A ‘Nothing’ Season for Rams Turns Into Compelling TV

6:04 | The MMQB
24 Hours … with Sean McVay
Friday July 14th, 2017

On Dec. 12, in a team meeting room, Los Angeles Rams punter Johnny Hekker fights back tears as he stands to address his teammates.

“That man is gone because of us,” Hekker says. 

He’s talking about head coach Jeff Fisher, who has just left the room for the last time. Some of his former players openly sob, others sit in stunned silence, processing the fact that their leader was fired that morning.

The aftermath of Jeff Fisher’s post-Week 14 dismissal is one of the most compelling scenes from NFL Films Amazon Original series, All or Nothing: A Season with the Los Angeles Rams. In its first season, the series followed the 2015 Arizona Cardinals, a 13-3 team that was one win away from reaching the Super Bowl. This season in L.A. went an entirely different direction—a franchise on the move, a losing season, and organizational dysfunction. The MMQB talked to NFL Films coordinating producer and All or Nothing show runner Keith Cossrow and the director of the series, Shannon Furman, about the challenges of making the 4-12 Rams season into a compelling series of binge TV.

All eight episodes of All or Nothing: A Season with the Los Angeles Rams are available now on Amazon Prime Video.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

KAHLER: NFL Films also produces the show Hard Knocks, which focuses only on the training camp period and coincidentally also featured the Rams last August. What are the biggest challenges in following a team for an entire season as opposed to just a few weeks?

FURMAN: I think for us, one of the biggest things is that guys don’t see the product until the end. On Hard Knocks, we film for 17 days before the first show airs. Even that is a lot at the time, everybody is waiting to see what this is going to look like. For All or Nothing, since this is such a new series, there are some guys who don’t even know what the series is. So they see you around and they are wearing wires, and you are going home with them and they’re like, What are we doing? Where does this end up? So for me in the field, that is one of the biggest challenges, that they don’t actually get to see what is going on. I remember when [Rams linebacker] Mark Barron had the interception against his former team, the Bucs, I was telling him, Oh the shot is great, wait until you see it! And he was like, Okay when do I see it? And I’m like, well, next July.

COSSROW: On the back end here at Films, it is such a different process because Hard Knocks is happening in real time, we are trying to make a movie in real time. The turnaround on Hard Knocks is insane and there is nothing really like it in TV. It’s great, it’s amazing, it is a high wire act. And this show is obviously not airing until several months after the season ends. So we’re collecting about 1,200 hours of footage without shaping it right away. We are logging it all and figuring out stories and storylines, obviously tracking the season very closely, but we’re not editing until November or December, and at that point you get a chance to edit it all at once. So even though it is eight episodes, it’s a binge show that is going to drop all at once. So you do get that experience as a storyteller of thinking of it as one big movie or a novel that is told in eight chapters. That sort of storytelling that has become so popular and is so enjoyable. It is a totally different process for us as filmmakers and storytellers on both ends.

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KAHLER: Have you heard any feedback from the players or coaches featured in the series?

FURMAN: Yeah actually we have, and it has been really positive, which has been great for us because it was a difficult year. I’ve heard from Aaron Donald and the Keenums. I’ve heard from probably almost all of the coaches. Everybody seems to really think that we have portrayed them very fairly and showed their hard work through a very difficult situation.

KAHLER: Have you heard anything from Jeff Fisher? The scenes from the moments after he was fired were so powerful, I’m interested to know what he thinks of it. 

FURMAN: Coach Fisher has watched the whole series. He likes it. He’s been around for such a long time that he understands what life in the NFL is like and I think he saw the value in having us being able to show how close they were in some of those early games and how quickly things can go wrong even though they are all working extremely hard. At no point was he ever reluctant throughout the season. We knew it was going to be tough going into it, they moved the whole franchise. So we knew we probably weren’t going to be in the NFC Championship like the Cardinals the year before, but we still thought it was valuable. It was still a historic year for the NFL and L.A., which is one of the big reasons why we went forward with this. It didn’t go the way Coach Fisher wanted it to go, but I think he really saw the value in us being able to show a group of people working hard and things just didn’t go the way they had planned.

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COSSROW: That response from the players and the coaches and Coach Fisher, I think it speaks to what is unique about this season of All or Nothing and why I think it is worth checking out. We’ve never had a chance to tell a story like this before, in 55 years of making football movies at NFL Films. Like Shannon said, I think they all recognized the value of what we are trying to do here, in showing a side of life in the NFL that people don’t ever get to see. This is what happens when a season goes bad. When you watch the show, you’ll see it’s not because they aren’t working hard and it’s not because they aren’t trying their best, and it’s not because they aren’t talented players and brilliant coaches. It’s a razor’s edge, the NFL, and a lot of those games early in the season could have gone either way, and are decided on the last drive of the game. That team could have been 5-2 or 6-1 very easily, and to see it not go their way, and then that snowball starts to roll downhill on them and get away from them.

