Todd Banhazl interview: ‘Winning Time’ cinematographer

Cinematographer Todd Banhazl knew from the early stages that HBO’s “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” was going to be a show that mixed tones and filmmaking styles – everything from 35-, 16-, and 8-millimeter cameras to old Ikegami tube cameras that were used to broadcast sporting events in the 1970s and 1980s. But it wasn’t until one improvised bit of ingenuity that he and the team, including executive producer and director Adam McKay, knew the visual gamble was going to pay off.

“We were shooting a flashback of young Magic Johnson, maybe like 9-year-old Magic, practicing in the snow in Lansing, Michigan. And before we shot the scene, it was like dusk, and our 8-millimeter operator, Justin Cameron, looked over and noticed that the young actor playing Magic was practicing basketball before we shot,” Banhazl says in an exclusive video interview with Gold Derby. “He just went over there with the 8-millimeter camera, and just shot [the actor] practicing…  That footage came back, and it was so magical. It felt like a childhood memory. And I think that’s like when it came alive for us, we realized the [different formats] can be used in really emotional ways. And from there, we just started using it like that in scenes knowing that we could evoke a memory or a time period or emotion with the different formats. I think that was the a-ha moment for everyone.”

Based on the non-fiction book by Jeff Pearlman, “Winning Time” tracks the nascent stages of the Los Angeles Lakers dynasty through two key figures: new owner Jerry Buss (played by John C. Reilly) and rookie sensation Earvin “Magic” Johnson (played by Quincy Isaiah). Banhazl served as cinematographer for episodes one, two, five, six, nine, and the season finale. Throughout the series, in addition to the backstage machinations of what it took to build the Lakers into a championship squad, “Winning Time” also recreates key games and moments on the court as well.

“That was the big challenge for us throughout the entire season,” Banhazl says of replicating the fast-break speed and dexterity of the Lakers, a team nicknamed “Showtime” because of their unrelenting style of play. “As the Lakers gelled and got better as a team, we also gelled and figured out better ways of shooting [the game action]. “It kind of like the two teams kind of grew together, which I think works for the script.”

“Winning Time” grew its audience throughout the 10-episode first season, which culminated with the Lakers winning the 1979-1980 NBA title. The team went on to win four additional titles in the 1980s, although the follow-up season ended without a championship. Season 2 of “Winning Time” is currently in development and Banhazl can’t say much about where the show plans to go moving forward in time.

“It’s like when Jerry Buss wins. It’s like, cool, you won. What’s next? He’s like, I guess we do it all over again,” Banhazl says of how the pressure on the show mirrors what happened to the Lakers themselves. “You’re climbing this mountain, for what? We’re talking about Season 2, and I’m not sure if I can say much about it. But I know for me, I’m excited to dig the [visual themes] further and push the formats further…. I’m curious as the scripts arrive, what kinds of aesthetics can help back those ideas up. I always want to push it further. Otherwise, you know, why are we doing this?”

All episodes of “Winning Time” are available to stream on HBO Max.

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UPLOADED Jul 12, 2022 9:30 am