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James Mangold’s Crew Fine-Tuned the Drama in Fox’s ‘Ford v Ferrari’

When talking about Fox’s “Ford v Ferrari,” starring Christian Bale as race car driver Ken Miles and Matt Damon as auto designer Carroll Shelby, director James Mangold stresses the collaborative nature of filmmaking: “The triumph of our editing team is also a triumph of our stunt teams and design teams and cinematographer. They’re all interlocked.” He also notes that while the racing scenes may be memorable, the heart of the film is in the intimate personal scenes.

“Mike, Drew and the editorial team had a lot to organize. For the Le Mans sequence, I didn’t want anything that looked like TV coverage, such as panning shots of cars going by, shots from a blimp, with an announcer voice. We wanted a first-person experience, where the audience felt like they were in the car with Christian. We wanted a palpable understanding that the gearshift, RPMs and brakes are tools, like a violin being played. And as much as the races are a magnificent example of the editing team’s skill, they equally display great sensitivity with the drama, because that’s what I’m most interested in. We have brawny movies in Hollywood, and we have tender, intimate dramas. These people showed their skills in both arenas.

“There was no single location to shoot this race. The track for Le Mans doesn’t exist in the form it did then, and Le Mans is effectively eight miles of country roads. The roads have been made safer with more grade, they used to be a much more rough-and-ready test. Each segment of the track has unique features that are legendary in the racing world. There are the grandstand area, then the Dunlop Bridge — a signature half-tire semicircle — then a series of turns called the Esses, and then the Mulsanne Straight, an unbroken straight line of driving surrounded by poplar trees, where there were no guard rails. Then the Mulsanne Turn, then there’s the ‘White House’ corner, with a small farmhouse. With location scouts, we looked for roads we could race high speed on, that matched the physical attributes of these particular Le Mans roads. We were on a tight budget and we found most of these locations in Georgia, except the grandstand, which we built in Southern California at an abandoned airport. Every time a car in the movie makes one lap, it passes each distinct location. So that involves shooting the cars in those locations. four of which are in Georgia and not close to one another, and one in Southern California. Every shot has to be matched so they can cut together. That was a huge undertaking. that’s why there was so much planning. I’m a big believer in planning, but I also believe that planning makes a very stale movie if you’re not awake and alive to the light, the location and what your actors are doing that day.”

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STEVEN A. MORROW, mixer; DONALD SYLVESTER, supervising sound editor; PAUL MASSEY, music mixer; MASSEY and DAVID GIAMMARCO, re-recording mixers; JAY WILKINSON and GIAMMARCO, sound designers
“We didn’t shoot with vintage cars; we couldn’t. If they exist, they’re worth bazillions. Our cars were working reproductions, and they don’t sound like originals. We needed the purr of a Ferrari, the bestial growl of a [Ford] GT40. Don and his team had to capture every turn, every moment of brakes and acceleration, at every speed, and create the race with all these ‘voices’ speaking almost musically. The cars weren’t just exciting; they were also soothing. In a key scene, you see Matt feeling the vibration of his Porsche, and it’s the quiet that he loves. As for dialogue, the cars are so loud, it’s a challenge to record the spoken voice above this, but Steve Morrow did it. Our mixing team, Paul Massey and Dave Giammarco, had to take the spaghetti of hundreds of tracks — of cabin rattle, gearshift, clutch, gear pop, the wind, crowds cheering, plus dialogue and music. It’s a monumental amount of combing through and grooming these effects so they become a symphony. And the sound team deserves massive credit.”

FRANÇOIS AUDOUY, production designer
“There was a huge amount of research, and we had terrific resources, including films that were made in the ’60s and great photography. We built as much as we could afford of the grandstands, and the VFX team extended what François built. There was a tremendous amount of interlocking work among production design, visual effects and cinematography, which is a critical relationship these days. François built what he could, and it couldn’t be just facade; it had to support hundreds of extras, people in balconies, TV cameras on pedestals, the press box filled with reporters, corporate boxes with sponsors — and all had to be visible.”

PHEDON PAPAMICHAEL, cinematography
“Phedon is so sensitive to performances and watching the actors’ faces to see what they’re revealing to us. He’s very responsive. It’s a process of plan, plan, plan — but then watch what is happening in the moment and adapt, revise and respond to what you’re seeing. You have to take advantage of what may only exist at a moment in time. Maybe his biggest challenge was finding a unified look for the movie, so it doesn’t look like everything was intended just to build up to the race scenes. As for shooting the racing, we had versions of the GT40 that offered more space to get a camera, and even an operator, in there. Christian and Matt were actually behind the wheel. But the person who was really driving could sit on the side or the top of the car, depending on the shot. When the camera is inside with Christian, we can look almost 200 degrees without seeing any filmmaking contraption.

“Phedon has a remarkable eye, and sense of composition a rebellious sense of trying not doing the obvious. Also he had to deal with little but important things, like how do we denote speed. When you’re tracking with a car, unless there are elements flying by, like grandstands or telephone poles, the sense of speed diminishes to a vague blur. And you want to feel things flying by. There was great effort thinking about what denotes the speed, whether we want the movement right-to-left or left-to-right, helping us understand how fast they’re moving. There’s also the light quality. In telling story of 24-hour race, you want to feel dawn, noon, dusk, night, rain, all these things produce a different look. Basically, we wanted  to denote four seasons of light and quality within 24 hours. We had to be organized, because we had to do pieces of different scenes on the same day. You’re always working non-chronologically. Phedon had wonderful gaffer, Michael Bauman, who helped a lot.”

“Marco, Buck and I talked about the push and pull of varying rhythms. We wanted a sense of the fun of the period. We opted out of orchestra; we worked a lot with guitars and a small group of woodwinds, saxophones, trumpets, trombones. We recorded at Studio A at Capitol Records, and we handled it like we were recording a pop album, with that energy, exuberance and drive, but also the feeling of play. This was the musicians playing and exploring, to produce a fresh sound. It’s a kind of session band. It was a smaller group of musicians but a longer recording time. We had more time to play with the musicians, rather than just, “Here’s the paper; play it.” I want people to hear the album. But my big fear is that if they listen while driving, they will inevitably step on the accelerator.”

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