HBO Max's <I>Winning Time</I>: DP Todd Banhazl
Issue: May/June 2022

HBO Max's Winning Time: DP Todd Banhazl

HBO Max’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty chronicles the professional and personal lives of the 1980s NBA team, which is considered one of sports’ most revered dynasties. The series is now streaming and spans 10 episodes. Director of photography Todd Banhazl's work on the show included shooting the pilot. He recently shared his experience with Post.

Todd, how did you get involved in working on this series?

“Adam McKay was executive producer on a movie I shot called Hustlers, so we knew each other from that project. We talked about doing the pilot of Winning Time together and really hit it off quickly. We were both excited about the prospects of mixing our footage with all the amazing period archival of the time.”
Can you talk about your camera selection?

“We shot with a few different formats. We used 35mm and 16mm film for our main looks, 8mm film to establish time and place, and vintage ‘80s tube cameras for basketball TV footage and for narrative scenes as well. The mixing of formats came out of the knowledge that we would be intercutting our footage with period archival, photos and pop culture from the time.”

What kind of look were you going for, and were you expecting a heavy treatment in post?

“The idea behind the visual style of the show was to create a tapestry or collage of American culture and pop culture in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. Our main look was based on high-contrast Ektachrome and Kodachrome photography prints. What we collectively remember reversal film looked like, rather than what a freshly printed reversal stock would look like now. In addition to that, we incorporated 16mm, 8mm and Ikegami tube cameras from the period. These were used to recreate famous moments in history – basketball games, news conferences – to ground us in time and place. They were also used in more jazzy, emotionally-motivated ways. The goal is that audiences will lose track of what we shot and what was actual archival footage. We wanted it to be grainy, greasy, shiny, vibrant and have a hand-made quality to the texture of the image and to the camerawork itself. When creating flashbacks for specific characters, we drew influences from the dominant advertising looks of the time period to attempt to redefine images of the bought & sold American dream.

“We tried to use the real formats and capture everything in-camera as much as possible. There is a visceral grit and a joy I think the audience can feel when they see the real formats, rather than a digital recreation of the look. We've been seeing these very famous basketball players in the media for decades. We know what they look like in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s on TV. Seeing our actors in the same formats we saw the real players in back then was an attempt to redefine what those moments meant for culture and for our characters.”

The first season spans 10 episodes and a number of directors worked on it. Can you talk about your collaboration with the directors?

“I was incredibly blessed to work with many talented directors on this show. Adam McKay's sets are truly a place of joy and creativity. The man has boundless energy. He’s a true cinephile and he’s extremely interested in the world. I also had the privilege of working with Jonah Hill, who is incredible with actors; Tanya Hamilton, who is a deep and sensitive filmmaker; and Salli Richardson-Whitfield, whose courage, brilliance and creative intuition was an extremely potent match for the show, especially on the season finale!”