NFL Films latest documentary, “Elway to Marino”, airs tonight on ESPN at 8pmEST with a re-airing immediately following at 9:30EST. Director Ken Rodgers discusses the biggest challenge he faced while making the film.
In “Elway to Marino”, we take an in-depth look at the details behind the 1983 NFL Draft. I’m still shocked by how many teams attempted to trade up to pick John Elway in the number one slot; and by how many teams passed on Dan Marino, who ended up being drafted 27th.
It’s intriguing stuff, but it’s also completely devoid of supporting visual footage; no one had cameras rolling as agents talked with general managers or head coaches called scouts. So my very first concern was quite simple: “What do we put on screen if none of these discussions were ever recorded?”
And then something quite magical happened. I was watching the NFL Films footage of that draft day, shot by a young cameraman named Hank McElwee, and couldn’t take my eyes off the room the draft was held in – a small ballroom in what was then the New York Park Sheraton. It was striking to see how different everything looked compared with today. Thirty years ago, ESPN was in its infancy, Mel Kiper had not yet appeared on air and the entire draft room held under two hundred people.
Hank McElwee is now the Director of Photography for NFL Films. When I showed him his 30-year-old footage, he too laughed at how far the draft has come. After a few minutes of remembering “the good old days”, the two of us, along with Brian Murray (Co-Director of Photography on this film) decided to make a road trip up to New York so we could see the old draft room for ourselves.
The trip was made out of curiosity, but what we found was a solution to my problem of what to put on screen. The room itself became the visual bedrock of the film. Check out the video below to see how we transformed the ballroom and traveled back in time.