Winning Time is a win for filmmakers everywhere.
We're fortunate enough to have the two cinematographers (Todd Banhazl and Mihai Malaimare Jr.) who shot Adam McKay's Winning Time on the podcast, and learning from them is as much fun as watching the show.
Telling "period" stories is an obstacle for all filmmakers. But there is a hack.
I always knew it would work.
When I was just out of college I had this vision that even on the cheap I could tell a story that took audiences through different times and periods, despite having no budget at all.
With the right cameras. And the best part?
They wouldn't even need to be the latest and greatest. In fact, they could be the oldest and worst. That would work even better.
You see, I wanted to tell a story that moved through time and era, and while I knew stuff like costumes and hair would be huge, I also knew that I could get wigs, and go second-hand store shopping.
When we think of 1945, we think of black and white. Of course, we know 1945 was in color, right? But we know the period through the representations we have of the era.
So if you really want to "capture" the vibe, and convince modern audiences that the content they are viewing is of 1945... well... shoot it like it's 1945. Or at least some of it.
This simple trick works. The hard part is finding and using outdated media and tools. This used to actually be harder to pull off. But with the ease of digitizing and adding layers of filters and LUTs to what has been shot, you can not only shoot on whatever you can find... but you can also finish everything digitally and have even further opportunities to manipulate it.
Few of us are ever working with the type of resources Adam McKay and his team of collaborators was for Winning Time. But Winning Time is absolute proof of concept.
The challenges they faced went far beyond creating a period. They had to create one of the most iconic periods, using many of its biggest names and faces, for an audience that saw the events they are depicting as they took place. In the real world.
And the "tall order" doesn't end there. Pun intended. Using various actors to play all ranges of height for actual NBA stars and some regular humans mixed in, the team behind Winning Time was faced with constant challenges.
They didn't just pull it off. They crushed it. But I maintain that the core element to believability is the commitment to period stock and media. 35mm, Super 8, Ikegami, and a range of other tools that augment, the team behind Winning Time constantly mixed media giving audiences a real sense of texture.
It's hard to cast someone to play a man as visible and camera ready as Magic Johnson. Who could possibly approximate all that charm and charisma? Quincy Isaiah wasn't alone in this, though, he had the help of mediums that transported the audience right back to the time and place.
Imagine the same scenes but shot on an Alexa with some vintage lenses. You would see all the ways things don't match. The subtle cues that you're watching these people from that period would be gone. Instead, you'd be seeing it as something made today. With people today.
While we love the democratization of the process here at No Film School, we also embrace all the possible colors you can spread on your canvas. You can do more for audiences by being careful in texture and planning, by using subtle cues to give audiences an experience that stands out.
Winning Time is streaming on HBO Max.
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I love Mckay and his team's style of shoot for Don't look up and Winning Time. It's for me the culmination of modern style cinema. He uses every tricks, every styles, every technology, old and new, all of this in the service of telling the story, and manage to create a consistent whole where nothing feels out of place or jarring.
He really has perfected a style that is very hard to pull off and I hope he continues to explore it.
February 1, 2023 at 1:53PM