The infamous events of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix means the majority of people who watch Senna will do so knowing how it ends.
So how were the film’s producers to handle the unavoidably tragic outcome of the film?
There were differing views on how best to do it, as writer Manish Pandey explained:
“It was the hardest, hardest part of the film to make. Everyone knows the end of this film.
“One of the things that I felt very strongly about ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ and James [Gay-Rees, executive producer] did, too ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ was that no matter who came on this journey we wanted you to forget that he died.
“I remember arguing with a few people who said, ‘well, that?óÔé¼Ôäós bollocks ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ everyone knows he died so we should start the film with it’.
“But I think you?óÔé¼Ôäóre immediately on the back foot then. You?óÔé¼Ôäóre going to go see this film and through every single thing that you see you?óÔé¼Ôäóre thinking ‘he?óÔé¼Ôäós going to die’.
“It won?óÔé¼Ôäót leave you ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ certainly not for 100 minutes”.
He described the events of the weekend as “powerful and tragic”, adding: “I don?óÔé¼Ôäót know about you but I?óÔé¼Ôäóve never seen such a culmination of events before or since in Formula 1.
“I remember watching Gilles Villeneuve die, looking through a Rediffusion shop window at a TV while Grandstand was on, standing there feeling completely shocked.
“But Imola was always just going to be dynamite because everything that happened was just so awful”.
Setting the scene
The film runs chronologically, with Imola and Senna’s funeral as its conclusion. After the Senna-Prost years the film moves on quite briskly to the events of 1994.
Pandey describes how they set the scene for the film’s denouement:
“We saw the original footage of him arriving on Thursday and he?óÔé¼Ôäós preoccupied, he has a funny exchange with Galvao Bueno walking up the pit lane. You see he?óÔé¼Ôäós frustrated.
“The Italian journalists want to know if Senna suspects something?óÔé¼Ôäós going on at Benetton and he enigmatically says ‘one cannot speak of things which one cannot prove’.
“So the idea is on Thursday he?óÔé¼Ôäós already really troubled by what?óÔé¼Ôäós going on in Formula 1. He?óÔé¼Ôäós lost for two years in a row and it wasn?óÔé¼Ôäót his fault.
“Now everybody thinks he?óÔé¼Ôäós got the best car. Everybody knows he?óÔé¼Ôäós got the best engine, he should be walking it, instead he hasn?óÔé¼Ôäót finished the first two races and he?óÔé¼Ôäós never had a season like that.
“You?óÔé¼Ôäóre telling a sad tale now and I think the biggest challenge there is to continue the theme of the previous two years. He hasn?óÔé¼Ôäót suddenly become a rubbish driver, he hasn?óÔé¼Ôäót suddenly been trounced by a guy who he beat 5-1 with the same engine the year before”.
Editing Imola 1994
But inevitably the need to manage the length of film and amount of FOM footage used meant the sequence had to be carefully edited. Pandey described some of the footage that was left on the cutting room floor:
“The original Imola [sequence] was more than double the length that you see now.
“I remember one shot I felt so sad to lose. On Saturday Senna is standing in the Williams garage and the camera just happened to catch him behind, and he?óÔé¼Ôäós watching JJ Lehto, a point-of-view shot, and Lehto?óÔé¼Ôäós going through Tamburello.
“So you?óÔé¼Ôäóre Senna, looking at Tamburello, from a driver?óÔé¼Ôäós point of view shot on a monitor. Even talking about that now just gives me goosebumps: you?óÔé¼Ôäóre looking at Senna looking at where he?óÔé¼Ôäós going to die in 24 hours.
“That?óÔé¼Ôäós the kind of decision that had to be made that gave us the minutes that we could then invest.”
A second editor was brought in to help make the tough decisions about what to cut, “just fillet everything out”, as Pandey says, “because every frame you?óÔé¼Ôäóre seeing now is ten times more powerful than all the frames you?óÔé¼Ôäóve seen”.
One shot that was left in shows Senna reporting back to the team on the changes they made to the FW16 that weekend in an attempt to cure its chronic handling problems:
“When we went to FOM and we looked at the archive for the first time. We saw this footage of a conversation with Adrian Newey and David Brown.
“[Senna says] ‘the car is…’ and he bites his tongue, looks away, and then he has to make eye contact and says ‘…worse’.
“Paddy Lowe, from McLaren, saw the film and said ?óÔé¼?ôbelieve me we?óÔé¼Ôäóve all been there. The driver comes back, and you ask what?óÔé¼Ôäós going on and he says ?óÔé¼?£well it?óÔé¼Ôäós oversteering and understeering?óÔé¼Ôäó.?óÔé¼?Ø
“I have to be honest with you, it was very painful watching all of that and deciding just how little, in a way, we could get away with”.
That still left the problem of dealing with the most harrowing moment of all – Senna’s death. The next instalment of “The Making of Senna” looks at how that was done.
“The Making of Senna” continues tomorrow.
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See the official website for more information on the film and the official Facebook page for a list of cinemas that are showing it.
- The Making of Senna part 9: The response in Brazil
- The Making of Senna part 8: The Death of Ayrton Senna
- The Making of Senna part 7: Imola 1994
- The Making of Senna part 6: The perfect bad guy?
- The Making of Senna part 5: The lost scenes
- The Making of Senna part 4: ‘You’ve never heard F1 sound like this’
- The Making of Senna part 3: Inside the F1 archive
- The Making of Senna part 2: Meeting the Sennas
- The Making of Senna part 1: Life and death
- “Senna” – the Ayrton Senna movie reviewed
Image ?é?® Williams/LAT