Behind The Lens of HBO Ballers’ 2019 Cinematography Emmy Nomination

Published on September 11, 2019

Cinematographer Anthony Hardwick was recently nominated for a 2019 Emmy Award for his work on HBO’s Ballers. Grit Daily talked to the man behind the lens about the award, series, and how he has steadily built one of the more accomplished cinematography careers in Hollywood.

While most known for his work on episodic TV — namely Entourage, The Last Man on Earth, Ballers, and Shameless (he still works on the latter two) — Hardwick has also managed the cameras for popular, edgy features like Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat and Bill Maher’s Religulous.

Hardwick received his first Emmy nomination this year in the Outstanding Cinematography For A Single-Camera Series (Half-Hour) category for the season four premiere episode of Ballers, titled “Rough Ride.” He’s in good company, competing with Russian Doll, Fleabag, Homecoming, What We Do In The Shadows, and Insecure. Then again, he has American heartthrob Dwayne Johnson on his side.

The Emmys air later this month on Sep. 22nd. While he waits with bated breath, Hardwick gave us a picture of his cinematographic world and how he takes our favorite shows from simply being a vision to actually being on television. (Is there an Emmy for wordplay?)

The Man Behind The Lens(es)

Grit Daily: We’re really excited to talk to you because of all the shows you’ve worked on. We’re big fans. And congratulations on the Emmy nomination! It must be a surreal feeling.

Anthony Hardwick: It is. It’s a super fun show to shoot and I think the production value of the show is quite good. And so in that respect, I knew there was a chance.

But you know, the bar for television has gotten so high and in watching all the other episodes of the nominees, I just have to say that they’re all so good that it’s an honor to be among them.

GD: Yeah. It’s really crazy. All of those are such good shows. Ballers included. How did you first get connected with Ballers and did you know at the time that it was going to be as successful as it is?  

AH: I came on to ballers on season three. I shot season three and four of the show. The two prior seasons were each shot by a different DP.

My connection to the show was through the showrunners, Steve Levinson, who is the show creator and an executive producer. I had worked with him on Entourage many years ago and he was one of the executive producers. He put me in touch with Julian Farino, who is also a producer, but one of the regular directors of the show. And I had worked with Julian on Entourage many years back as well. So Julian remembered me and we had a nice phone chat and that was basically it, and I got onto the show for season three and then happened to be available for season four as well. 

GD: I want to get to the episode now. If you could tell us a little bit about the episode you’re nominated for, “Rough Ride.” In terms of the cinematography, what do you think sets it apart? What makes it Emmy worthy?  

AH:  Well, so the episode is the premiere episode for season four called “Rough Ride.” Julian Farino was the director of that episode.

The opening scene — which was the scene that I submitted — it reintroduces Dwayne Johnson and all the main cast members. In that first scene, he’s basically arriving in a nice car to a restaurant that has a lot of other nice cars lined up in front of it. And he walks through the back of the restaurant. He’s clearly a regular there and it’s a high-end restaurant kind of thing.

And when he walks through, it’s all one basically steady cam shot. There are a couple of cuts in it, but except for a Dolly shot in the beginning that starts it off, it’s basically a steady cam shot with just a couple of cuts for editorial purposes.

You’re with Dwayne as he walks through that scene and, you know, he doesn’t own the place, but he’s sort of a mayor of the town in a way and everybody knows him.  

The chef knows him, the hostess knows him. And then he arrives at the table and we do a three-sixty around the table to reveal all of our familiar characters from prior seasons. And so Julian just designed that shot beautifully, I thought, in a way that would be energetic and show off the high-gloss glitzy nature of their location and reintroduce all the characters. I think it was really well executed in addition to the original design. 

I think movement and being kinetic is one of the signature elements of Ballers, and I think in that one scene you kind of capture it all.

GD: When you approach a script or an episode or a project, what’s one of the first things that inform your approach as a cinematographer? Is it the script? Is it a conversation with the director? 

AH: Combination of both.

The first time I read a script, I just read it to enjoy it and take it in. And then on subsequent passes, I’ll start to formulate more specific ideas of stylistic ways that I might choose something or thoughts on how we might do a scene transitions, etcetera.

It’s also a combination of conversations with the showrunner and the head writers and the director as well to try to get a sense of what style we’re going for. When you’re doing something — let’s say you’re doing a pilot where there is no prior reference — you can do whatever you want and that’s a kind of a clean canvas to make some choices.

In a show like Ballers, where it had already been established, you want to bring your own style to it of course, but you can’t depart too much from the original idea. I think if you give any five DPs the same script they’re all gonna shoot it differently, but one of the tricks in coming in at a later season is to bring your own style to it without departing too far.

For me, it’s a combination of what comes from the scripts, and how it inspires me, as well as conversations with the director and the writers about the tone we’re going for and the kind of world we’re trying to create.  

GD: How does it feel to sort of be able to continue to evolve the cinematography of Ballers season after season? Do you always keep that in mind as the goal? Do you always look to have things evolve?

AH: I think probably every DP, but certainly I strive to improve things if I can. If I’m going on a show that has had a season or two, I still want to try to better the show in any way I can.

I want to try to stretch the boundaries of what has been done before and hopefully build upon what’s been done before, but make it better and better.

What I like about season four, in particular, was that in addition to the realm of professional football as one of the main sports, we’re working our way into extreme sports.

We’re getting into extreme sports and dealing with skateboarding and surfing and other thrill sports if you will. I thought that would be a beautiful way to energize some of the shots and sequences and be able to do some sports-specific sequences, like when we did some surfing sequences this season. We had some underwater units and some surf cabins and drones out there over this surfing classic competition that we had staged out in Huntington beach. And then when we were doing some skateboarding sequences, we had at one point a kind of skateboarding commercial within the show being produced, so that was a great opportunity to bring out the toys and play with the nature of trick skateboard riding and riding in bowls and that sort of thing.

GD: I know some cinematographers migrate to directing. Is that something you’re thinking of doing more of in the future? 

AH: Well, you know, I actually am going to direct an episode of Shameless this season. We’re just starting episode seven right now and I’ll be directing episode nine. So I’m very excited for that and I’ve done one other episode of TV in the past. It is something I’d like to do more and more of. I really enjoyed the episode that I did and I’m looking very much forward to doing this one.


You can see Hardwick at the Creative Arts Emmys on Sunday, Sep. 15th (hopefully, ballin’ out on the podium). Catch more entertainment news on Grit Daily.

Noah Staum is the West Coast Managing Editor at Grit Daily. He grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, and has lived in four different countries. Across that span he’s learned Mandarin, adopted an adorable Shiba Inu, and worked for several major dating apps. Noah is based in Los Angeles, California, focusing his coverage on entertainment and entrepreneurship.

Read more

More GD News