How do you make a behind-the-scenes television series about a National Football League season?
If you're showrunner Keith Cossrow, you find a way to embed a film crew with the team for more than a year. You collect more than 1,200 hours of footage, then spend seven months boiling that down to eight, 45-minute episodes. Oh, and it helps to work for a company that has a 55-year relationship with the league before you start.
As coordinating producer for NFL Films, Cossrow has led a team that has accomplished this feat — twice — with All or Nothing, a reality series produced by his company in association with Amazon Prime Video.
The first season of the Amazon Original, featuring the Arizona Cardinals, won an Emmy Award for outstanding serialized sports documentary. The new season follows the Los Angeles Rams' tumultuous 2016 return to Southern California and is now on Prime Video.
"We're pretty sure it's unprecedented what people are going to get a chance to see here," Cossrow said. "It's powerful, it's emotional, and I think you gain a new appreciation for what everybody in the NFL has chosen to make their profession, their livelihood. And it's a tough life, man."
The shooting for the new All or Nothing season began with the NFL draft in April 2016 and ended more than a year later.
A small group handled filming: lead director Shannon Furman, director Patrick Harris and one or two camera operators collaborated with one or two sound technicians at a time. The crew tried to blend into the background, Cossrow said, partly to be unobtrusive to the team and partly to keep secret which franchise All or Nothing was following.
We're pretty sure it's unprecedented what people are going to get a chance to see here.
"We're wearing team gear," Cossrow said. "We essentially just want to look like we're part of the team's video staff so that nobody really knows we're there. It's been a minor miracle that we're been through two of these seasons without anyone in the world knowing what we were doing until it was over."
Gaining the trust of the team, Cossrow said, is as important as any technical aspect. NFL Films has been doing business with the league for 55 years and also produces the training-camp series Hard Knocks for HBO. Furman had worked with the Rams on Hard Knocks in 2015, developing a good working relationship with Rams Coach Jeff Fisher.
Even before filming ended, the work of turning hundreds of hours of video into an eight-episode series began. That task fell to Cossrow, supervising producer Bennett Viseltear, senior producer Nick Mascolo and a team of about a dozen editors.
"We have to go through all of it to find the little gems that can illuminate the story and that are worthy of being seen by Amazon's audience," Cossrow said. "The story is constantly evolving. We will start editing the first cuts of show one in November. But by the time we lock picture on show one, it's February or March."
The final episode of the second season wasn't finished until late May.
The first season of All or Nothing featured the 2015 Arizona Cardinals, a strong team that came one game short of the Super Bowl, making for a series with a positive glow. Season 2 is decidedly different.
The Rams were an obvious choice to feature. Not only was the franchise moving back to Los Angeles after 22 years in St. Louis, but the team held the first pick in the NFL draft, which the Rams would spend on quarterback Jared Goff.
But a season that began with promise turned into a four-win, 12-loss disappointment, climaxing with the firing of head coach Fisher with three games to go. The series continues through interim coach John Fassel's tenure, the hiring of new leader Sean McVay — the youngest head coach in modern NFL history — and ends with the 2017 draft, with the Rams again hopeful about their new leadership and young talent.
The back story of the team's turmoil makes for compelling viewing for the audience.
The games form the centerpiece of All or Nothing, but practices, team meetings and the home lives of the players also figure prominently.
That means viewers get a close-up seat for a quarterback controversy, Fisher's public spat with former Rams star Eric Dickerson and Fisher's painful departure from the team.
How do the players feel about being under an even brighter spotlight than those in the NFL normally endure?
"Some players like it, some players don't," Cossrow said. "A lot of them understand it's part of the life they've chosen."
Of course, there is more to the series than just the Rams' challenges on and off the field.
"You don't want to just show eight hours of losing and misery," Cossrow said. "This is a story about a group of people who went through something together — something very challenging."
"The public knows what happened with the 2016 Rams, but I'm certain that no one has ever seen the aspect of the NFL and a side of life in pro sports that they're going to see this season in All or Nothing."
Michael Hewitt, the former television critic for the Orange County (Calif.) Register, is a lifelong movie buff and TV addict. He lives in Southern California and is working on his first novel.
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Published Jun. 27, 2017