Penn Staters contribute to successful team effort at NFL Films

November 01, 2019

As the NFL season continues, one team — with several key players from Penn State — continually crafts strong performances, but its efforts do not get measured by league standings.

Instead, the dominance of NFL Films gets measured in accolades, awards and cultural impact. The company based in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, creates entertaining and impactful content that serves millions of fans every week, year round.

With more than 100 Sports Emmys since its inception in 1964, NFL Films in many ways ranks as the gold standard for sports documentaries and sports storytelling. Its approach has altered the expectations of consumers and prompted imitators, in sports and beyond.

“I think the company has such a reputation — not only nationally but worldwide — that it’s just such an honor to be associated with it for such a long time,” said John Weiss, a senior producer who joined the company in 1987. “It is the job I really dreamt about since being a kid.”

Weiss earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from Penn State in 1985, and had worked at The Daily Collegian as an undergraduate.

“The only resume I had sent out other than newspapers was NFL Films,” he said. “I knew nothing about filmmaking and had no experience. The only thing I knew was I loved NFL Films. I thought it was a far-fetched option. I sent the resume mostly on a whim.”

Weiss worked briefly as a sports writer and has been with NFL Films for 32 years. The company was hiring writers, which got him in the door, and its open-minded approach has both challenged and enabled him through the years as he’s written, edited and directed for a variety of shows. His favorite memory involves “The Walking Dead,” former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward and a cameo by Weiss himself.

More than a dozen of the company’s 250 employees are Penn Staters, many graduates of the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications. The company’s high standards and support of its employees resonate with alumni who work there, no matter their role.

“The best thing for me so far was just seeing how you can grow within this company and how they like to help you excel on your career path.”

— Ashley Tucci, a football operations coordinator and 2012 Penn State graduate

“The best thing for me so far was just seeing how you can grow within this company and how they like to help you excel on your career path,” said Ashley Tucci, a football operations coordinator who earned her bachelor’s degree in film-video in 2012. “Seeing that they want to help you out and grow and develop as a person is wonderful.”

Tucci is part of a team that coordinates audio/camera crews, staff, credentials, travel and security for NFL Films personnel as they travel to cover games during the season, as well as for offseason assignments. When the NFL playoffs begin, she accompanies those groups on site, helping ensure access to what they need to do their jobs.

Tucci has been with the company since 2014. “Now that I’m here, it’s where I want to be,” she said. “I didn’t know what my career path was, but this is home.”

Erin O’Toole, senior coordinator of player and talent relations, first joined NFL Films in August 2014 as an intern. She was promoted to a full-time role and now coordinates player and talent interviews and video shoots.

She spent a good part of the past year working on logistics for “Peyton’s Places,” the ESPN+ original series featuring former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning. Because of its many partnerships and its reputation, NFL Films content airs on a variety of outlets.

O’Toole helps balance what gets done when, which can be challenging and gratifying – often at the same time.

“I realize I have a job a lot of other people would want. It’s as cool as you would think it is,” she said. “But it also comes with sacrifices, working holidays, traveling a lot — but it’s always worth it in the end.”

O’Toole, who earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Penn State in 2014, said her undergraduate experience at Penn State helped ensure her career success.

“Oh gosh, it prepared me in so many ways — good education, always able to think on my feet, able to communicate well with others, very strong writing skills,” she said. “Especially in this industry, you have to be able to adapt and think on your feet. I learned a lot of that through my coursework and activities. When you’re on a campus with so many students, you’re doing that all the time.”

“Especially in this industry, you have to able to adapt and think on your feet. I learned a lot of that through my coursework and activities.”

— Erin O'Toole, senior coordinator of player and talent relations at NFL Films and a 2014 Penn State graduate

 

Associate producer Eric Reed, who earned his journalism degree in 2011, said much of what he learned at Penn State transferred to his role at NFL Films as well. He said opportunities at CommRadio, followed by his own internship at NFL Films, enabled him to embrace opportunities to edit, direct and write — whatever the company offered him to attempt.

“It’s just a grade-A organization. The people are dedicated and talented,” Reed said. “Being able to see people enjoy something I created is the most exciting part. Earlier this year, I did the ‘Get Back Coach’ and that seemed to really catch on with a lot of people. It was talked about on ‘Good Morning America’ and all kinds of things.”

Reed said working for NFL Films represents his dream job. His father accompanied him to the Super Bowl when the hometown Philadelphia Eagles won, and then he took a plane home at 2 a.m. and edited a segment about the decisive “Philly Special” that morning.

“We work odd hours. We work late hours. To me, when I step outside this building and realize I just spent 15 hours watching football — pretty much that’s what it all boils down to — that’s a great feeling. I don’t see that feeling going away anytime soon.”

Commitment like that from talented employees is important for an organization that creates 4,000 hours of programming annually.

Archivist Blaise Deveney, who earned his film-video degree in 2017, shares that feeling. Deveney said his on-campus experiences — especially with Big Ten U and the Penn State Hollywood Program — prepared him well for what he does now, while offering room for growth.

He helps track and manage NFL Films’ expansive repository of footage. The company creates 4,000 hours of annual programming that gets broadcast by dozens of partners on a variety of outlets.

“As a film-video major, the practical side of the skills there can translate into anything,” he said.

NFL Films goes beyond football. It has filmed the World Series, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Final, Davis Cup, Kentucky Derby, Wimbledon, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, among others.

The company is known for its programming, and the quality of that programming. Producer Shannon Furman, who earned her journalism degree in 2003, proudly upholds that tradition. She’s in charge of shows such as “Hard Knocks” and “Hey Rookie!”

An Emmy Award-winner, she celebrated her 15th anniversary with NFL Films in July. Most of that time she’s been on the road, traveling 150 to 200 days each year.

The people here have a passion for football and for storytelling. It's a challenging and inspiring atmosphere. I can't imagine doing anything else.

— Shannon Furman, producer at NFL Films and 2003 Penn State graduate

From January until the NFL Draft, she's focused on duties for "Hey Rookie!" — the behind-the-scenes show that follows some former college football players during their transition to professional careers. Previous seasons have starred Penn Staters Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley. Then April and May mean editing on shows like "Top 100," followed by planning for "Hard Knocks" in May.

That popular show airs annually on HBO and follows one NFL team through its training camp. June means more research for the show, and then some down time in July follows before training camp in late July through September. After that, it’s the NFL season itself — usually a weekly variety of assignments.

She enjoys all of it and, even as more sports storytellers compete for stories, she’s not afraid to brag about what she does. She promotes the company to young NFL players (some of whom have multiple offers to work with production companies), fellow alumni and even Penn State students when she makes one of her regular visits to campus.

“A lot of people do what we do, but not as well as we do,” Furman said, regarding their draft programs. “Because we are the NFL, we have access others do not and that matters. Plus, the people here have a passion for football and for storytelling. It’s a challenging and inspiring atmosphere. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Last Updated November 01, 2019