The Making of Senna part 5: The lost scenes

Interview

Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, McLaren, Estoril, 1988

Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, McLaren, Estoril, 1988

One of the biggest challenges in creating the Senna film, according to its producers, was deciding what footage to use and what to cut.

This was a theme Senna film writer Manish Pandey returned to several times when I interviewed him.

Some footage of Senna at his best, such as his virtuoso drive at Donington Park in 1993, is not used.

Two key moments in the budding Senna-Prost rivalry at Estoril in 1988 and Imola in 1989, where Senna was criticised for his driving, are also missing.

As I wrote in F1 Fanatic’s review of Senna in December: “Perhaps these weren?t thought significant enough to include, but putting them in might have helped to balance the film?s view of Senna, which verges on the saintly at times”.

I put that view to Pandey who said the criticism was “well taken” and offered an explanation for why the scenes weren’t included.

Estoril 1988

Alain Prost won the 1988 Portugal Grand Prix but after a frightening encounter when Senna squeezed him towards the pit wall as the pair blasted, flat-out, down the pit straight.

Pandey said the main reason this was skipped in the film was because they thought the footage lacked impact:

“We watched Estoril ?88 for bloody hours and it just looked so bad on a big screen.

“Not just the quality, but the exciting bit is a guy pulling a pit board away – that?s the only time you realise there?s a squeeze going on. It?s not like the Barrichello-Schumacher squeeze [at the Hungaroring last year] because Prost is behind him at the squeeze when it happens.

“Actually, when you see it on a big screen and you see what?s happening, the guy pulling his pit board away is about 100 metres behind Prost when he does it ?ǣ he?s reacted late.

“It looks fantastic when you?ve got a commentator on a small screen telling you what?s happened and you don?t have a chance to see it. But you can?t pull that off in a cinema ?ǣ people will just be going, ‘what did he do there?’”.

Pandey also said a desire to ensure both sides of the story were told mitigated against including the sequence:

“This was the year Senna famously clammed up ?ǣ we just couldn?t get the counter-argument in. So it would be basically Prost?s point of view and no counter-argument.”

Imola 1989

The agreement between Prost and Senna not to try to pass each other in the first corner at the San Marino Grand Prix has been the subject of much discussion. Prost claimed Senna broke the agreement after passing him at Tosa when the race was restarted following a red flag.

Pandey says a desire to present both sides of the story also played a part in the omission of Imola ’89:

“There?s a fantastic interlude that?s on the FOM Duke review tape for that year, with Alain at Monaco talking about the broken agreement. All his point of view, lots of smiling.

“The problem was that Senna didn?t speak about it. We could have done it, as long as we?d had a counter-argument from Senna. He spoke about it in AutoHebdo to Pierre [van Vliet] but the tape didn?t exist.

“So what could we do? We?d made a decision that we were not going to get actors to read out because then it?s not real.

“We desperately tried to find that tape to make Imola ?89 work. We even found footage of the two of them talking to each other after the Berger accident on the new grid. We tried using voiceover there but it just didn?t work.”

Pandey felt the nature of the agreement was difficult to convey with the footage available. Added to that was the challenge of explaining to non-F1 literate viewers that the two bends before Tosa were not considered corners:

“The problem then is the camera angle is just crap. You see Prost getting away with Senna behind him, then you see Senna pulling out.

“Because it?s not a conventional track and you don?t have a straight followed by a corner. You?ve got this huge great run, a long left into Tamburello, the right before Tosa, then you have the braking point at Tosa ?ǣ you actually have three corners.

“The agreement was not to overtake under braking for the first corner.”

Pandey admits he would have liked to have covered more of the Senna-Prost rivalry in the interest of balance:

“In a way I feel we should have had a crack at it anyway, even if it was weak, because perhaps what would have happened people would have thought ‘well, I didn?t quite understand that, but I understand something happened’.

“The slight problem we have now is that we do have Ron Dennis saying, ‘er, it was a tough year, the next year’.

“But I agree, as a fan I remember sitting there and thinking OK, I understand all the technical reasons we have for not doing this but I do feel that it?s such a big rivalry, it?s going to carry on until the end of the film ?ǣ until Prost literally crosses himself [at Senna's funeral], the rivalry hasn?t ended”.

