Jaime Reynoso shoots BALLERS with AMIRA

HBO debuted BALLERS in June to high ratings and immediately renewed the show for a second season. The series, which stars Dwayne Johnson as a former football player trying his hand at financial management for pro football players, is the brainchild of Stephen Levinson, who previously produced ENTOURAGE among his other credits.

The comparison is apt: Whereas ENTOURAGE takes viewers behind the scenes in Hollywood moviemaking, BALLERS unveils what happens off the field in professional football. Shooting in Miami, BALLERS was able to bring on the crew that had just finished up BLOODLINE. That included cinematographer Jaime Reynoso, who immediately hit it off with director Julian Farino as they approached the second episode, "Raise Up."

"We found very quickly that we saw eye-to-eye, " says Reynoso. "He has a background in documentaries and that is the style I was doing on BLOODLINE. " Reynoso gravitated to a more documentary style after shooting A CAMBODIAN WINTER in 2012. "We shot it with no lights or crew, and I found that to be a liberating experience," he says. "It brought me back to my early relationship with image and how I fell in love with image."

When Reynoso spoke with Farino, he described that philosophy, as well as his preference to not rehearse. "I just shoot, and the focus pullers and operators don't know what will happen," he says. "There are all these imperfections that I love." Although BALLERS certainly has a layer of gloss, the two wanted the show to have a backbone. "Although it's a fun show, it touches on the tragedy of all those NFL players who, after two or three years are broke and have health issues," he says.

Reynoso knew the ARRI AMIRA had just come out and Keslow Camera would be able to support him with the package. "I said, for a handheld show with a documentary look, we should go with it," he recalls. "They wanted to have a couple of ALEXA and AMIRA bodies in the truck so that they'd be interchangeable, which is very smart." The first thing Reynoso liked about the AMIRA was its size and weight, which he calls "an obvious selling point."

The AMIRA was also a good match for BALLERS' largely handheld style. "We did a little dolly here and there, and a little mild use of Steadicam, because the Rock is tall, so sometimes we needed the Steadicam to bring it at the proper height," he says. "Even with an operator as tall as he is, it could be hard to walk around him and do moves, so we'd do it on the Steadicam." Use of Steadicam was made, easier, says Reynoso, by another AMIRA feature. "I love the AMIRA system of plates in the bottom and top to slide on and off handles and mounts so you can change it from Steadicam to handheld very quickly," he says. "It's a very good system and I hope they add it to the ALEXA."

Being able to load LUTs was another advantage on BALLERS. "We create LUTs, load them into the camera and then off we go," he says. "We have options for looks that are in the camera but aren't burned in to the look. You can put it on the dailies and, four months later, when you go to color it, it's all there. It's like a path to yard 20."

He was also "happily surprised" with the AMIRA's sensitivity. "Even though it's 800 ASA by the book, I could shoot exterior nights and keep the polarizing filters in the matte box, " he says. "I used polarizing filters all the time, day, night, inside, outside." To keep the look as real as possible, Reynoso was circumspect with his lighting. "I'm the kind of cinematographer who, rather than put up a crane with a light out the window, I'll choose the right time of day to shoot it," he says. "Of course there was a lot of film lighting, but I found a middle ground where I tried not to bring any lights on the set. I let the sun do what it was going to do."

The most challenging scene so far was an entire episode that was a nighttime party, part of it on a yacht. "We had one week of nights," he says. "And we had a lot of extras, which can be challenging. Shooting on boats is always difficult but the first assistant director Richard [Fox] was good at seeing where the challenges would be. It was difficult, but good. Everyone was super fun and the shoot was blessed with harmony."

Used to shooting one-hour dramas and features, Reynoso said he "discovered the beauty of the half-hour show." "A half-hour show is really liberating," he says. "Not everything has to push the plot. Some things can just be fun." And would he use the AMIRA again? "Certainly!" he says. "No doubt about it. It's the ideal camera for me for handheld and anything shot in tight spaces."