What’s Up With the Grainy Film in HBO’s LA Lakers Drama ‘Winning Time’?

Nope, it wasn’t mostly visual effects …

John C. Reilly and Quincy Isaiah in HBO's "Winning Time" (HBO)
John C. Reilly and Quincy Isaiah in HBO's "Winning Time" (HBO)

“Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty,” HBO’s drama about the LA team’s rise to superstardom with their “showtime” style of play in the early ’80s, debuted on the premium cable network Sunday night, and inspired by the era in which the show is set, producers used some old-school technology to bring the series to life.

The series features grainy footage, not unlike video clips from the earyl 1980s, and there’s a reason for that — they used older camera techniques to shoot the show.

“Our incredible [Cinematographer] Todd Banhazl and his partner Mihai Malaimare [Jr.] devised — Todd devised this style on the pilot, working with Adam McKay, who directed the pilot, and it was really about finding a way to bring the feel, the layered feel of what we’re accustomed to seeing in a documentary into the world of a dramatic series so that we can take an audience in a kind of time machine,” creator/writer/executive producer Max Borenstein told TheWrap.

“None of this is a digital effect,” he continued. “This is all shot on film. It’s shot on 35mm film. It’s also shot on a 8mm film. And there’s a third camera — the Ikegami, which … it’s like a format that’s a predecessor of the Beta.”

Borenstein said they originally planned to shoot just the basketball scenes that way, “so it feels like old TV,” but they ended up using the style for coverage of different angles in the various scenes. And, according to Borenstein, what those “period cameras” did was create a feel that “was able to bring you into that era and then create an intimacy with the characters in a way that really stunned us” and quickly became “part of the vernacular of the show.”


Adrien Brody, who plays eventual Lakers coaching legend Pat Riley on the show, visited the set of “Winning Time” early and was impressed by the way filmmakers were shooting the show.

“I remember I had a little stint on ‘Succession’ just before doing this, which was very exciting, and I hadn’t begun my work on ‘Winning Time’ yet, and I got to the set in New York and I was in awe that they were shooting on film,” Brody told TheWrap. “I was like, ‘You guys are so lucky. I can’t believe you’re shooting this on film.’ And and it adds depth and a texture and you can’t quite replicate that.”

Actor Jason Segel, who stars as another member of the Lakers coaching staff of yore — Paul Westhead — noted that the show went well beyond using old-school cameras, and came up with creative ways to shoot some of the basketballs scenes.

“There’s also some amazing basketball shots where they, I mean, they invented rigs for this show. There was a camera [they] invented. Remember the ball camera?” he asked as he spoke to TheWrap alongside some of his “Winning Time” co-stars. “Yeah, they had a ball sitting — I don’t want to give too much away — but it was like sitting on almost like a gyroscope. And so the ball was spinning but not moving, with a camera behind it and as the camera moved, the ball stayed in front of it spinning. It was like it was like POV of the ball.”

“Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” continues Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.