Donington Park 1993

The reason for leaving out footage from Senna’s lauded drive in the 1993 European Grand Prix is simply that the footage didn’t look very good, according to director Asif Kapadia:

“It is amazing when you look at his driving how he wins in such an inferior car. But it is grey, it is pissing down with rain and no one is there.

“The camera work is awful too, even though they are driving at 190mph, it all looks so slow, so I chose not to make it a key sequence in the film.”

Familiarity also worked against some sequences as Eric Fellner, another of the film’s producers, explained: “With the race races that have been televised, what we tried to do was find angles.

“It sounds a bit nerdy, but we always tried to find the angle that hadn’t been broadcast.”

Five hours to 100 minutes

The team previewed thousands of hours of footage in Bernie Ecclestone’s video archive before creating a rough, five hour long cut of the film.

Pandey explains: ??We got it from five hours to three, and that came down to two-and-a-half quite easily. But now it gets nasty.

“We knew we had to get down to 100 minutes because that?s really what it would sustain. And, my God, it was so hard.”

No doubt many F1 Fanatic readers would quite happily watch five hours of rare archive footage from the eighties and nineties. But there were reasons to cut the film other than the limited amount of footage they could obtain from Ecclestone:

“The problem is it becomes an issue of pacing. People have a feeling of expectation, if you set things up properly, that you?ve got to fulfil in a reasonable amount of time.

“And the nightmare is you want to get a little bit more in and you don?t know why but everyone?s a little bit exhausted, a bit lethargic.

“We had to fight for the 100 – it was meant to be 90, like most documentaries. But every time we chopped it to 90 it was like there was something missing. And when it got to 100 it just left you wanting that little bit more.”

Japan

There are two differences in the Japanese version of the film including one extra scene, as Pandey explains:

“In Japan we had to make two modifications to the film. John Bisigniano, when he walks down the pit lane in 1990 going ??can you tell me what exactly happened, Ayrton??? ?ǣ we had Kaz Kawai doing that in the Japanese version.

“Right at the end we used to have two Japanese journalists standing in front of the camera, trying to tell you that Ayrton Senna is dead, and they keep cracking up before they can say it. One keeps passing the other one the microphone, the other one drops his head because he can?t say it.

“Then Kaz appears in the pit lane, leans over the barrier and reads a prepared statement, and then gives these guys time to gather their thoughts. And they say: ??We have this awful news to tell you??, ??I wish he hadn?t died in this way??. It?s heartbreaking.

“We would have gone with it, but we were told that there was an opinion that it could almost look comic if you weren?t Japanese. It?s not an opinion I share.

“But the one place where we knew there would be no ambiguity was in Japan. And if it helps the Japanese viewers to understand that bit even more, they should have it.”

‘What I would have changed’

Pandey has two clear ideas about how he would like to change the film. One of which is showing a little more of Senna’s questionable moves in his rivalry with Prost: “It?s such a big rivalry and I think we made a mistake by not finding one tiny bit of touchpaper to light.”

The second was to use Gerhard Berger in part of a sequence from 1990: “You see Senna on the beach, thinking about giving up Formula 1, and Ron Dennis says ‘I called him and persuaded him to come back and told him you can?t let the dark forces win’.

The next shot is a Steadicam shot of Ayrton walking around a Shell truck and John Bisigniano saying ‘in 1990 he came back stronger, he came back wiser, Alain Prost had gone out of the team to Ferrari‘.

“That should have been Gerhard?s voice, and he should have said, ‘in 1990 I came into the team, Prost went to Ferrari’ ?ǣ exactly the same thing, and you see maybe a two-shot of them.

“Then on the podium in 1991 when they?re spraying champagne and Ayrton?s the champion, Gerhard should have been speaking to us then going: ‘he was triple-champion now, we had great times, we had our own jets, I used to put frogs in his hotel room’.

“If we?d just had that over the podium that would have given the film this thing that?s missing.”

Tamburello

One of the last cuts made to the film removed a sequence about Senna’s death. Producer James Gay-Rees said: “We have footage of Senna standing at the corner at Imola a month before he died, during testing, and he is saying, ‘Somebody is going to die at this corner this year.’”

