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The Trailblazer Behind the Lens of Hard Knocks & NFL Films

Hannah Epstein has spent eight years with NFL Films shooting a variety of work on shows, games, events, and special projects like a six-day hike up Mount Kilimanjaro for a shoot that took roughly two weeks.

But she's truly making her mark and blazing her trail, as she's the first female staff cinematographer in Films history.

Though she said it's still hard to put into words what that achievement means to her, she's starting to see the impact it has on the next generation of women looking to get into her line of work.

"When I decided I wanted to follow this career path and get into this line of work, it never occurred to me in that process that doing it as a woman was something unique or a first or anything like that," Epstein said. "I just wanted to be a sports cinematographer at NFL Films. Going into it, I didn't know that women didn't do that job frequently, and it's only been in the last few years that people have drawn attention to it that I've come to realize what is so special about it is the fact that I'm hopefully opening the door for other young women to do what I do."

She is one of seven women working on Hard Knocks: Los Angeles this season.  A camera assistant on the show actually reached out to her previously and is now getting the chance to work with her.

Epstein originally got into the visual arts via still photography then became a film major in college and set out to work for NFL Films.

If you caught Episode 1 of Hard Knocks, you saw a montage of Justin Herbert throwing into nets for what quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton deemed "target practice." There's a shot in that montage that belongs to Epstein – a view from behind the net as the ball drops in.

"That segment came together with our directors saying this is obviously an important scene so we had three cameras covering it," she said. "I happened to be what we call the weasel camera that day, so I get to kind of roam without sound and shoot any artistic angles I can find. So just knowing that he's one of our big storylines this year being the rookie quarterback, I figured him at target practice would be worthwhile so I set up behind the net and that was that!"

It's shots like the one of Herbert that are synonymous with the work of NFL Films. Anyone who has grown to know the work of Films is aware of how the cinematographers turn football footage into works of art, and Epstein said that's "exactly" why she decided to work there.

"I think that NFL Films has always made sports look more beautiful than any other sports cinematography. I know people say we set the standard for sports cinematography, and I don't know if this sounds bad to say now that I work here, but it feels good to work for the company people say is the best!"

As for advice for those aspiring to pursue a career in sports cinematography, Epstein says it all comes down to practice. 

"You could kind of draw parallels to being an athlete. That's part of what I've loved being a part of this job (and) being an athlete myself, is that it's a physical skill set that takes physical practice. So, my boss always said, 'Reps, reps, reps. Go out and shoot anything you can.'"

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