31 May 2011 by Keith Collantine

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. 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.”

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