Pandey explained: “In the original treatment it had this section at Imola about Tamburello, explaining that in ?87 [Nelson] Piquet had an accident and walked away, and in ?89 Berger had an accident, had minor burns, and walked away.

“In ?94 Senna was testing there and we had footage of him there, pointing to Tamburello. And we had this cut with Senna pointing out that he wasn?t completely happy and Gerhard talking about how they?d decided they should try to modify it but couldn?t because of the river.

“And that was a very poignant section. Of the things that we did, that worked and we just couldn?t get in, that was the thing that I miss the most.”

Condensing so much material into a one-and-three-quarter hour film was always going to leave them with difficult choices. “People are paying money to see this film”, says Pandey, “and I don?t think they have to see it three times to go, ‘oh, what a great film’, it?s got to pay off the first time you see it.

“Hopefully, overall, you come away thinking it?s a pretty damn good movie and you?ve got an idea of who he was, not just as a racing driver, but who he was in the scheme of things in Formula 1.”

“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 and the official Facebook page for a list of cinemas that are showing it.

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70 comments on The Making of Senna part 5: The lost scenes

  1. Chris said on 2nd June 2011, 12:16

    I’m really looking forward to seeing this film, but would you believe that the only Odeon cinemas showing it at all are all in bloody London?! Must mean there are no F1 fans outside of the capital…

  2. taurus (@taurus) said on 2nd June 2011, 12:24

    Producer James Gay-Rees said: “We have footage of Senna standing at the corner at Imola a month before he died, during testing, and he is saying, ‘Somebody is going to die at this corner this year.’”

    Pandey explained: “In the original treatment it had this section at Imola about Tamburello, explaining that in ’87 [Nelson] Piquet had an accident and walked away, and in ’89 Berger had an accident, had minor burns, and walked away.

    “In ’94 Senna was testing there and we had footage of him there, pointing to Tamburello. And we had this cut with Senna pointing out that he wasn’t completely happy and Gerhard talking about how they’d decided they should try to modify it but couldn’t because of the river.

    “And that was a very poignant section. Of the things that we did, that worked and we just couldn’t get in, that was the thing that I miss the most.”

    Wow. I’d love to see that.

    • unocv12 said on 2nd June 2011, 13:25

      2nded…. my thoughts too….. yes please…… can we…. linky? :)……

      It’s things like this that really add to the myth of Senna. Also when he was on Brazillian TV and a girl in a red dress kisses him for 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1993… thats the end…. and at that point you thinkl…. 1994!!!! fk… kiss him again!! arh!

      • Edson Framil said on 2nd June 2011, 13:41

        totally true… i’ve thought about that many times, Xuxa (the girl in red dress) and girlfriend later on 1989, kisses him until 1993 and seems to be really spooky if you think about it…

    • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 2nd June 2011, 21:27

      Ditto. So eerie but such an important part of his story.

  3. Doance (@doance) said on 2nd June 2011, 12:26

    Are there any made up bits in the film or is it all real? Like, in the things he would have changed part of this article, how he was saying how he should have made Berger say things, did Berger actually say those things or was it made up lines?

  4. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 2nd June 2011, 12:29

    I think the film just lost a star or half a star from me. To leave out those two incidents which were so important to the deterioration of their relationship and on top of that Senna’s most famous lap…I really was not expecting that.

    • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 2nd June 2011, 12:40

      But surely you can understand why they were cut, right?

      If you get the chance to, watch On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Ignoring for the moment that George Lazenby cannot act, the film itself is quite beautifully shot and has what is regarded as John Barry’s best score. That’s the kind of film that Senna would be.

      But.

      And this is a very big but.

      Right at the climax of OHMSS, there is a very confusing shot. It’s supposed to be a panorama of the Swiss Alps at sunset as the cavalry ride in. By rights, it should be spectacular. In reality, it’s shot out of focus with a dirty lens (and you can clearly see the edges of the camera in frame). It’s a horrible, jarring and altogether amateur shot. And I suspect that’s exactly what a Senna film with the inclusion of Donington 1993 (based on Pandey’s description of it) would be like.