This happens to seven or eight teams every year in the NFL.That’s a lot of lives that get upended and a lot of coaches and families that have to start over again. It’s a really tough life. I think the players and coaches had a feeling of what we were going to do in the story, but after seeing it, it confirmed to them that we were going to tell the true story of what it’s like to have this happen. It’s not an indictment of anyone, so much as it is, here’s the reality of it. It’s hard and it can happen to anybody in the NFL.

The show captured many emotional scenes, including when punter Johnny Hekker addressed his teammates after learning their head coach was fired.
NFL Films

KAHLER: Unlike Hard Knocks, there is no camera in the coach’s office when shooting All or Nothing. Because of this, you guys weren’t able to capture the moment where Jeff Fisher finds out he is fired. Will you try to negotiate for cameras inside the coach’s office for next season? Or is that something a team would never agree to?

COSSROW: We have a meeting here next week before people leave for Hard Knocks, a final post mortem to talk about what we did well and what we can do better, and how we can improve the show, should we be fortunate enough to have a season three, and I’m sure we will talk about that. I think there are things we do in Hard Knocks, it is a limited six weeks, it’s during training camp, that it just might not be practical to do over four or five months. To have a camera in a head coach’s office running 12 hours a day, seven days a week for four months is a lot. It’s a lot of resources to expend, it’s a lot to ask of anyone to allow that. It’s something we will consider, it just might not be something that is practical for this show, or necessary. We get so much from just constantly wiring everyone on the field at practice, from being in all the meeting rooms. Yes, of course there are moments that you don’t get, but even if we have a camera in a coach’s office, what's to say he is not going to go outside and make a phone call on his cell phone? You can shoot 24/7 with 10 cameras and you’re still going to miss a lot of things. There is no way to prevent that.

KAHLER: You caught some pretty incredible scenes of the aftermath of Fisher’s firing, like when Hekker cries and tell his teammates, “That man is gone because of us.” Were you surprised by the raw emotion there that you were able to capture?

FURMAN: Probably not, just after being around the team for that long. Coach Fisher is a player’s coach. Those guys love him. By that time of the year, I had been around since the start of Hard Knocks and even before the start of Hard Knocks. I got a feel for that everyday how much these guys liked him. He is loyal to a lot of his players. He brought some guys with him from Tennessee, [wide receiver] Kenny Britt and [defensive end] Will Hayes. Those guys love him. I’ve been around a lot of teams in my 13 years with NFL Films and I’ve really never seen anything like it. I would even see star players from other teams come up to him pregame and tell him that they would love to play for him some day. It did not surprise me, the emotion that those guys had that day. Everyone had this feeling that Fisher was safe, himself included. A lot of the players thought this was going to be a free year because they moved and they had a lot of other stuff to go through, so everyone was pretty shocked and I think that emotion was really real that day.

KAHLER: What is the best scene that was cut from the final series?

COSSROW: People always love asking that questions, but I always watch these deleted scenes from movies or shows and they are usually deleted because they aren’t that good.

FURMAN: I’ll answer for Keith. I went to Paris for a day with the wives and that was cut out. It’s in the bonus scenes, but that was not easy to organize. I was French travel agent for the day, and I had never been to France in my life. I thought it was a fun scene, but we got a lot of great access in London that week, so at the end of the day, we went with the stuff that had the guys in it because we did a bunch of trips all around London with different players, so when it came time to cut something out, that went. But I thought that was a cool scene [because] that was something we’ve never done before.

COSSROW: It was expensive too. Our project manager was not happy. You make those decisions because you can only tell so many stories. There are only so many characters that an audience can be asked to really be invested.

KAHLER: Was there one guy on the team, either coach or player, who you felt most invested?

FURMAN: That’s easy for me. That was [quarterback] Case Keenum. Case is awesome, his wife is awesome. I had the chance to work with him in Houston also, back in 2013. Nobody works harder than Case. He’s a great leader. He has become a good friend. We were all rooting for him here, and he gave us a ton of access into what he was going through that year, especially as the quarterback of a team that just moved to L.A. I’ll continue to root for him. He’s in Minnesota now, so there’s a chance he might be playing again this year.

