MLB Productions Celebrates Phillies, White Sox Histories

by John Rice

The 125-year history of the Philadelphia Phillies is being
chronicled in a new DVD to be released by MLB Productions this month. “Phillies
Memories: The Greatest Moments in the Philadelphia Phillies History” is a 144-minute
program built from game highlights, archival and newsreel footage, and stills
and interviews with historians and past and current players.

A similar history of the Chicago White Sox is scheduled for
release in June.

“It’s a hot market opportunity,” explains David Gavant, executive
in charge of production for MLB Productions. “Obviously, the center of the
baseball world fell on Philadelphia
last year and we want to continue the momentum on that.”

To begin the process of documenting a century and a quarter
of a team’s history, Gavant says he starts in the MLB archives.

“The complete history of major league baseball is on
location with us here at MLB Productions,” he says.

He describes the archives as not being dissimilar to the
warehouse scene in the finale of Indiana
Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.

“Our archive goes back to our first image (Christy
Mathiewson throwing out a pitch) from 1905,” Gavant says. The years 1905 to
1943 are comprised mostly of movie reel films from companies like Pathe and
MovieTone news.

MLB Productions’ research team worked on the program’s
storyline, finding historians “who have written about the Phillies from their
early existence up until today,” Gavant explains. The research team will “fill in the story
lines with historical photos and newspaper headlines that are shot as table-top
elements in our studios.”

Gavant says that all the moving images come from the MLB
archives, but adds, “Our research department has a really fun time working on
these projects. They get to go back and find really unique images and talk to some
really passionate people. If there is a story that we hear and it’s a good one,
we’ll find a way to incorporate that into the show.”

Original material and interviews were shot with Panasonic

“We’ve had a five- or six-year relationship with
[Panasonic],” he says.

The cameras are configured with a teleprompter fed with a
shot of the interviewer, so all interviewees are looking straight into

Graphics for the program were created in Flame and audio
mixing was accomplished in MLB Productions’ Fairlight audio suite.

One challenge of such an historic presentation is how to
frame archival 4:3 images. MLB Productions has established a policy of
producing its SD programming in 16:9.

“We’ve had a lot of experience with that recently because of
the programming we’ve had to reformat for the MLB Network,” Gavant explains.

He also says the process is relatively easy and efficient with
Final Cut Pro, which MLB Productions is using for all of its editing and

“It’s a little more time-consuming [in zooming and panning
and scanning],” he says, but it’s definitely worth it. You can do everything in
Final Cut Pro.”

Surprisingly, much of the archival footage exists only on
tape. Original film footage was long ago dubbed to 3/4-inch tape and later
dubbed to Beta, according to Gavant.

“When you blow it up and convert it, [that footage] holds up
very well,” Gavant says. “When we can, we definitely go back to the original
film source material. But we only have the original source material from World
Series films,” which have been produced annually since 1943.

A number of All Star Game films also exist from the 1940s
and 50s.

The Phillies Greatest Moments and the upcoming White Sox DVD
are being released by Shout! Factory. Shout and MLB Productions have had an
exclusive arrangement for new title releases for the past four years.

“The quality of [MLB’s] productions is outstanding,” says Garson
Foos, president and co-founder of Shout! Factory. “We’re proud of the high
quality and standards they put to every project.”

A similar program on the Boston Red Sox was produced a year

“[The Phillies DVD] is the second of three titles we’ve
released under this umbrella,” Gavant says, “so it looks like we’re going to
move in that direction and start doing more historically-based programs on each
specific team.”

“Phillies Memories” is scheduled for release on May 26. “White
Sox Memories” hits the streets on June 30.

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