Senna is released next Monday 10th October DVD and Blu-ray and I still stand firm in my belief that it’s not only the best documentary that I’ve seen all year, but the greatest film that I’ve seen all year.
Senna is based on the professional Formula One racing life of quite possibly the greatest driver that ever lived, Ayrton Senna. The movie focuses on his life after transitioning from karting into one the world’s most prestigious sports. It doesn’t matter if you know nothing about Formula One, everyone needs to see this movie. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll be taken on a spectacular journey for 90 minutes.
The film is directed by Asif Kapadia who undertook the huge project of bringing this amazing story to the big screen. It has been winning awards left, right and centre at film festivals and now it’s available for you to own on DVD and Blu-ray. We interviewed Asif for the theatrical release but there was so much more to ask him that when I was asked if I wanted to interview him for the Home Entertainment release, I jumped at the chance. Thanks again to Asif for taking the time to speak with us.
HeyUGuys – I’ve seen the movie four times now and every time I watch it, I get even more emotional every time!
Asif Kapadia – Wow, you dream that you make a film that people want to watch more than once. What’s happened with this film is that people want to watch it again and again. It’s quite complicated, there is a lot in there and there’s lots that you won’t necessarily see the first time. Normally when I’m watching my own movies, there’s a point when I get absolutely sick of my own films and I can’t watch them anymore. All I can see is the flaws where you think ‘what a mistake there I made in the casting’ or ‘that story that doesn’t work’ but Senna, I can sit there and watch it time and time and time again – just because of him. He’s so charismatic. I just enjoy the racing so much and still it becomes very emotional watching Brazil 1991 and the ending that I find myself sitting there and it’s so unbelievable.
HeyUGuys – I know you wanted to make it five hours long….
(Laughs) I would have been happy with three hours!
HeyUGuys – Is there anything in the final edit that you wish you had left in?
You know the end roller when he runs out of the car and runs to help another driver? Eric Komas, that scene, I still don’t understand why it’s not in the movie. We use a bit of it but there was a slightly longer version. It happens during the 92 season, his worst season and he’s having such a bad time; Nigel Mansell’s winning everything. And in the middle of him being really unhappy – he wants to leave the team, he wants to go to Williams and he can’t get in, there’s all this stuff going on and in the middle of that, he does this act, this deed of helping someone else, nearly getting run over. And I just, why is that not in the movie? I have no idea. Someone, somewhere, we were so pushed to bring the film down to length, to be able to get it done in time. That’s the one I wish we’d kept.
HeyUGuys – In the Director / Filmmakers commentary on the DVD, we get to hear that the Producers are really keen to make the five hour version of the movie. Do you think that will ever see the light of day?
I really hope so. I’m the eternal optimist when it comes to this sort of thing. You have to remember that when we first started, we only had permission for 40 minutes of footage. So the fact that we’ve managed to get the film out the way we have is unbelievable because Bernie Ecclestone gave us permission for 40 minutes. We’d cut this movie that was so long, entirely made of archive and we were millions over budget. And my feeling was, if people watch this movie enough times, they’re going to fall in love with it, and there’s not any other way we can make the film, and that’s pretty much what happened. Everybody decided that ‘we can’t get rid of this material, we love it too much’. So in the end the Producers had to go back to negotiate with Bernie Ecclestone to get 80 minutes. The truth is, I always thought, if the movie does well enough around the world, theatrically, on DVD and Blu-ray then hopefully someone, somewhere is going to say ‘hold on, this is a no brainer, shouldn’t we get out a longer version’. And I hope that happens because we’ve already got these versions cut. They’re not mastered, they’re not totally completed but if nothing else, maybe it would be a situation where we have a three or four version that we could show on very specific screens around the country, around the world at the cinema. It would be alike a special event where you could come and see a longer cut. That would be a starting point. If that does well then maybe there’s a way where we can do another deal where we can say ‘can we release it on DVD’. Somebody big upstairs needs to make the call because ultimately someone needs to pay for it.
In a way, what you’ve said is the answer. You always hope when you make a film that people are going to like it. In this case, when we were cutting the film, we’d have little internal screenings and pretty much what you said at the beginning of the call kept happening. People who had seen the film once would come back again and again and again and cry all over again or even cry even more. My wife didn’t cry the first time she saw it, she cried the second or the third time she saw it. It just somehow becomes more emotional maybe cause you know where it’s going. Something happens, you get to know him I suppose, you get to know him more the more you watch it.
All the way through the experience of this film has been word of mouth that has made things happen. We’ve made a film, put it out there, sit back and let people see it and then tell other people and I hope if word of mouth gets strong enough then hopefully we’ll be able to get a longer version out. If your wife starts telling people about it, then who knows what could happen! (We both laugh)
HeyUGuys – The film visually is stunning with all the amazing imagery but Antonio Pinto’s score is simply amazing! I was pleased to hear that it’s coming out….
Yeah, it’ll be out in the UK when the DVD comes out so October 10th and getting the score out was something that we were pushing to get out. Music is always very complicated but Antonio has just done an amazing job. He’s just so brilliant and such a lovely guy. It’s another thing worth mentioning – he called us up. He heard we were making a Senna film, he’s Brazilian, born in Rio but lives in Sao Paulo, loved Senna and says ‘I hear you’re making this film, I want to do the music’. And we said ‘I don’t know if we can afford you, we’re in London’ and he said ‘I don’t care, whatever happens, I’m doing it, we’ll figure it out’ and I said ‘I can’t even send you any material, I don’t have any money to fly to Sao Paulo , we certainly can’t bring you to London, but can you just from your memory write some music for me so that I’ve got something edit with’ and went away and wrote some music. And he wrote three themes. And the main theme that you hear at the end of the film when you see him go-karting, the theme when he wins in Brazil in 1991, all of that was written before he saw any of the movie.
