Madison Mackay and Stewart Bounds contributed to this article.
Jennifer Hansen is a successful Freelance Broadcast Camera Operator for the Utah Jazz. She also covers other professional sports including men's and women’s professional soccer, rugby, the Winter and Summer Olympics, and one of her favorites being professional car racing. Jen’s passion and dedication to her craft has taken her all over the world, covering countless events every year. Interestingly enough, she never thought she would be sitting behind a camera. Her role in professional sports was not the one that she envisioned for herself when she was younger.
Jen loved playing sports growing up, excelling in soccer and basketball throughout high school. After graduating from Cottonwood High School in 2000, she had aspirations to play in college. She could’ve played soccer or basketball, but her true goal was playing for the BYU. She came extremely close, coming down to the last two players for the final cut. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it, thus shifting her focus immediately to academics.
Jen studied Sports Medicine at BYU with a new goal in mind - being an athletic trainer for the Utah Jazz. Knowing that fighting for a role in professional sports is just as competitive as earning a spot on those teams, Jen kept her drive steady with full intentions of breaking in. Unfortunately, her time at BYU was cut short due to family hardships. Jen stepped away from pursuing her dreams and went to work full-time for the next five years.
While working full-time she was offered a non-traditional full-ride scholarship playing basketball for CEU now Utah State Eastern University. She paired her junior collegiate career with a major in communications. Under her basketball coach’s influence, Jen began recording and breaking down the team’s games. Jen’s coach gave her autonomy with video equipment and recording games. With little guidance, she picked up a revolutionary skill for women’s sports at the time.
After her two years at CEU, Jen transferred to SUU. Graduating summa cum laude at SUU Jen eventually earned the Bonneville Scholar award. Famous KSL anchor Dick Norris himself handed her the award. Jen continued sharpening her skills, declaring a major in Broadcasting and Journalism. Her time at SUU was spent well, as she developed a passion for Sports Broadcasting. After graduating in April 2009, Jen spent her summer job searching. Unfortunately, no one was hiring and it was difficult to get a position anywhere. Jen utilized her connections from KSL and they held a position for her because of her esteemed award. There, she got her start as a Studio Tech.
Jen’s goal wasn’t working in news, but she knew that this was the perfect opportunity to get her foot in the industry. Working at KSL allowed her to break through into an industry that she wanted to succeed in. She knew that KSL was an NBC affiliate and the top station in Utah. KSL would afford her a bright future. Jen worked with others that doubled as freelancers, often booking themselves for both college and high school games. Knowing that Jen wanted to enter sports broadcasting, one of her co-workers asked if she could cover a high school game. Nervous and excited Jen accepted the gig covering a football game from the very high school she graduated from.
Four camera operators worked that game, but a disastrous outing shorted the crew from four cameras to two. Jen operated hers with zero prior experience in a live game, but she excelled in her shining moment. KJZZ, who manages the high school games witnessed her starling feat. Jeremy Brunner, Travis Henderson directors of the Jazz, and Joe Krueger another member of the directing and producing team for the Jazz, all attended this game. There, they witnessed Jen’s performance, offering her a position on the spot. No longer just a Studio Tech, Jen worked covering high school and Weber State University games while still at KSL. Jen’s dedication and will to learn earned her a spot covering Utah Jazz games within a year-and-a-half.
Jen recalls that her path to the Jazz was atypical, stating the average route to camera operations was working as a utility for several years. “There, you build knowledge for equipment, learning about each piece that goes into a full sports broadcast. Wrapping cables and gathering necessary equipment, essentially it was the bottom tier in the field sometimes referred to as grunt work,” Jen said. From there, you can earn the role as a camera operator. Jen stated that her bypassing the utility role didn’t sit right with the men she worked alongside. But to Jen, those thoughts didn’t matter. She would take any role given to her, regardless of the job. It was this attitude that propelled her to new heights - covering the Olympics.
One day, KJZZ was triple-booked needing directors for a high school, Jazz game as well as college. They needed a director for a Weber State game, so they phoned in a director whom Jen never worked with. This director observed Jen's skills all night. He saw how relaxed and delightful she was to work with. Overall, he was thoroughly impressed with Jen and her abilities. At the end of the game, she received an email with the subject title, “Rio”, followed by the words, “Call me.”
Jen said that the planning for the Olympic broadcast crew happens years in advance. The 2016 Paralympics in Rio was doing something for the first time in its history - submerging a specialty camera on a pole for their swimming event. Jen recalled the meeting before getting their camera assignments and the discussion that transpired. The opportunity to operate a new camera was up for grabs and nobody wanted it unsure of the type or tasks that would be asked of the position. Some operators were fearful of the unknown equipment. Jen, being the standup woman she is, gladly volunteered.