      Likewise, there’s another shot in OHMSS when Bond is leading some SPECTRE redshirts on a merry chase down the ski slopes. He manages to build up a lead, then doubles back and stages an ambush, using his skis to hit the bad guy and send him spiralling off a cliff. But then the camera changes mid-fall to a very high angle. Almost nothing happens for a good fifteen seconds; there’s a tiny man falling, but you cannot see him until he hits the ground. The shot is confusing because you cannot see the cliffside and you have no sense of spatial relationships. It’s completely out of context, and a bizarre editing decision. This is what a Senna with the Estoril sequence (again, based on Pandey’s description) would be like.

      • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 2nd June 2011, 12:48

        To be honest, I don’t care. However much it improves the film for others, it may have lessened it for me. I have to accept it, but I don’t have to like it.

        And maybe these are things that people can see on YouTube, but this film is aimed just as much at people who’ve never seen them and probably won’t think to either.

        • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 2nd June 2011, 12:56

          However much it improves the film for others, it may have lessened it for me.

          I’m fairly certain you would if you went into the cinema and noticed sections of the film were of a noticeably poorer quality compared to the rest of the footage.

          • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 2nd June 2011, 13:21

            If I were watching a documentary and thought “Wow, the quality of this bit is kind of rubbish” I’d still be thankful for it and bear in mind it has a significance. If someone else cares more about style than substance, that’s their preference.

          • Mark Hitchcock said on 2nd June 2011, 15:00

            @Ichthyes, a documentary like this does have to have some sort of coherent style because it’s trying to tell an emotional story.
            It seems to me that the reason they didn’t include Imola or Donnington is because the quality of the footage was so bad that it would have had a jarring effect and pull people out of the film, and also because they couldn’t easily convey the significance in order to justify it.

            Maybe they were important moments in the Senna/Prost relationship, but if they destroy the flow of the film and sabotage the mood or feeling they were going for then why put it in? To satisfy people who already know about the events?

          • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 2nd June 2011, 15:24

            If I were watching a documentary and thought “Wow, the quality of this bit is kind of rubbish” I’d still be thankful for it and bear in mind it has a significance.

            The first rule of storytelling is that it is always better to show your audience something happening rather than simply telling them after the fact. Pandey’s description of the scenes at Donington in particular make it quite clear that the footage was unuseable because the rain obscured everything (and what wasn’t obscured wasn’t worth seeing). The inclusion of such a scene would require the audience to be told what Senna’s achievements were rather than being able to see it for themselves. It might be significant to you, a Formula 1 fan, but you have to understand that the documentary was never made exclusively for fans of the sport. It was made to tell the story of a sporting legend, and in a way that is accessible to everyone. Donington might resonate with you, but the poor footage from the race would mean nothing to the average cinema-goer and would likely deter them.

      • Magnificent Geoffrey (@magnificent-geoffrey) said on 2nd June 2011, 12:50

        And I suppose it’s a bit like the third scene in ‘Busty Babes 17′, where the rugged and well-built postman knocks on the door and Carmen Electra opens the door wearing nothing but a… wait, why are you all looking at me like that?

    • SiY said on 2nd June 2011, 12:49

      It’s very much a film about Senna, the man, with a bit of Alain Prost to show some conflict. Unfortunately it never really makes much mention of Berger, Piquet, Mansell, Schumacher, or indeed Brundle (from F3).

      It leaves F1 fans wanting a lot, lot more, but it’s very well put together and definitely something you can take non-motorsport-fans to see

  5. DavidS (@davids) said on 2nd June 2011, 12:30

    Great series of articles so far.

    While the films length is great for the cinema and the general audience, here’s hoping for the directors cut being released on DVD/Blu-ray being a much longer version.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 2nd June 2011, 12:37

      All the footage they could get from FOM is in the film (see part three: The Making of Senna part 3: Inside the F1 archive)

      The DVD/Blu-Ray includes more of the interviews they did for the voiceovers.

      • AgBNYC said on 2nd June 2011, 13:16

        This is exactly what I wanted to know – how much is included in the DVD/Blu-Ray?