COSSROW: I think the other guy who emerges in the series and someone who you really root for is [special teams coordinator] John Fassel. He is a fascinating case. His dad is Jim Fassel, who coached the Giants, and we knew that he is a terrific special teams coach, with an interesting and fun personality. Shannon and the directors knew that from Hard Knocks, but we were very skeptical out here as to whether we would find a way to get him into the show. Shannon would call me and say, Keith, we’re going to shoot Coach Fassel on the beach with his wife and kids tomorrow night. And I would say, Shannon that’s great, I have no idea what we are going to do with that, but go for it! Maybe special teams will have a great game and we will find a way to weave him into the story somehow. And then lo and behold, everything happens and John Fassel becomes the interim head coach and in a lot of ways he was as shocked as anyone. You see this guy get thrust behind the wheel of a sinking ship. All of a sudden he is the head coach of an NFL team with three weeks left in the season. It is just a really emotional scene to watch unfold. He becomes a little bit of our proxy. He comes off as a very regular guy, someone we can relate. It was interesting to us to track his story.

Aaron Donald was in the middle of the action throughout the season for the Rams.
NFL Films

KAHLER: I was impressed that you somehow made the Rams home opener, where neither L.A. or Seattle scored a touchdown, look like a compelling game. The Rams went 4-12 and has a pretty miserable season. How challenging was it to make bad football look good?

COSSROW: So challenging. We’ve been editing football games for a long time here, so we’ve had a lot of practice. I think a lot of the techniques we’ve learned over the years—wiring players, bringing a lot of cameras, and looking for different ways to tell a story—make it less dependent on how many touchdowns are scored. In this series, the games function as another scene where you can get to know the players better and see the characters in action. Heading into a game, you will have been introduced to guys like [defensive tackle] Aaron Donald and [running back] Todd Gurley and then the games serve as payoffs or high points in action, even when there isn’t a lot of scoring or traditionally exciting action. You are still seeing your characters in a way that you want to know what happens to them. Aaron Donald is wired against the Seahawks and wreaking havoc against their offensive line and destroying Russell Wilson. That is compelling. It might not be that exciting when you are watching the Fox broadcast in Week 2 and you’re looking for fantasy stats, but in this context, there is a lot we can do to make it interesting.

KAHLER: I love the scenes where the players are hanging out together away from the facility, like the one where a group of guys are grilling out together at Robert Quinn’s house. How do those moments come together?

FURMAN: I spend many hours in the parking lot, stalking everyone. Rob was actually the only player on the team I really knew, going into Hard Knocks. That was Rob and Will Hayes and Aaron Donald, and their wives and fiancees. [The grill scene] actually came about through Rob’s wife, Christina. She had told us that they were going to be doing that and invited us by if we wanted to come and film for a little bit. A lot of it is through forming relationships with wives and mothers, because women are usually more dependable. We try to figure out what our storylines are and sometimes it doesn’t end up paying off in the games. We knew that moving was a storyline, so we started talking with [tight end] Lance Kendricks and his wife Danielle about their house, because they were doing a home renovation project. You’re just always looking for things to do, whether it is through the PR staff or forming relationships on your own. I don’t know that we will ever try to do a Hard Knocks team for All or Nothing ever again but it was nice having those relationships.

COSSROW: The scene Shannon mentioned with Lance and Danielle Kendricks—there is a scene with the two of them that is a great example with what we are trying to accomplish with off-the-field shoots in this series. He drops a crucial pass that would have been a touchdown against Carolina. It’s a devastating moment. It’s one of these games that they probably should have won. The defense played great but the offense just could not score. And then the next scene, you’re at their house and they are cooking dinner and they are talking about what happened and how difficult that is. Did you bring that home? How do you move on?  It’s not something you ever think about as fans when we watch a game and scream at our TV when a guy dropped a pass. You don’t think about, Oh, that guy is going to go home and have dinner tonight with his wife and sit and talk about that, or not talk about that. What we try to do is capture the mundane. When we ask players if we can shoot something with them off the field, we are not trying to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do. Can we just come home with you while you are cooking dinner or whatever it is you are going to do tonight?

Some of the best scenes from the show were filmed away from the football field.
NFL Films

FURMAN: When I shot with Rodger Saffold one night, we come over and they were filming with E! before we got there. It was a huge set with lights and Rodger and his wife said, Shannon, what do you want us to do? And I was like, I want you to do whatever you were going to do. I want you to feed your kids and put your kids to bed, I don’t want you to do anything that is fabricated. So that’s the scene where you see Rodger pulling the kids around in the cardboard boxes. It’s just natural. I usually say, Can we just come over tonight? Just eat dinner and I’ll throw some questions at you, we just want it to be real.

COSSROW: That’s the idea of the show. We want to give fans a chance to see what this life really is about and that means, do what you’re doing and let us come capture a little piece of it. I know a lot of people have asked, Why did you do the Rams? Why should we watch a series about a team that didn’t go anywhere? I think this season it is just as compelling as the last season, where we saw a team that almost went to the Super Bowl. Now we see the other side of that coin.

KAHLER: Which team will be featured next year?

COSSROW: We are in conversations with several teams and we certainly hope and expect to do a third season, so we will see what happens.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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