Jen expressed that the nerves she felt were like none-other. The stage - operating a camera for a global event - was something that she never thought she would get to do. She had to keep in mind that her camera placement was completely up to her discretion. She volunteered herself for a role that allowed her this mechanical freedom that her associates didn’t have. Not only did she have this freedom, but the stress from capturing this view on global television for the first time was settling in. Her camera came with tools allowing Jen to submerge it into swimming lanes, showing the race’s progress from each swimmer’s perspective. With this new technology and information about each swimmer, Jen had to be methodical with camera placement.
Her original viewpoint was the platform that the swimmers jumped from. From there, Jen dictates the camera’s path - the pans for whom she follows during the race, how long the camera’s surfaced for, the duration she submerges the camera. All of that was up to Jen’s discretion.
She was nervous because she didn’t want to injure anyone during the operation, and there wasn’t an established procedure for her to follow. She had to decide everything herself with immediacy. And she excelled. She was a pioneer for this style of camera operation. More lends to her success as Jen details the long hours for the swimming events taking place all day. When others would attempt to operate the camera, the director could tell because the difference in quality and technique was drastic. She did this in 2016 for the first time and reprised her role for the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. Jen did so well that she was asked to take up the mantle again as the specialty camera operator for the swimming events.
Her favorite memory from Olympic coverage was shooting Shaun White in PeyongChang in 2018. This event for her was an eye-opening revelation for how far she’s come.
She Can do Everything
Jen has a unique background when shooting sports. It’s typical for most broadcasting that videographers specialize in shooting one sport, whereas Jen excels in shooting multiple. She explained that while shooting, you have to know key characteristics of the sport: proper angles for a dunk, the way the ball travels off a batter’s bat after a pitch, the tight turns in motorsport racing.
Jen claimed, “If you know what to look for and how to capture it, then you’ll be at the right place at the right time. Instincts - follow them and you’ll be rewarded, but you have to have the right kind of knowledge about the sport and no two are the same.”
With that concept in mind, Jen constantly works at bettering herself. She would take jobs working different cameras just so she could stay busy. With each new job that came along, she studied each sport, highlighting the procedure for each. For sports she was less familiar shooting she would watch YouTube clips and highlights and figure out how each videographer got their shot.
She would learn the cues from directors for each event and apply them to the next. With that, she would rely on her instincts, getting better each time she shot something new.
Like professional athletes rewatch their game film to see where they can improve, Jen does the same. She’ll seek out clips on YouTube or twitter of a game or match she shot, pinpointing mistakes and areas of improvement. She’s constantly analyzing what camera ops are doing while watching the game, seeing how she would’ve shot something differently from them.
Like all male-dominated industries where women stare in the face of adversity, Jen has confronted a lot. She made it a statement to be remembered by directors, even if they didn’t know her name. But that was easy for her, because she was always known as, “the girl.” Jen’s capabilities exceeded those of her male counterparts because of how diversified her skillset was. That stood out to those male directors and producers; however, there were a few instances where her knowledge was questioned because she was a woman.
Jen recalls a meeting with Fox directors and producers prior to covering a football game: they went around the table delegating tasks and roles for each camera op. Then they get to Jen and ask, “Do you know what a Tackle is? The position, not the action.” In her mind, Jen thought that they wouldn’t ask the men in the room whether or not they knew what a Tackle was, or any of the football terms for that matter. Why? Because they were men, but they asked her this because she’s a woman. But Jen isn’t one to get offended easily. She quietly nodded her head and proved she was all business, showing that she was capable of doing her job.
There was another instance where she was working with another woman for a foreign director. This was for a job involving heavy firearms. The director called the women off their original roles. She stayed quiet, trying to understand what her next role was, but the other woman took it worse. Making it about how they were discriminated against and left. Jen was promptly assigned to another role where she captured important shots. Jen thought it was possible the director was abrasive because of his foreign style, but wasn’t sure. The other male videographers went up to Jen, saying that she handled that situation well, earning a little more of their respect.
“Don’t complain. Be someone who’s seen and not heard when it comes to doing your job. This doesn’t mean don’t ask questions or have opinions, but it means figure it out. Be likable. Have good instincts when it comes to shooting. This means practice the craft. Having knowledge about the sport you’re watching is extremely helpful when it comes to knowing what kind of shot you need to capture.”
“The transition to live production versus film is completely different. In film, you have multiple takes to get the shot you want. In a live sports broadcast, if you miss something, it’s gone forever. You can’t go into a broadcast pretending like you know everything, you have to be willing to learn.”
“Salt Lake City, camera-wise, is super saturated. If you want to get into the industry, it’s possible to get in through alternative roles - audio, grip, etc. You should always be willing to pick up a new skill; learning will help get your foot in the door for further opportunities.”
“Prioritize when you say ‘no.’ Being organized is a part of the industry and knowing your schedule so you don’t over-commit yourself is key. Saying no when you have a reason, like working another event, is better than saying no because you don’t want to.”
Join us on April 20th to listen to our guest speaker Jen Hansen!