Many directors make great movies, but Michael Mann creates great experiences, films that give the audience an almost tangible sense of the feelings and thoughts of his characters down to the smallest noticeable detail. In his debut feature, Thief, he took the viewer through every aspect of safe-breaking, from the tools and process to the exact cocktail of emotions the title character felt in both moments of success and moments of catastrophic failure. In Manhunter, Mann found visual and aural cues to the experience of an FBI profiler who places himself in the mindset of a serial killer, persuading the viewer to connect his perspective with the profiler’s in the same way the profiler connects his with his subject. Mann’s greatest film, Heat, takes the raw materials of a cops-and-robbers action movie and approaches them so realistically that it takes three hours to cover all the necessary ground — but there’s not a moment in the film that doesn’t it does not pulse with propulsive emotion and action.
Mann’s latest film, Ferrari (in cinemas Christmas), is typical of his work – indeed, in its ability to convey the exhilaration and terror of racing in the 1950s, it is one of his most sensational works until. Mann creates two contrasting styles for the complementary narrative threads, telling a subdued, classically composed story whenever the film focuses on protagonist Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver) and his tense personal life, and shifts into a much more frenetic gear for the kinetics and often terrifying racing sequences. When thinking about the contrast between the two styles, Mann asks himself a question similar to the ones he expects his actors to explore. “What is my action? Which means how do I want it to affect the audience,” Mann told IndieWire. “I want too [the racing] to be the exact counterpoint. I want it to be wild and for you to experience not looking at a car – which means being a detached observer of a beautiful shot with a long lens – but being in the driver’s seat.”
Giving the audience a sense of what Mann calls the “intense excitement” of being in the thick of the race means everything has to be filmed for real, with real cars on real tracks. “There is no green screen. There is no video wall,” said operator Eric Messerschmidt. “Michael wasn’t interested in filming the car at 50 miles an hour and then using all the camera tricks to make it look like it was going a hundred. He was interested in shooting cars at 100 miles per hour. Messerschmidt noted that avoiding the typical tricks where lenses and careful camera positioning make the cars appear to be moving faster than they actually are created a number of logistical challenges. “There are safety challenges and concerns about mounting the cameras. We had to build the cars and cameras to withstand G-forces and vibrations.”
Real Ferraris from the era depicted in Mann’s film are extremely expensive collectibles that can sell for tens of millions of dollars on the open market, so the filmmakers’ first task was to create convincing replicas. (One exception: a classic Maserati owned by Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, which was loaned to the production.) Mann collaborated with stunt coordinator Robert Nagle and vehicle supervisor Neil Leighton to build the replicas from scratch. “They had to go 140 or 150 miles an hour, they had to be reliable and safe,” Mann said. Starting with 3D LiDAR scans of actual cars, Mann’s team reproduces what Mann calls “mathematically perfect” vehicle bodies according to the filmmaker’s strict requirement for authenticity. “All the elements and details are absolutely accurate,” Nagle said. “Then it was a matter of finding a good base chassis to start with without having to redo everything.”
Leighton and Nagle landed on a 340-horsepower supercharged four-cylinder Caterham 620, resulting in cars that weighed around 1,800 pounds. “It was rockets,” Nagle said. Creating fast and reliable cars was the first step; the second was figuring out how to shoot them. Messerschmidt, Nagle and Leighton collaborated in different approaches depending on the requirements of each shot, sometimes using rigs mounted on the cars, sometimes using high-speed camera cars to move alongside the cars in the picture, or relying on helicopters or high-speed cars speed drones to capture the action. “It started with the LiDAR scan,” Mann said. “That went into a CAD computer program and then we reverse engineered the tubular chassis design. We built hard mounting points into the tubular chassis so I could penetrate the skin of the car and attach tracking camera systems to the actual chassis.”
This gave Mann maximum flexibility in filming his driving scenes. “We were able to have devices where a camera could move around the side of the car, move next to the car, to the right to see an adjacent car, and come back around and see a close-up of the driver of that car,” Mann said. , “and you’re moving and all this can happen while the car is going 110, 115 miles an hour.” At other times, Ferrari’s creators relied on less sophisticated techniques. “Some of it is handheld, with cameraman Roberto De Angelis sitting in the passenger seat,” Mann said. For scenes where the acting is central, Nagle uses what he calls a “biscuit rig.” “It’s a steerable platform that you can put the car on and it allows you to mount cameras almost anywhere you want,” Nagle said. “It will move at the speed the cars are moving so we can stay in the mix and have the actors act without the distraction of driving.”
However, one actor rose to the challenge. Patrick Dempsey, who plays Italian racing legend Piero Taruffi, is himself a seasoned race car driver and was more than game for anything Nagle could throw at him. “He did a fantastic job,” Nagle said. “All I had to do was release him and put cameras on him. He was so capable that I put him on the stunt team. There was an intensive training period for all the actors to ensure that they could be convincing and seamlessly match the action of the stuntmen. “We train them to a level where they feel confident in front of the camera so they can drive the car with authority and it’s nothing to do with not actually being that capable.”
The final step in conveying the intuitive racing experience of the cars depicted by “Ferrari” came in the sound design, for which Mann brought in a team of collaborators: production sound mixer Lee Orloff, recording mixer and supervising sound editor Tony Lamberti, supervising sound editor Bernard Weiser and recording mixer Andy Nelson. Together they have created a soundscape that is both painstakingly accurate and emotionally emotive, seamlessly blending production sound from the actual races with rare period car recordings (many borrowed from Nick Mason’s collection) to put the viewer at the heart of the action. Lamberti noted that he and Mann meticulously spotted all the races, judging exactly what type of sound was needed for each shot and then slipping in the right effect when the footage of the real vehicles arrived.
Again, Mann’s demand for realism created challenges, especially for Orloff, when it came to recording dialogue on set. “On Michael’s set, if you have cars coming and going, they’re running all the time,” he said. “There’s no request to shut down the engines or anything like that.” While the sound team adhered to Mann’s overall guiding principle of sticking as close to reality as possible, one of the film’s most striking emotional effects comes in a crash sequence where they chose to -an impressionistic approach, dropping the sound bit by bit and replacing it with a dull vibrating sound that allows the horror of what’s happening to settle in. For Mann, it was a moment designed to illustrate just how dangerous the cars he represents are. “These were incredibly powerful cars that nevertheless lacked up-to-date braking and safety technology,” he said.
Like Dempsey, Mann has raced cars – he raced in the Ferrari Challenge from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s – and his experience undoubtedly informs the Ferrari decorations, which are among the most the best of its kind ever put on film. “When everything is happening the right way, you, the vehicle, are all one. It is a single organism. Your focus is 100 percent, you’re not concerned with what’s going on in Los Angeles. It has a kind of zen feel to it like when you were 11 years old and you dreamed of flying or you had the idea “I’m Peter Pan” or whatever. It is very similar to this.
NEON will release “Ferrari” in theaters nationwide on December 25.