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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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?’ – 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’ – 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.

Senna movie

Browse all articles on the Senna movie
Image © Williams/LAT

Advert | Go Ad-free

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

  1. Williams4Ever said on 2nd June 2011, 17:21

    What could have been changed
    Having seen the movie when it was streamed on netflix on Senna’s Death anniversary, thoughts that came to my mind – While the producer/director may have had best intentions, the way the movie was edited, the protagonist actually emerges as paranoid individual who started “seeing poltics” immediately after missing out on race win at Monaco. and as the movie progressed a thought came to mind, what if Senna lived? He had a good chance of replacing another flawed genius Bobby Fischer, who was brilliant on 64 squares, but not able to adapt to real world, had similar “entitled to win” attitude and resulting pressures he put himself into and who ended up leading controversial life in his final years.

    And that Senna did cut a lonely forlorn figure end of the documentary.
    Death has this quality of glorifying the individual, especially if the person dies young. Talking about Senna a poster had described him on another site as

    “Senna was a good person out of the car. A complete ******* in it. But unlike other more recent drivers, he never pretended he wasn’t”

    The documentary did bring out some shades of the good person out of car.

    Talking about Fischer, a documentary on Fischer was released on HBO this week – http://itsh.bo/mnCuDS

  2. jovko (@jovko) said on 2nd June 2011, 19:45

    The version that I saw was 162 min long! Striking movie!

  3. PMccarthy_is_a_legend (@pmccarthy_is_a_legend) said on 2nd June 2011, 21:10

    I would gladly pay good money for 5 hours of F1 footage from 80s and 90s. What a afternoon would that be, just epic. Beer, snacks, a comfortable sofa, mobile phone off.

  4. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 2nd June 2011, 21:31

    Best part of the interview so far, thank you.

  5. Don M. said on 2nd June 2011, 22:06

    In the trailer that is being shown all over the internet, Senna is seen crashing and in distress. Non-fans could be very disturbed by those images if they are unaware that the footage is not from the fatal crash.

  6. Cassio said on 3rd June 2011, 0:42

    this movie is a fine piece of work.. of course I missed some scenes, maybe in Senna 2? ;)

  7. re1beat said on 3rd June 2011, 2:03

    One thing that really bothers me about Senna 2010 is that they have gone out of their way to portray Alain Prost as an incapable, whiny opportunist with no driving skill.

    They have actually cut and pasted audio transcripts together into sentences and physically put words into his mouth. This is even in the interview version of the movie (at 2h42m).

    As an example, when the movie gets to 1993 and we hear Prost saying all he wanted was a clause in the contract to prevent Senna being his teamate, there is a crude addition to the end of the sentence of:

    “because I wanted to be world champion, I did not want to lose the opportunity”. Where infact that last part Prost said in describing his timing in telling Williams his decision to retire at the Estoril GP in 93.

    It amazes me that they would paint Prost so bady. Like a childrens cartoons villian.

    Although I am a (much bigger) Senna fan than Prost, Alain Prost was a hugely talented driver, with almost no equal anywhere in the world.

    Alain was a driver that Ayrton could -barely- just -barely- keep up with and sometimes beat.

    In marginalising and trivialising him like this (driving and character) the producers have unintentionally trivialised the achievements of Senna in beating Prost.

    It’s almost as if some “modern feature film storyline” expert advised them to do this not knowing what it would result in. Such a shame they manipulated his words to create this childrens cartoon villan.

    • Williams4Ever said on 3rd June 2011, 3:30

      Do read Memoirs of a racing man by Jo Ramirez. Jo was friend of Senna, but had candid account of Senna-Prost Rivalry and person that Senna was and gentleman racer that Prost was…

      • Jimmy Chopin said on 3rd June 2011, 10:55

        It doesn’t work in this manner. It becomes a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Tell me, from watching the movie do you get the idea that Prost was the second best driver in the world? No. He is portrayed as someone with backmarker skills.

  8. codexas said on 3rd June 2011, 2:09

    Yeah, I agree. Prost is portrayed as an incapable clown as opposed to the 2nd best driver in the world. You feel like you could have beaten him yourself, what made Senna special? Such a mistake not to show how incredible a driver Prost was, so Senna beatin him would become special.

  9. codexas said on 3rd June 2011, 2:11

    And as for people hoping for a longer version, don’t get your hopes up, Working Title’s investment in this movie was 95% rights to X minutes of footage from the FOM archive at Biggin Hill.

    It’s most likely extended versions are just going to be interviews as opposed to any new footage. That way the producers earn more money. That is the sad reality.

  10. teamOrders said on 3rd June 2011, 2:27

    I’m really disappointed they couldn’t put lap 1 of Donington 1993 in…

    I’ve seen the movie and thought the balance was too heavy on the off-track stuff, and not enough celebrating the many on-track performances that made him great.

  11. bienc (@bienc) said on 3rd June 2011, 10:17

    I have a 2h40m cut of Senna. I can’t believe they were able to shrink it down further.

    • jovko (@jovko) said on 3rd June 2011, 10:50

      That’s what I was saying. I can believe that from 160 min that I saw you can take something away!

    • Jimmy Chopin said on 3rd June 2011, 10:53

      That is the boring version with the interviews throughout (people talking to the camera). The official version is identical in terms of footage used, but doesn’t contain those talking heads. This version is 104 min.

  12. Jimmy Chopin said on 3rd June 2011, 10:52

    The biggest mistake in the movie is that they used 1 boring full fuel racelap from 1990 as the ONLY Monaco GP onboard.

    The insane qualifying run (where he slides it 1 handed around Loews) isn’t in the movie.

    It would have been so much better as the (building upto the ’88) crash piece. Seeing as there is no ’88 onboard (no camera).

    It was an insanely bad decision not to use this Monaco ’90 qualifying run, it was Senna’s most exciting onboard ever. Why did they do this?

    This is the lap:
    http://vimeo.com/3164992

    And without music:
    http://www.veoh.com/watch/v1249198jDPK8P9z

  13. Rich said on 3rd June 2011, 13:24

    Hope they put the extra stuff on the DVD

  14. Fixy (@fixy) said on 5th June 2011, 17:13

    They should have made this a double trilogy.

  15. Fixy (@fixy) said on 5th June 2011, 17:15

    The problem then is the camera angle is just crap.

    The camera work is awful

    These are two quotes of them saying the FOM coverage sucks, they should improve further.

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments must abide by the comment policy. Comments may be moderated.
Want to post off-topic? Head to the forum.
See the FAQ for more information.