        I fully understand the difficulties of the varied audiences and constraints of a “theatrical” release, but I don’t see the same argument for the video release. Any word on how much was salvaged for the DVD/Bluray?

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 2nd June 2011, 13:20

          No I don’t know how long the extras portion is but, like I say, there’s nothing from FOM in it that’s not in the film.

          • cbriddon (@cbriddon) said on 2nd June 2011, 13:49

            The extended version is 2hrs 45 minutes long so there is about an extra hour of footage.

            When I watched it though it didn’t seem too long and I couldn’t imagine what they could cut.

            Guess I’ll find out this weekend. :-)

          • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 2nd June 2011, 14:44

            There is no official “extended version”.

            Some people have taken the extra material in the DVD (the interviews, mainly) and added them to the film which increases the running time.

            But this is not a different version of the film or, as has been erroneously claimed, an earlier version from before the film was edited down.

  6. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 2nd June 2011, 12:30

    Perhaps those scenes were also dropped because, had they been included, it would have been easy to concentrate too much on them. Especially 1993. For every episode of Senna’s life that everyone remembers, there would have to be a dozen quieter moments that have been forgotten, but are no less brilliant. I’d much rather have the film show us these things than something we can easily find on YouTube.

  7. BasCB (@bascb) said on 2nd June 2011, 12:38

    Very interesting to hear the reasons for parts not making the film and especially the things that look strange when you put it on the big screen.

  8. SiY said on 2nd June 2011, 12:42

    What a shame that second Japanese scene was cut for the world market (I’m assuming Manish Pandey really means “breaking down” when he says “cracking up”?). It was a scene that was picked out as one of the most powerful in the film by one of the F1 journos who saw its premiere out there last year.

  9. ukk (@ukk) said on 2nd June 2011, 12:44

    By far the bestpart of this “Making of”, hats down Keith! Especially after watching the movie – I was missing exactly the bits about Estoril and Donington.

    But what is really moving here is to FEEL what the directors of the film had to go through to come to the decisions to cut such powerful parts as the rivalry, the prophecy of his own death, the announcement … really moving!

  10. Dan Thorn (@dan-thorn) said on 2nd June 2011, 13:15

    It’s a shame those key areas have been omitted, but understandable for the reasons given. I guess most fans will know about them anyway, and people who want to learn more after seeing the film will read about them.

  11. claudioff said on 2nd June 2011, 13:36

    When I was deciding what to put in my avatar I asked myself what would be the greatest F1 scene I have ever seen. And the answer was the first lap of 93 in Donington Park. I started then to look a good shot from it, but as everyone can see from my avatar, I was not very successful. I can understand a director point of view but, as a F1 fanatic, I think that 93 Donington Park first lap should be on the film.

  12. Sergio Perez said on 2nd June 2011, 13:49

    I think the filmmakers shouldn’t have explained this. People are going to criticize anyway, and having this explanation just gives you a bad taste in your mouth. Every filmmaker ends up wanting to change something, but when the film is complete, its complete, let it live in the audience and let them be the judge, don’t create excuses. I saw the film, loved it, but would definitely feel less about the film if I’ve read this beforehand.

    Love this sequence of posts and the information right up until this last one. Excellent work Keith, my opinion and criticism is only towards the interviewed, which did a great film and shouldn’t be talking about what he shouldn’t and didn’t like specially when his film is about to enter the market and the box office. As an F1 fan, I really want this film to succeed in order to hopefully someday we see a truly fantastic non documentary f1 film!

  13. No doubt many F1 Fanatic readers would quite happily watch five hours of rare archive footage from the eighties and nineties

    I know I would. I just hope they do the different long versions on a branching DVD or Bluray

  14. Joey-Poey (@joey-poey) said on 2nd June 2011, 14:59

    It’s definitely always hard trimming down a piece. It’s your baby. But it’s always got to be for the sake of storytelling. And honestly, nowadays…. that’s what they have DVD extras for ;)

  15. I was fortunate enough to see a BAFTA members screening last week with my wife and a lot of film-makers who were not F1 or motorsport fans. They seemed to like the racing but their main criticism was that, as a film, it was too one sided and was not terribly successful in drawing out the complexity of Ayrton.

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