Ever since her parents put a video camera in her hands, filming has been a constant in Deanna Hong's life.
But as she sat on her couch watching the Norwegian women's handball team at the 2008 Olympics, the Bay Area native realized what had once been a hobby could be something more.
For the UCLA gymnastics and Emmy Award-winning videographer, camera work became a medium for her storytelling and her videos a platform to showcase athletes' personal journeys.
The Norwegians, led by then-captain Gro Hammerseng, had made it through the tournament undefeated to claim the country's third gold medal of the Beijing Games, but it was Hammerseng's story, not just her athletic achievements, that resonated with Hong.
The 2007 World Handball Player of the Year, who later carried the flag at the closing ceremony, was one of the few athletes at the games who was openly lesbian.
As a lacrosse and cross country athlete at Dublin High School, Hong watched in awe as someone she related to succeeded on one of the biggest stages in all of sports.
"I remember how everyone on that team, all the fans were super chill with it and for me, because I'm gay and wasn't out yet, that helped me feel comfortable," Hong said. "She's one of the best in the world and to see that she was able to be herself in a society that was accepting – I ended up coming out that year."
WHEN PEOPLE CRY IT MEANS YOU MADE SOMETHING POWERFUL.
Yet, the possibilities for storytelling and showcasing role models for younger athletes weren’t always evident to the UCLA alumna, who graduated with a communication studies degree in 2014.
Faced with postgraduate anxiety and uncertainty, Hong returned to the basics: her video camera and storytelling.
"It was just so consistently part of my life that it makes sense (to turn to it)," Hong said. "But when I was graduating, I couldn't see how that would ever parlay into a career."
Gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field not only gave Hong – who interned with the UCLA Athletics department in fall 2014 – that confidence, but also an opportunity to turn her passion into a viable way to live her life.
Hong had previously interviewed Kondos Field for a video previewing Full Out, a film on former UCLA gymnast Ariana Berlin's comeback from a car crash, but it wasn't until a later meeting that the coach noticed the young producer.
With Kondos Field standing nearby, then-redshirt senior Samantha Peszek needed someone to cut her floor music as she trained at Yates Gym and Hong, who was there collecting extra footage of Berlin, volunteered.
THE WINS, THE BLOOPERS, THE AGONIES OF DEFEAT – I TRUST THAT SHE SHOWS IT IN A WAY THAT RESPECTS THE ATHLETES.
-COACH VALORIE KONDOS FIELD
After a couple of minutes observing the young intern, Kondos Field suddenly spoke up and offered her a job.
"That day (Val) was like, 'Do you want to come work for us as our videographer?' and that was before the video even came out so she didn't even see it," Hong said. "I was joking like 'Are you sure Miss Val? I haven't even made the video yet. You don't know what this looks like – it could be really bad.'
Kondos Field insisted. No matter what the video looked like or how it turned out, this was the kind of person she wanted to work with.
"Of course, I was thrilled to see her abilities," Kondos Field said. "But I believe in hiring character first. Anybody who is humble and has a passion for their work and who’s all about learning and growing can work with me."
The initial challenge excited Hong.
But Hong, who didn't have a gymnastics background, didn’t try to shoot the sport the way it had traditionally been shot in the past.
"In the beginning, I was just shooting things in a way of 'Oh, this looks cool,' Hong said. "What I was doing was really different because I approached it from a different perspective."
As she followed the Bruins through practices and meets across the country, Hong focused on the fundamentals – using her musical background as a beatboxer in Cadenza, a UCLA a cappella group to create unique videos that few fans had been exposed to before.
Her breakthrough piece, a short documentary chronicling the life of former world champion and Olympic gold medalist Jordyn Wieber four years after the 2012 London Olympics, drew over one million views through a combination of lyrical storytelling style and musical montages.
The cuts of Wieber training in the gym, interwoven with interviews from Wieber, Kondos Field and Olympic teammate and UCLA freshman Kyla Ross, were also accompanied by music.
Solemn piano music softly played in the background as Kondos Field recounted Wieber's decision to retire from elite gymnastics before eventually transitioning into a more upbeat pop rhythm as Wieber progressed from team manager to volunteer assistant coach.
"She knows how to pick music that helps creates those stories," said redshirt senior Peng-Peng Lee. "Getting to know the person beforehand, she has a really good detailed eye for stories and knows how to capture those special moments."
Even with her resume, which includes an Emmy in May as one of the associate producers on the NBC Rio Olympics team, self-doubt hasn't completely left Hong.
Back in 2015 before her first meet, Hong was nervous, not knowing what her boundaries were with the team.
"I didn't know people and I didn't feel comfortable with everyone yet," Hong said. "I didn't have a real relationship with them and I felt really hesitant – didn't wanna get in their way or boundaries."
After three years with the Bruins, Hong is no stranger to the girls on the team – joking with them on the floor in between rotations, listening to Lee sing a song about Zen tea and teaching them Rubik's Cube drills while waiting at the airport.
"Now I'm embedded within a team here," Hong said.
However, she now faces worries about getting too comfortable in her set ways.
Despite those worries, her initial passion motivates her to continue looking for innovative ways to keep her work fresh and vibrant.
Whether it's altering the angles in her gymnastics highlights or testing out pitches from women on the team, like Carpool Choreography and Bruin Banter, the goals of her videos are the same – to draw a reaction out of her audience.
"I love when people watch my video and they have a reaction," Hong said. “It makes me so happy when people cry because it means that you moved them – you made something so powerful that it moved someone emotionally."
I'M JUST A KID WITH A CAMERA
Like how Hammerseng moved her, Hong portrays the gymnasts she covers in a way that they may do the same for the next generation of athletes.
The diversity of the UCLA team – 21 gymnasts from eight different states and three different countries – its work ethic and the team dynamic are all things Hong highlights in her videos.
But Kondos Field also encourages her to showcase all aspects of the team – not just the beautiful, picturesque moments.
"I trust that she shows it in a way that respects the athletes. I tell her, 'You can show the bloopers, the agonies of defeat, because it's human nature to want to support teams where you get to know the athletes,' Kondos Field said.
Still, Hong always keeps that young girl who was inspired by the Norwegian women's handball team nine years ago in mind as she plans, films and edits her stories.
"I think about the stuff that we're putting out and how a young girl perceives that. I know how much it meant for me to have a role model growing up – someone who was working hard in a way that was visible and tangible," Hong said. "Watching a team built how I feel about being on one and made me value being a part of something bigger than (myself)."
All these years of filming and producing later, Hong still values those lessons and feelings. Even through self-doubts, and with video camera in hand, she kept the self-belief stronger to achieve far more than what she set out to do.
"Five years ago, I couldn't have told you where I am now. I was just a kid with a camera," Hong said. "I feel like it's hard to envision what's even possible for me in the next five or 10 years."