Training Camp

‘Hard Knocks’ execs discuss decision-making for Episode 1, what to expect in coming weeks

It’s no surprise that the Browns were selected as the 11th team to be featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks, which premiered Tuesday. The history of the franchise, the personality of the city and the team’s recent play all served as themes in the debut episode. 

After months of filming and editing in preparation for the first episode, HBO Sports executive vice president Peter Nelson said it’s clear the Browns were the right call.

“It’s always a process and you’re always wondering which team it’s going to end up being,” Nelson said during a panel discussion Tuesday before the episode’s premiere. “Obviously, given what the Browns have been through the last few seasons and the kind of seismic shift of the narrative that we’re hoping for for Cleveland, this was the perfect moment and the perfect team.”

And after around 400 hours of film, the NFL Films crew trimmed it down to a one-hour production, showcasing the Browns first week of training camp. Yes, that’s as difficult of a process as you would think. Each day, the film crew and production personnel are on the field and in the facility, filming and flagging important events. After the day’s work, they’ll pour over the film and see what they flagged from each position group as “important.”

They aren’t alone, however, in scouring over the film. Crews are working around the clock in NFL Films’ Mount Laurel, New Jersey, studio to find anything the on-site crew misses. As the hours ticked down to the premier, NFL Films was still editing; NFL Films director Tim Rumpff guessed that his team finished editing around 6 p.m. on Tuesday for the 10 p.m. show.

Since the editing process doesn’t end until Tuesday, something that happened Monday or the few days before, such as the Corey Coleman trade, could have been in the first episode. But Rumpff and the NFL Films crew decided to hold off on that storyline until the second episode; they want time to show the fallout.

“You look at it as ‘how does this fit in the show — big picture for the series, how does it fit?’ And it’s something that actually ended up — we cut it together, we put it in Show 1, and we looked at it. Is Show 1 better with it or without it? And what we came to the conclusion at the end of the day was: Show 1 was pretty great without it. The reason to save it is because in Show 2 we can show really what the fallout is. Which wide receivers will step up in his place? How does the team deal with not having him?”

One moment the crew decided needed to be in the first episode was the loss of Browns head coach Hue Jackson’s mother, Betty Lee Jackson. The show chronicled the heartbreak of Jackson and the outreach from general manager John Dorsey, as well as players and coaches. It was a tear-jerking moment in the show, but Rumpff and Nelson agreed that it was a moment most people can relate to, so it was a must.

Another must was the inclusion of a profanity-laced, inspirational speech by wide receiver Jarvis Landry. The speech came after the wide receivers had a turbulent day, and Landry had seen enough. NFL Films had no choice but to put it in the first episode; it was one of the highlights.

The show, with all its highlights and personal moments, is built on trust. NFL Films and HBO don’t give away any scheming the Browns do in meeting rooms, and the Browns know that. But the crew has cameras throughout the facility nearly at all times, and the organization trusts the entire enterprise.

“It’s really about telling the story,” Nelson said. “We’re not a sports network. We’re a storytelling platform, and that’s what this show is destined to do.”

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