The Making of Senna part 3: Inside the F1 archive


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Ayrton Senna, McLaren, Monte-Carlo, 1990

The international version of Senna weighs in at one hour and 45 minutes long.

Much of that is material from the F1 archives.

But in order to get access to the vast vault of F1 video stored at Biggin Hill, the producers of Senna first had to persuade Bernie Ecclestone to do a deal with them.

“Give us all the money you’ve got”

Getting the Senna family on-side (see part two) had been the first step towards that, as the film’s writer and executive producer Manish Pandey explained:

“Once Vivianne [Senna] had agreed she made a phone call to Bernie, saying that we came with her blessing, and to please meet with us and help us because we really wanted to do this film.”

Their first meeting with Ecclestone lasted 17 minutes: “I was more nervous meeting Bernie for the first time than I was about going to Brazil because with he comes with so much form.

“You’ve seen him on TV, he’s supposed to be this fearsome negotiator, but he was brilliant.

“We met in a small room at Prince’s Gate with his lawyer, who’s now become a great friend. He beat us up for a bit and then Bernie came in.

“Bernie sussed us out, asked a couple of questions, offered a few bits of opinion. We shook hands and he said: ‘give us all the money you’ve got and we’ll see what we can do.’

“He knew we weren’t going to turn up with $50 million but he saw that we were very serious.”

“Like a kid in a candy shop”

The team had to lobby Ecclestone for first-hand access to the archive instead of just requesting footage and being sent it.

“We had to explain that’s not really how films work – we had to go in and see what’s there.

“Eventually they agreed and gave us four weeks’ access to the archive. No-one had ever had that. It was like being a kid in a candy shop.”

Pandey described the excitement of turning up never-before-seen footage of Senna’s career – including pivotal moments at Imola in 1994:

“Occasionally we’d make a discovery and I went ‘hold on, that is the date, that’s qualifying, that’s the Friday!’

“And you suddenly realise you’ve got the moment, and you’re looking at him with bloodshot eyes because he’s deciding ‘am I going to race?’”

The wealth of material on offer presented them with one of the toughest challenges of making the film. Namely, deciding what to leave out and what to leave in.

An F1 career that spanned 11 years had to be condensed into 80 minutes of footage (with the rest coming from, among other sources, television channels and the Sennas’ home videos).

Pandey said: “FOM have never given anybody 80 minutes before, and asking for more than that would be taking the piss. They’ve been unbelievably generous.”

Inevitably, questions have been raised (including in F1 Fanatic’s review of Senna) about why certain races or incidents were left out. A later part of this series will explore that in detail.

Driver’s-eye view

In some ways, the old footage used in the film has a greater impact than modern broadcasts, despite being lower quality.

This is particularly true of the on-board camera shots, which Pandey says “really give a sense of how violent it is”:

“In those cars the cameras were basically at driver’s eye height. So you’re at one side but you can see their hands in the cockpit.

“One of the flaws, I think, with modern Formula 1 cameras, is that they make it look like you’re eight metres away, and it’s far too smooth.

“With Senna, at Monaco especially, you can see just how bumpy it is.”

This may even lead to changes in how modern F1 is filmed:

“Interestingly we showed Bernie’s lawyers and commercial people the film for the first time, then we noticed at Brazil they moved Fernando’s camera position lower and to one side.”

“The Making of Senna” continues tomorrow.

To ensure you don’t miss an instalment subscribe to F1 Fanatic for free via RSS, Twitter or our email subscription service. Click here for more information.

Senna opens in the UK on June 3rd. See the official website for more information.

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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32 comments on “The Making of Senna part 3: Inside the F1 archive”

  1. This may even lead to changes in how modern F1 is filmed:

    “Interestingly we showed Bernie’s lawyers and commercial people the film for the first time, then we noticed at Brazil they moved Fernando’s camera position lower and to one side.”

    More of this please :)
    I remember seeing Coulthard’s helmet cam for his final race (all 2 corners of it) and while I don’t think we should go that far, having something lower than the T-Cam (which makes you feel very detached as I found out from playing F1 2010) would really increase the immersive feel of onboard footage, like the old clips :)

    1. A camera on the side of the engine cover is a far better shot, and those top mounted cameras look ridiculous.

      1. There’s one on the HRT I believe, we just never get to see it :)

      2. I did notice McLaren has cameras on the sides now, it really does show far more of what the driver is experiencing. Just what we want to get from on boards.

        1. But then they forgot to really use them during the races …

          I agree that it would be great if they looked at placement of the cameras from a perspective of the viewing experience they provide – since all the drivers have the same shape camera housing, it impacts them all equally (well, apart from different conditioning of the air used on that part of their car I suppose – but they can design for it).

    2. Personall I don’t think helmet cams ARE taking it too far. They give a much more accurate impression of the drivers’ perspective.

