How 'Winning Time' Creators Used a 'Secret Weapon' To Make the Show Look Like an '80s VHS

The creators of Winning Time employed a "secret weapon" to perfect the authentically outdated VHS-look we see in the HBO show.

Set during the late '70s and early '80s, Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty uses special cameras to make parts of the show look like it was genuinely shot during that era.

The basketball biopic stars the likes of John C. Reilly, Sally Field and Jason Clarke, with newcomers Quincy Isaiah and Solomon Hughes playing members of the LA Lakers.

Episodes are streaming on HBO Max now and new episodes air Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

Newsweek spoke to the co-creator and writer Max Borenstein, and writer and producer Rodney Barnes to find out how they perfected the imperfect look we see in Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.

Parts of the series were shot using state of the art technology, but much of it was also shot using Ikegami cameras. Ikegami cameras were used for broadcast TV across the '70s, '80s and '90s but the cameras used on Winning Time are essentially now "out of service."

"It feels like a time machine," Borenstein told Newsweek when describing the cameras. "If you just put it on anything, it suddenly feels like that thing is 40 years old. Yet, at the same time, it feels like you're present with it. It's our secret weapon on the show."

Winning Time scene
An example of the grainy style used during a scene from "Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty." Warrick Page/HBO Max

Borenstein says the decision and the success of the technique is down to the whole team.

"The credit has to go to Todd Banhazl, our director of photography, he's just a master," Borenstein told Newsweek. "He's just a master. His partner Mihai Malaimare Jr. and Adam McKay who directed the pilot. [McKay] hired Todd, and empowered him to really go crazy and come up with something really unique.

The editor and producer of the show, Hank Corwin, also deserves credit, according to Borenstein, as he set the tone for Winning Time. "He's a genius editor who cut the pilot and set the template for the look and feel of the show editorially," Borenstein said.

"He used it not only in places where you might imagine it was actually supposed to be like a video camera, but he used it as basic coverage in scenes. I think is it just breaks down the wall that you sometimes feel when you're watching a show.

"And you feel like you're there with the characters while still feeling like you're watching something that's beautiful and cinematic. It became something that is so fundamentally a part of the vernacular, the storytelling of the series."

Ikegami Camera
An example of an Ikegami camera which was used across the 1980s for broadcast television. Golden-agetv.co.uk

While the show makes a lot of unique stylistic choices, from animated sequences to breaking the fourth wall, Borenstein admits that deciding to shoot with a dated style "was a risk" that paid off.

"The period itself is a character," producer and writer Barnes told Newsweek. "You can put costumes on a character, add some props to make it feel like you're in that era but there's no way when you look at this, that you don't feel like you're in the '70s and '80s."

Audiences have already seen some of the unusual storytelling devices in Winning Time, but there are many more to come throughout the season. The playful tone and almost experimental techniques were part of the story from the very beginning, Barnes stated. "It started during the pilot, we had to see whether or not it worked."

Barnes continued: "Because there were a lot of devices we were using to get, not only exposition, but we wanted the audience to get to know the characters beyond the scene at the moment. So when you see Dr. Buss or Magic turn to camera and do their thing, he's not just doing it for the reaction or for the joke. He's giving you a little piece of his personality that you wouldn't normally get from the scene."

Episode 1 sees a couple of characters break the fourth wall, and as production carried on, some co-stars became jealous. "The funny thing was more actors wanted to do it. The actors started to ask, 'When am I going to look into camera? When do I get to do this thing?' And I think they knew beyond just the breaking the wall, that they were able to heighten their characters in such a way they could connect with the audience in a different type of way," Barnes said.

Episode 1, "The Swan," is available to catch up with on HBO Max now. Episode 2, "Is That All There Is," airs on HBO on Sunday, March 13.

New episodes of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty air on Sunday nights on HBO at 9 p.m. ET.

Winning Time Episode 2
Sally Field is introduced as Jessie Buss, mother of John C. Reilly's Jerry Buss in Episode 2 of "Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty" on HBO. Warrick Page/HBO Max