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49ers Executive Producer Reflects on First Season

Posted Apr 8, 2014

San Francisco 49ers Executive Producer Robert Alberino Jr. detailed the process of joining a new team and previewed upcoming projects for 49ers Studios.


The following article recently appeared in issue No.2 of Sony's CineAlta Magazine.


Choices.

We all have to make them on large and small scales.  However, the choices that truly count are the ones whose repercussions and rewards are felt long after the choice is made and it becomes a distant memory.

In May 2013, I accepted a position as the Executive Producer of the San Francisco 49ers, a choice that would change the way I thought, created and produced.

I have worked in the National Football League for nearly two decades as a part of NFL Films under American Film icon, Steve Sabol. In addition, I moved on to work for historic franchises, the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles. With those experiences, I have had the distinct advantage of seeing professional football from multiple angles.  In those experiences, I also had the ability to make choices.  With both the Chiefs and Eagles, I was given the responsibility to create and foster in-house production groups that excelled and became widely known as elite production departments.

Taking on the task of creating a team’s in-house production group meant not only assembling the right personnel and conceiving a game plan for success, it meant acquiring the proper gear for today, and maybe more importantly, for tomorrow.  It all goes back to choices.

As my latest endeavor in Northern California became a reality, I was faced with creating my latest production outlet. It required a specific mission and critical pieces of gear on both the post and production side. The hardware we acquired became the backbone of newly formed, 49ers Studios. The choices made allowed us to create content for three extremely different properties.

Those properties began with the team’s website – a league leader in all things digital and video – and our window to the world for the 49ers Faithful, our global fan base.  Next, content would be created for two new television broadcasts that will debut in September of 2014, Forty Niners Way and The Faithful.  Lastly, and perhaps most visibly, content was needed for 1.4 billion dollar, Levi’s Stadium, the future home of the 49ers. The stadium, set to open in 2014, is widely touted as the most technologically sound stadium on the planet. It also boasts two of the largest outdoor boards in the NFL and will host events above and beyond just 49ers games; Super Bowl L and Wrestlemania 31 to name a few.

These three entities call for exceptional production with versatile and dependable gear that my team could grow with.  There was one simple choice for the franchise and that was to work with Sony Cameras and make Sony the bulk of our hardware as well.

WATCH: More Videos by 49ers Studios

With the commitment from Sony to make the purchases work beyond expectation for the 49ers, our new production workflow was born.  Sony’s F55 4K Cameras were the cameras of choice (we initially purchased three) and, prior to the 2013 football season, we would be one of the pioneers in North American professional sports to take this plunge.  The extreme versatility of the cameras afforded my producers and editors to shoot in multiple formats of HD, gorgeous slow motion, 4K internally (at 10-bit) or 4K RAW externally (at 16-bit), and even 4K XAVC and 1080p simultaneously to the same SxS card. This allowed us to immediately use 1080p footage off of the SxS cards while also recording 4K for archive purposes, flexibility in post, and future-proofing.  Our goal is to eventually move exclusively into the 4K world of post production, but the opportunity to work without stoppage while game planning for such lofty goals was a blessing. 

The camera offered more than just the latest in 4K technology to say the least.   With its native FZ mount, not being constrained by a more rigid lens mount and therefore adapting to the lens of our choice is a massive benefit.  In addition, each camera arrives equipped with a PL adapter.  With the expertise of the folks at AbelCine in Los Angeles, we tested a number of lens options and ultimately made the premier sports rig for our gameday shooters.  The flexibility of using familiar 2/3” ENG lenses (we purchased two Canon 22x lenses) with adapters such as AbleCine’s HDx35 allowed my team to not miss a beat when planning for action on the field.  For shooting the 4K content, we went with the Fujinon Cabrio 19-90mm servo lens, which communicated beautifully through the PL adapter.  Having the option to mix cameras shooting high frame rate (HFR) in XAVC HD, while others shot 4K RAW allowed us to capture imagery we never were able to in the past.  The cameras presented all of the tools at our disposal from easy access to menus and audio functions, to time lapse-like features and quick clip management.  Because the camera has been in heavy demand not only from our group but also from many others, firmware updates were happening often and version 3 added a 2K center cut mode - essentially doubling the length of lenses when recording in HD.  That not only is a major plus for our editors, but it means less lenses to lug around.  From what I’m hearing, version 4 in April will add both interval recording as well as picture cache.  The idea of potentially shooting the melt on the fly, at this level of quality, simply blows my mind.

All of this and support from a Sony crew that we have grown very close with means we are scoring on and off the field.

In our first year of operation, and with new cameras on our producer’s shoulders, the first phase of our plan – digital video and 49ers.com – skyrocketed to the top of the NFL charts. 

49ers.com ranked No. 1 on the NFL platform at video in content, traffic and engagement.  That video also meant huge numbers on our social media platforms as people flocked from our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts to view video (all of it shot with the F55s). It also made us the No. 1 team in the NFL in site visits from social media.  The way we produced and shot the content really resonated with our audience as we experienced a 361% increase from last year, three times better than the league's team average.

We aren’t foolish enough to think that cameras and gear alone will help a team or company achieve and exceed their goals – that accolade is more about the user than the gear, but having top flight equipment inspires, assists and is a huge part of the successes the 49ers franchise experienced in the first six months of owning Sony’s F55s.

As the product continually gets fine-tuned and firmware updates answer the users’ needs and challenges, our crews plot and plan for 2014.  Knowing full well that the F55s will be a part of our arsenal for the foreseeable future and beyond, we have already invested in a half dozen more cameras.  This way our stadium show can share in the growth that our production team realized over the past year.

Acquiring Sony gear is a choice I would gladly make again.