      Here’s the example I’ve linked before:

      For one thing, you can actually see much further ahead, as the driver can, which give you a far better idea of what the corners look like coming at the driver, and how they enter those corners. Imagining that perspective in full HD is enough to make me salivate…

      1. Personally, that is… *edit button*

      2. I think Helmet cams would be the way to go, as long as everyone had them, so it’s fair.
        When combined with the shot from the T camera on top of the car it would be an ideal combination to give you the nice smooth wide angle view of what is going on around the driver, watching their driving style etc, and the view which gives you the viewpoint of the driver.

        1. On that, here’s another quote from Manish I hadn’t used in the article:

          When we went to meet Bernie Asif had [an idea] for how to make Formula 1 more interesting, visually […] from Danny Boyle’s film “Sunshine” where he did ‘double camera’ – he had a camera pointing in, built into the helmet, but he also had a camera pointing away so you get a kind of split-screen effect. You can see the drivers’ eyes and his reaction to what he’s looking at, but you can also see what he’s looking at.

          1. They have done a similar thing on WRC coverage showing the driver’s face to see how much concentration is required and how little the drivers blink.

            I’d find helmet cameras a welcome addition to F1 coverage.

      3. Helmet cameras look terrific, let’s have them!

        Video: Massa’s helmet-cam lap of Jerez

        1. Safety?

          Considering Senna was killed by, er… “cranial trauma”, surely the concept of having anything on the helmet that could conceivably affect the way it cushions an impact is utterly no-go?

          1. They’ve been used in races before, including by Coulthard as recently as 2008.

    3. Side cameras have been there for a while:
      but they’re still above the helmet and they surely don’t shake.

      1. Yes but we don’t get enough action shown from those and they are not widely used.
        They look more exciting than the cameras above the air-box so i don’t get why they aren’t used very much.

  2. do we have any listings for this friday? London showing it? Dragging the girlfriend along and told her to leave the mascara at home

    1. Just go to your local cinema’s website and see if they are showing it. I have two choices as I don’t know if I’m staying in Kent or going to London on Saturday, but both Odeon and Vue are screening the film so I’ll see it either way. :D

    2. Try Vue cinema’s. Think I saw London in the list.

  3. Can’t wait to see this. So looking forward to it. Honestly, i’m a relative newcomer to F1 but I’m sure this will move me as well.

    I bet the FOM archive is absolutely brilliant. Where would you start?!

  4. Having seen the footage in the film it only makes me wish FOM would do more with their archive. I’m sure there are millions around the would who would be queuing up to pay to watch the old race weekends. Come in Bernie embrace the internet and let us fans line your pocket with even more money.

    1. Yep. $3.99 to watch an old race… They should all be available through iTunes. Bernie would be making a killing on that. I’d be watching a different one every week.

      1. I agree – I understand Pandey wanting to thank Bernie, but I don’t think FOM are actually being that generous – as a younger fan of F1 (my memory just about extends back to Mansell’s championship win in 92, but I was 8 at the time) I’d love to see more footage from previous seasons, but FOM are so guarded with the keys to the footage that you can get very little on DVD from before the early 2000s. Why can’t we have new season reviews of the 80s and 90s, or at least the old ones transfered to DVD? They could make classic GP DVDs and all sorts or, as US_Peter suggests, shove it on a pay per view archive website – I don’t think anyone imagines this stuff is free for them to make available, so I wouldn’t mind paying (a small amount!). I don’t think they actually would make millions, but they would be looking after the history of the sport.

        Ps, great series, Keith.

    2. I haven’t seen the movie (yet, I hope), but I was about to post about that too – even for the race reviews, wouldn’t it be great to have film people come in and create a movieclip from the footage?

  5. Just booked my tickets for Friday :D soo excited!!

  6. Just been to the screening/Q&A in Manchester. Absolutely astounding film. Took a girl who hadn’t heard of Ayrton Senna – not even joking – and she was blown away by the whole thing. As a portrait of the man it’s wonderful, as a film it’s wonderful, as a black comedy about Senna and Prost it’s an unexpected treat. There’s some lovely bits with Rubens, and the footage of Senna watching Ratzenberger’s crash had a lot of the room close to tears; the absolute highlight of the piece, however, is Balestre as pantomime villain. Film of the year, surely, for fans of cinema as much as fans of F1.

  7. This is one of the best series of Articles on F1Fanatic ever :) .. or, I love ‘Making of’ stuff like this! :D

    1. Agreed, I’ve really enjoyed them all equally so far. I hope there are 10 as Keith hinted there may be…

    2. Yes, and what makes it incredibly good is the enthusiasm and passion of Manish which you could almost hear and touch even through screen. He seems to really really dig deep into this genius’ life and personality and understood it with all its complexity.

      This is his life and something productive, something incredible turned out of it.

      I just checked on IMDb that ‘Senna’ would make it into the Hungarian cinemas so I have to wait for a DVD release.

      1. *wouldn’t. *Edit button :D*

  8. Absolutely fantastic article :) Staying tuned for further information. This is a great look into a movie I am sure we will all be seeing again and again.

  9. In making this film they didn’t need to pay any actor or actress OH I forgot they paid Bernie for his role!~

  10. The article shows ������ signs. Is it just me?

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