Chicago Bears.

(Soundbite of music, "Up She Rises")

SIMON: Do the musicians play in slow motion?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HEDDON: They play loud. They play very loud. One of our French horn players - who's a total sweetheart and a brilliant musician - was sitting there and her lips were purple, and it was late in the afternoon and she looked. And I said actually, guys, what I need you to do is to play this section that's mezzoforte. Which is quieter than any of my music is usually written. And she raised her hand and she said, Tom, do you mean really mezzoforte, or NFL Films mezzoforte?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HEDDON: We're pretty hard on the horns players and the trumpet players. We make them play high, and we make them play loud, and we make them do it for the whole day. But...

SIMON: But, you know...

Mr. HEDDON: ...that's what makes football music.

SIMON: You got to play hard, don't you?

Mr. HEDDON: Absolutely.

SIMON: Mr. Heddon, thanks very much and a good Super Bowl to you, sir.

Mr. HEDDON: Oh, thank you, Scott. It's been a real pleasure.

SIMON: Tom Heddon is one of two composers of theme music for NFL Films, speaking with us from their studios in Mount Laurel, New Jersey.

(Soundbite of music)

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