NFL Films has eyes and ears all around the Napa Valley Marriott. There are six documentary camera crews trying to blend into the background, with 14 more robotic cameras set up to catch important moments of this Raiders training camp. And be careful what you say around big names. They're all wearing a wire.
All that data collection results in 350 hours of raw footage per week that "Hard Knocks" showrunner Ken Rodgers' 25-editor team condenses into a single HBO episode. They do that five times in as many weeks, before yelling cut on another installment of the long-running documentary show focused on an NFL team's training camp experience.
Rodgers pulled back the curtain for Raiders fans on this week's Raiders Insider Podcast, explaining exactly how a truly unscripted show comes together in a flash and why the Silver and Black proved an ideal feature subject.
That last fact seems clear. The Raiders are a year away from Las Vegas relocation. They employ TV-friendly head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock. There's Derek Carr and Antonio Brown and three first-round picks and Vontaze Burfict and even Richie Incognito on the roster.
Those subjects will undoubtedly be addressed on the show, but exactly how remains a maddening mystery to those involved.
"All I want to do is plot out storylines for the first show," Rodgers said, from NFL Films' New Jersey home base. "It's anxiety out the ears right now around NFL Films, because we can't start putting the story together. Why? The story hasn't happened yet. It takes great discipline to not jump ahead and say were going to this story and then that one. We just have to see what happens."
The 32-person crew already has boots on the ground. They have been filming in Napa since rookies reported Tuesday, and have done feature work with some of the team's biggest starts.
That still doesn't provide a roadmap for five episodes. It's a directionless cluster right now, spread across an NFL Films office space.
"We're old school here. We use index cards," Rodgers said. "We put a show together big picture as we're editing segments with index cards. Right now, there are 90 player cards on the board. And there are other cards about the coaching staff. The strength staff is there, with Deuce Gruden possibly making the show. There are cards on the board like the move, or ownership or position battles. We have one for the punter position battle.
"…It's just situational football and we're situational filmmakers. We can only go with what happens. We can't decide on a show and then execute it. We have to decide which of those cards comes to life we start filming."
Rodgers wants his on-site crewmembers leaving the smallest possible footprint, a talent develop over year documenting this show and other NFL Films work.
Let's be honest: the Raiders didn't want them there. Owner Mark Davis was clear about that in March, saying this wasn't the year to document a Raiders summer. It's happening now, and the Raiders will handle it by ignoring flies on the wall.
The Raiders were among five teams who could be forced to accept the added attention. While Rodgers and NFL Films don't disclose the selection criteria, this was an easy decision.
"It's a complicated algebra that we go through," Rodgers said. "There's a sense of who, nation-wide, people are interested in. …Everyone, just from the beginning, listed the Raiders as the best team that could possibly appear on "Hard Knocks." Not because of any reason other than people want to know what's going on with the Raiders. Sure, the coach will be interesting, but the franchise is in a really interesting spot. They're almost between towns right now. There is a lot going on there, both on the field and under the surface for the franchise in general."
The show will spend some time with Brown, and certainly Carr and owner Mark Davis. There's more to the show than that, however, which wants to keep focus on football. That means position battles and unheralded rookies will be featured as interest develops. While no one knows how the show will plot and eventually end, odds of great theater are high.
"The Raiders are in the midst of a sea change in their philosophy, their roster, in their front office, everything is changing," Rodgers said. "That creates stakes. It creates tension. Are they going to reach their goal or not? I think everyone knows who will be on the Patriots, but the Raiders have to find some players. There's a sense of urgency that just isn't everywhere in the league. That's going to make it a really exciting season."