Directors on Their Teams: Ron Howard

Rush,” written by Peter Morgan and directed by Ron Howard, opened to enthusiasm at the Toronto Fest, but ho-hum box office ($90 million worldwide) and a slew of other strong contenders indicated that it might have stalled in the awards race. But nominations last week from SAG Awards, Golden Globes and Monday’s Critics Circle Film Awards are clear clues that a lot of people admired the film, which centered on the complex relationship between Formula One racers Niki Lauda and James Hunt. Here, Howard, reached in the U.K. where he is directing “Heart of the Sea,” offered insight into the contributions of his collaborators, saying “a lot of very talented people did some of their best work on the movie.”

D.P.: Anthony Dod Mantle

I’ve enjoyed his work on other movies (including “Slumdog Millionaire”). He is an incredibly strong visualist, but he works from a place of emotion: He really likes to understand what the characters are going through and what the scene conveys. And he deepens the understanding of the scene; sometimes it’s lighting, composition or camera movement. It’s very purposeful, but he’s giving the illusion of spontaneity. There was a running conversation between us about race-car drivers and their relationship to the cars, and about competition and speed. For a driver, it’s all about hands, eyes and feet. It’s about their relationship to the car and how it’s performing that day, and how a driver’s sense of a track would change depending upon his mood that day. All of that led to a very interesting approach, which would influence where Anthony would put our onboard cameras. The cars were almost characters.

Music: Hans Zimmer

It’s a racing movie but it’s hopefully more complex and he was interested in how he could take it further. He loved the look that (D.P. Anthony) Dod Mantle was achieving. He asked me about the influences that I’d found. I said the number-one influence was (the 1970 Rolling Stones Altamont docu) “Gimme Shelter.” There is a sense of impending danger and doom, yet it is amid all this rowdy, sexy, glamorous, chaotic sense of who the Stones were and what it was like to be part of that festival. We were talking about the complexity of Jame Hunt. In trying to understand that myself, to get a perspective on the man, I had his handwriting analyzed and I talked about James as this paradoxical figure. He was also a collector and breeder of budgerigars, which we Americans call parakeets. They were an important, weirdly paradoxical component in his life. When Hans heard about these things, he went back and rethought James’ themes.

Editing: Daniel Hanley, Mike Hill

We’ve been a team forever, since (the 1982) “Night Shift.” In that time, they have done a lot of movies that had a lot of different tones. They’re chameleon-like, but their work is always based on character. They said “Rush” was the biggest editorial challenge they’ve ever faced. This film was shot in a less conventional way, more akin to a documentary. Scenes had to be discovered in post, and that was intention during the shooting. And the various races were a tremendous challenge. They began editing the various races by using archival footage before we began shooting so we could discover an aesthetic based in reality, not storyboards that were movie-like.

Sound

It was a German coproduction and we mixed the movie in Berlin; the team there knew a lot about the sport, which was a great advantage. Our team included Martin Steyer and Stefan Korte (sound re-recording mixers), Frank Kruse (supervising sound editor), Markus Stemler and Danny Hambrook (both sound designers). Hambrook was the production sound recordist. He’s a real petrol-head and was not only recording all the tracks, but he was putting mikes all over the real Formula One cars and he had this encyclopedic knowledge of the engines. So we asked him to stay on. It was unconventional, but that was our sound design. There was a lot of passion and a lot of testing. It was so important to differentiate the races. I was trying to give each one a different character, related to psyches of drivers at the moment, to take the drama and emotions onto the track.

Screenplay: Peter Morgan

I really appreciated what Peter did: Not only did he embody the basic truths of their lives, but he narratively shaped it. He looked at the truth, understood the characters and designed a structure that allowed the movie to build, engross and entertain. It was a strong draft when I read it; it took me only 36 hours to commit to doing it. (The script did not change dramatically during production), but Peter is dedicated to relentless refinement. We had creative conversations from the start, through the recording of the last voiceovers and wild lines. It was a narrative learning experience. If you distill some of the big elements (of the men’s lives), you’d find it really unconventional, sometimes frighteningly so. The final race is crucial — but it was not between the two men, which makes it a real storytelling challenge. It took a little rewrite and a little reshoot for us to achieve that important goal, with some audiences saying that was their favorite scene.

Directors on Their Teams runs Monday-Friday. Tuesday: Jason Reitman on ‘Labor Day’

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