It’s amazing, and he’s the nicest guy in the universe, it was just a joy to work with him. And again, we’ve been trying to get the soundtrack out for ages. And it’s only because people keep asking – The word is that no one cares about soundtracks, nobody buys them anymore, there’s no market in it – But we keep saying people around the world love this music and want it and love the film. And that’s what pushed people so that’s what pushed people to get it out. It’s going to be released digitally in the UK on the 10th so you have that music on your iPod and you cry on the tube!
HeyUGuys – When you were going through the footage for the movie, were you constantly cheering about finding new bits of footage and how great this movie could potentially be? It’s now September and it’s still the best film I’ve seen all year.
Rather than clapping our hands, were shaking our heads thinking ‘I can’t believe that just happened, I can’t believe he just said that and I can’t believe there was a cameraman there!’ and now we’ve got this material. We’d just look at each other and our jaws would drop and say ‘we’ve got another scene, another great moment and you’re hoping in a movie that you have 7 or 8 great sequences and in this film, we had more like 20. The problem on this film from the very start was knowing that we were going to have to drop half of this. It was always going to be a process of elimination. We all loved different moments and we’d all say ‘you cant take that out’ and ‘you can’t take that out’ and then we’d take it to the money people and they’d say ‘it’s still way long but why did you take that bit out?!’. The best problem is to have too much.
Senna’s life was like adapting a Russian novel, where there are the fans who love the original novel, they love everything about it and they want you to put everything in that book on the screen and it’s never going to be possible so you have to figure out how to do the best adaptation that you can. But because it’s a movie, my feeling was that we had to go with what we could show. There would be great moments that people would have read about but if there was no camera there, we couldn’t show it. So if we’ve got a camera there and it’s dramatic and powerful, that’s what we were going to use. And so that was essentially the creative decision we had to make – to tell the story the best way we can, to keep it movie, to keep it exciting, to keep it dramatic but to make it visually cinematic and orally to make it sounds like a movie.
HeyUGuys – It was also interesting on the directors commentary to hear you talk about how you had to overdub some of the car engine audio with the gear syncs etc.
Yeah, the car sounded different but we can’t cheat the car. Everyone would know so the sound was just as complex as the picture because you can’t go and drive those cars anymore. Lewis (Hamilton) can drive a McLaren car, he can drive Senna’s car but he’s never going to get out of first or second gear. He’s never going to be pushing on the limit so then you have an issue saying ‘what we are we going to do’? Senna drives the car differently to anybody else so you have to work with what you can find and you have to take this tiny little microphone from 1988 /89 and the sound guys had to use that audio to turn it into Dolby Digital to make it sound exciting in a cinema screen. That work that they’ve done it just fantastic, and that together with the music – sometimes the pictures are technically not that good but as long as the sound is good, it makes you feel like you’re watching a movie.
It’s funny because we tried to put it on the DVD. That was a pivotal moment to show people…. He literally cut it on his laptop in his bedroom….
HeyUGuys – He grabbed them off YouTube didn’t he?
Yeah, off YouTube and whatever DVDs he had on his shelf, just for us to put it together just to use to show how it’s going to work as a task to say ‘this is how it’s going to work’. That short was really powerful, that short made people cry. It had all the key beats of his rise, the middle, the rivalry and it had Imola. And even that short, you just realised this could work. We showed that to Universal, we showed it to Working Title and some of it was YouTube. It went all the way to the top, the head of Universal in LA viewed it. And that was a key moment for a) how the film got greenlit as a feature and b) That was when my gut instinct was ‘I don’t know if we need interviews, if all that material is out there, then why do we need to interview anyone? Let’s just show what happened’.
The reason we haven’t been able to put that short on the DVD – most of it, I’d say 80% of that short film in our movie and the other 20%, the reason it’s not in the movie, we couldn’t clear the shots. If we’d cleared the shots, they’d be in the feature and then we’d have put the short on the DVD and Blu-ray. Because it’s all so complicated – if you have footage from Japan, anyone in the film you had to clear, footage from France and Japan, you own your own personal image, you own your rights, in a way we don’t have so much here. So all these different rules about who shot the footage, who’s in the footage, affect what you can put in the finished movie.
There’s a scene when Senna’s on a Japanese game show which is the funniest moment in the movie. It’s around 1991/92 and he’s so famous, he’s like Elvis. He’s on a Japanese game show and there’s a woman who asks for his autograph and he managed to find a pen there and there and he signs her short, he signs her chest, and she screams and the whole audience screams. It’s just hilarious, so brilliant and so funny but we couldn’t clear it. So while I was mixing the movie, we had to take it out and it never made the cut. And that scenes was on the short film and I really wanted it on the feature but we couldn’t get it cleared for various reasons. But that’s another one that I wish was in the movie.
HeyUGuys – With Oscar season coming up, how would you feel if you won one and what what’s next for you?
I’m a very superstitious guy so I would never even talk about a thing like that. The journey so far has been amazing and we’ll just have to see. Filmmaking is as political as Formula One so we’ll just have to see how it goes. Because I’m new to the documentary world, I’ve been to a few festivals and there are quite a few brilliant movies out there. If we’re in the mix with them then that would be amazing and if there’s anything after that it would be amazing, it would be unreal, but you can’t take anything for granted.