“I think that the predicaments and the frustrations of these characters, I recognized in our own world, as the fight to get something new or different made, in a system built to make what was made last year,” Mangold said, on a panel for the film at The Contenders Los Angeles, moderated by Deadline’s Joe Utichi. “[There’s] a similarity, in the sense that the costs are high, and the risks are high—and although people like me don’t tend to die making movies, we can disappear, magically, if we fail.”
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Centered on American car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and driver par excellence Ken Miles (Christian Bale), Ford v Ferrari is the story of two brilliant out-of-the-box thinkers who wrestled with incessant corporate interference, while trying to pull off the unthinkable—designing a race car that could beat Ferrari at the 1966 24 Hours of Les Mans.
Setting out to direct this thrilling picture, Mangold had no particular affinity for motorsports, connecting primarily to the film’s portrait of friendship. “A lot of the great friendships of my life, and the great connections, are with people like these, who I made the movie with. But even people who I 10 years ago made a film with, you run into them, and it’s like you haven’t seen each other for five minutes,” the director shared. “There’s something about working together physically that connects you for a lifetime with people, and that’s another way I really connected with what these guys were doing.”
Described by Mangold as “a reverse Saving Private Ryan”—with “this large-scale action piece that ended the film, and a very meditative and interesting character piece, leading up to it”—Ford v Ferrari was a massive technical challenge to take on, one that required the director and his collaborators to invest in a world they previously knew little about.
“The cars were an education,” production designer François Audouy said, joined on the panel by producer Jenno Topping, editor Michael McCusker, and sound editor Donald Sylvester. “I was not a car guy, going into this, just like Jim, so we all had to become experts in each of these cars, and each of the cars are a character unto themselves. They had tons of little details and minutiae that had to be lovingly recreated.”
Bringing to Ford v Ferrari the authentic sounds of all of the racecars featured on screen, Sylvester’s biggest issue on the film was the fact that his access to these vehicles was quite limited. “I can tell you there’s about 10 [Ford] GT40s remaining on the planet, and they’re not going to let us record them and put them in a movie, not to mention taking them up to 220 miles an hour,” the sound editor explained. “That was the hardest, because when we found the cars, people wouldn’t talk to us. They went, ‘Oh, you’re making a movie? You’re not going to destroy my car for your movie.’”
Working with the tremendous performances of Damon, Bale and the rest of the cast, McCusker’s challenge was the responsibility he felt to the actors, and striking the right balance with their time on screen. “You’re presented with two such great performances, and you want to have [Damon and Bale] both on screen all the time,” McCusker admitted. “So, you have to kind of balance who you’re actually weighing, scene to scene.”
During the panel, Topping noted that Ford v Ferrari was a film that many people tried and failed to make, before Mangold and his team finally got the job done. “Who knows why these types of things happen when they happen, [but] part of it was the clarity of Jim’s vision,” the producer said. “Part of it was also, we were very conscious of mounting a huge, very expensive movie, that was essentially a character drama with some action, which is impossible in this marketplace. Nobody is doing that anymore.”
Featuring remarkable supporting turns from Caitriona Balfe, Jon Bernthal, Josh Lucas, JJ Feild, Ray McKinnon, Noah Jupe and Tracy Letts, 20th Century Fox’s racetrack drama hits theaters on November 15.