The men behind the movie

The potential of a film often starts with people you won’t even see on screen. That’s certainly the case with Ron Howard’s latest movie Rush

As the filming draws to a close on the upcoming Ron Howard film Rush, all will be going quiet until the first trailers emerge ahead of its release in early 2013. The director of Apollo 13 and Frost/Nixon has been tweeting (I can’t believe that’s a verb...) plenty of pictures from the ilming and, despite Fuji being ‘created’ at Blackbushe airport, it looks tantalisingly good. Part of this is down to the use of proper cars, as well as the likes of the BRM replicas featured in the June issue.

Luckily for the production crew, there just happens to be an FIA-sanctioned Historic Formula One Championship (HFO), and in that series there is ‘Class D’, for post-71 lat bottom F1 cars. That is rather handy when you’re making a ilm about the relationship between Niki Lauda and James Hunt.

“Jim [Hajicosta, a co-producer on the film] came along to our first round last year at Hockenheim and introduced himself,” Dan Collins, the championship’s organiser, tells me after getting back from the Monaco Historique.

“The production team was asking things like what incidents happened in which particular season and at which circuits. They had done some research but not having any prior knowledge of F1 for any era, let alone back in the 1970s, they got a few things mixed up. We weren’t the only people involved, to be fair – Lauda was also a consultant on the project, as were a few other people involved in historic motor sport.” Hajicosta, who looks remarkably like Jean-Pierre Jarier, is also a huge Formula 1 fan and has no doubt been steering things in the right direction.

“We put them straight on a few incidents, but our big job was to track down where all the cars were today and the current owners. What they also wanted us to do was to find different tracks to film certain scenes at. Some of the action took place at circuits which don’t exist anymore so we were looking at corners on tracks in the UK that would replicate those. There simply isn’t one circuit that has everything on it in the world. We suggested if their budget would stretch to it going somewhere like Guadix in Spain, or one of the southern test circuits because there’s very little around them and special effects can add in anything, but they really wanted to do it in the UK.”

That decision will have been partly down to the cost saving, but also some of the most skilled production teams in the world can be found here and film crews get very good tax breaks when they’re based in Britain.

“We came up with Donington, Snetterton and possibly Pembrey. Then for the sequences around the startline they used Blackbushe airport. It’s actually been used for a number of different circuits. They’ve just dressed it up differently.”

Talk soon turns to the rumours that some of the facts about the period have been massaged and whether or not it will end up being a convincing portrayal of 1970s F1. “It will definitely be a drama,” says the man whose only other filmic experience was being one of the hooded men in Queen’s Radio Ga Ga video.

“To be honest, when they first approached me I wasn’t so sure because there have been plenty of people over the years who have talked about making a film about motor racing, but they’ve never really come to anything. Then they said that Ron Howard was taking it on.

“I had a meeting with him and asked why he was doing a film about Formula 1 because it’s not very well-known in the ’States and he didn’t know much about it. He said ‘I don’t know anything about it! I’m a big fan of sports, but not of auto racing. It was the relationship between Hunt and Lauda that attracted me; like it was with the astronauts in Apollo 13 and between Frost and Nixon’.

The problem Howard is facing is that he is trying to tell a three- or four-year story in less than two hours. There is no way that he can get in all the details, nor have everything as it was.

“For the average person,” Collins continues, “it will look good. I think, I hope, that most enthusiasts will accept those things that are not quite accurate because they are in there
in order to tell the story.”

Even though Collins was approached to source and supply the cars, he admits that HFO didn’t have the infrastructure to cope with the extra work, so directed the production
team to event management, communications and PR company Stuart McCrudden Associates.

“They got paid for their help,” he says, “and I believe the owners of the cars got something for having their cars used, depending on whether they were stationary or running. Of course, it costs money to fire these things up!

“We hope the film will be good for the championship, that it will bring more spectators and competitors. There are clearly plenty out there because so many people [who don’t race] brought their cars out for the ilm. We’re also supporting the British GP in July and the film has definitely helped raise our profile.

“It hasn’t actually been too stressful, but I suggest that some individuals would say that it has been one panic after the other because things like filming schedules kept getting changed!” There also seems to have been a bit of a learning phase when the ilm crew first started working with the cars. “In the early days there were situations when the guys with cars were told ‘we won’t be doing any engine starts for at least 30 minutes’ and then someone would come up two minutes later and say ‘start them up’. None of the engines had been warmed up and we had to explain that you can’t just fire up an F1 engine when you feel like it.

“One of the guys – Chris Dinnage [the team manager at Classic Team Lotus] – was doing some driving up at Snetterton. He was immediately behind the camera car and had been told that nobody was to overtake for this particular shot. He then heard this engine coming up beside him and thought somebody must be trying to pass. It turned out that it was a helicopter two feet off his right shoulder. I think it was a bit of a surprise!”

A Hollywood film about F1 will always be faced with scepticism, but with the likes of the HFO involved behind the scenes it’s had all the necessary help to send it into post-production on the right track. No pun intended.

Ed Foster