As impressive as Hard Knocks was on Tuesday, it's easy to forget the absurd amount of work put into each episode. Sure, there's always an appreciation of the work. The beautiful wide shots of the Cincinnati skyline; the fluid frame-rate as players collide in slow motion; the heartbreaking moments of a player's shattered dreams; the humor on display from both players and coaches even in the face of extremely hard work - all of it is absorbed by viewers. For five weeks, we are spoiled.
NFL Films Richard Owens wrote a blog on Thursday which chronicles some of the struggles and successes of Hard Knocks as it captures the moments NFL fans around the world feast their eyes on each summer. In his article NFL Film's Ken Rodgers, Supervising Producer of Hard Knocks, is well aware of what it takes to put together one hour of the annual training camp saga. "It's the toughest thing we do on a yearly basis," says Rodgers, "but it's also the thing we love most on a yearly basis."
Rodgers and his crew collaborate under urgent deadlines and nearly 300 hours of footage when they step foot onto the practice field as training camp begins. Owens writes:
Imagine embarking on a five-week film-making journey without knowing who your main characters are, little knowledge of the plot, and seven days to sift through 300 hours of footage for 60 minutes of the best stuff, formulate a cohesive story, put together a script, edit it, add music, and send it off. Now do that five times.
One of Rodgers' greatest memories in filming the Hard Knocks series is their time with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2009. It was no secret that NFL Films returned to Cincinnati in 2013 in an attempt to recapture a team that not only won them an Emmy in 2009, but to revisit a team that pushed the series forward and made Hard Knocks what it is today.
"Everything worked perfectly with the Bengals," [Rodgers] notes, "We had a team that was extremely interesting, we had a superstar in Chad Johnson that was really entertaining, we had great rookies, heartbreaking stories of injuries and players not making the team, and an organization that to this day has been the most welcoming in our history. To me, the show became what it is today in 2009 thanks in large part to the Cincinnati Bengals."
Enormous pressure and archives of film somehow come together into arguably one of the best NFL documentaries you can find anywhere. Perhaps one of the best analogies of a Hard Knocks production comes from the late Steve Sabol:
"Remember that producing Hard Knocks is like trying to build an airplane while in flight."
Fortunately for us viewers, we as viewers are spoiled to be experiencing the journey at a cruising altitude.