The James Mangold-helmed drama starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon is nominated for four Academy Awards.
Spurned by Italian race car manufacturer Ferrari in an attempt to acquire the company, executives at the Ford Motor Co. decide to beat Ferrari at its own game — the 24-hour endurance race at Le Mans — by hiring pedigreed car-builder Carol Shelby (Matt Damon) and maverick driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to take them to victory in Ford v Ferrari.
The James Mangold-helmed drama is nominated for four Oscars: best picture, film editing, sound mixing and sound editing.
Here are 10 things to know about Ford v Ferrari.
Though it wasn't the biggest weight change that actor Christian Bale has undergone (his numerous body transformations have been covered by The Hollywood Reporter before), Bale still had to drop quite a bit of weight in order to portray the slightly built British race car driver Ken Miles.
"These cars are not made for large men. Wouldn't have been the same thing if I'd have been a 240-pound Ken Miles, barely, barely getting into those cars," Bale said in a press conference during the Toronto Film Festival.
Production was actually delayed so that Bale could get more physically into character. Filming was originally going to begin earlier in 2018, but was pushed to June to allow Bale to lose more weight. Co-star Matt Damon recalled asking Bale about his process prior to eating in a THR making-of feature.
"I thought he was going to say, 'the keto diet' or 'intermittent fasting plus running.' Instead, he just looked at me and said, 'I didn't eat,'" Damon said. Hearing him describe the exchange, Bale laughed. "Not eating is the essence, right?" he said.
The 1960s was a memorable decade of automobiles, and between the street and the track scenes, there are myriad classic automobiles for even the casual enthusiast to lust after in Ford v Ferrari.
Despite being perhaps the most car-centric film to grace the screen since Ron Howard's 2013 Formula One homage Rush, director James Mangold describes himself as "not much of a car guy."
In a making-of feature for THR, Mangold describes exactly what attracted him to the story of the film.
"You have an aging, great driver with a smart mouth — Miles — who can't get along with authority," Mangold explains. "And then you have Shelby, who is a great race car driver who can't drive anymore because of a heart condition, but who is very good at politics. I found their yin-yang relationship interesting."
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a historic endurance race that has taken place near the town of Le Mans, France, since 1923. In Ford v Ferrari, it serves as the ground upon which Ford and Ferrari duke it out for racing glory in 1966.
Actually shooting the film at Le Mans was a bit beyond the budget, so the race scenes were shot in a variety of locations. In a behind-the-scenes look with THR, cinematographer Phedon Papamichael revealed that he shot the race sequence across five different locations in Georgia. Shots at the start and finish line, as well as viewing stands and pits, took place in Southern California. In fact, each lap of the film's Le Mans layout features all the Georgia and California locations made to appear as if it were a single racetrack in France.
"Most [of the film's principals] were not in the presence of one another before this scene. The movie's been this giant, symphonic braid following all these characters, and at Le Mans, they're all there," Mangold explains.
It may be difficult to imagine how Ford v Ferrari — with its blood-pumping race scenes and character-driven action sequences — could be classified as boring, but this was a real concern for director James Mangold.
In an episode of The Hollywood Reporter's Behind the Screen podcast, Mangold, along with editors Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland, talked about some of the technical challenges of moving the film's story forward without the racing scenes falling flat.
"Early on in prep, a producer on the film said to me, 'Well, there’s only three ways you can shoot cars, because I used to work in sports, or something like that," Mangold says. "It was the kind of horrifying thing you never say to me. Don’t ever reduce my movie to a fucking formula.... I remember that moment so much because I was panic-stricken when he said that. Like, 'If this fucker is right, I’m about to make the most boring fucking movie ever.'"
Composer Marco Beltrami is an avid racer himself; between his Ducati V4 R motorcycle and a Porsche GT3 RS, he's spent plenty of time at the racetrack.
But when it came time to score Ford v Ferrari, Beltrami took the lead from the director to give the movie a feel that rooted it in the rock- and jazz-filled 1960s. In an interview with THR, Beltrami and his composing partner Buck Sanders describe how they assembled their musicians and oriented the score.
"Jim [Mangold] played us a lot of music that inspired him when he was shooting the film. The music supervisor also sent us several songs, the common thread being they weren't orchestral in nature," Beltrami says. "Coincidentally, Buck and I had been talking about mixing muted brass and closed guitar tones for a while, so this was the perfect opportunity to do that."
The relationship of car designer Carroll Shelby and driver Ken Miles might be the central one of Ford v Ferrari's story, but in many scenes it gets overshadowed by Miles' close mentorship of his son Peter, played by Honey Boy star Noah Jupe.
Screenwriter Jason Keller told THR that he originally wove more emotional details into the story about the heads of the rival auto manufacturers. Henry Ford II, played by Tracy Letts, feels weighed down by the legacy of his father and grandfather before him.
"There were drafts of the script where I really was interested in how Henry Ford II was animated in his every day by the fathers that had come before him," says Keller. His early drafts also explored how Enzo Ferrari was affected by the loss of his son Dino, who died at age 24. "His decisions as a car manufacturer and a team leader, all of these things, these important business decisions or design decisions were, in many ways, affected by the loss of Dino," says Keller.
Nothing quite sounds like the V8 engine used in the GT40 race cars used by Ford in the mid- to late-1960s. Supervising sound editor Don Sylvester knew that he would have to track down the real deal if he wanted the sound of the car in the film to sound like the real-life champion automobile.
But most GT40s owned today are replicas of the original, and genuine GT40s are collector cars valued between $10 million to $15 million each. Sylvester almost gave up hope until he found what he was looking for in the rural Midwest.
"We found a guy in Ohio who built a GT40 from original Ford parts and had it certified by Ford as a legitimate GT40. They gave it a serial number and it's got all the GT40 elements we need — the original engine, the pipes," Sylvester says.
The team traveled to Ohio to record the GT40 for sound. "We had mics on the transmission housing and transaxles that gave us whines and different interior sounds. It was finding the right sounds for the right places, but we had a lot to work from," says sound designer David Giammarco.
Using vintage race cars for their sound may have been a no-brainer, but using them on the track was a step further for the filmmaking team.
When the film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in 2019, The Hollywood Reporter spoke to actor Josh Lucas, who plays Ford executive Leo Beebe, about the authenticity of the cars used in production.
"The movies that people go see these days in movie theaters are escapist fare; you know it's really mainly made by computers and CGI," Lucas says. "At one point we had $200 million of actual Ferraris in that scene, all of it was real and we could feel it. It helps us as actors when you're dealing with a car driving by at 100 miles an hour…it makes a difference."
Films can sit in the development stages for a long time, but even Ford v Ferrari had an extended incubation period. Screenwriter Jason Keller gives details about the earlier drafts in THR's making-of feature.
Keller penned the first draft of the screenplay in 2009, then the project bounced from director to director (Michael Mann and Joseph Kosinski) and star to star (Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt). The story originally focused equally on both the Ford and Ferrari race teams, but that proved to be too unwieldy for the studio's budget. When James Mangold came on board as director after his success with Logan, the studio was quick to greenlight the film.
Mangold and Bale had worked together before on 3:10 to Yuma, so Matt Damon was the new guy in the group. "I read the script at the beginning of 2018 and loved it," Damon says. "I've been wanting to work with both Jim and Christian, so it seemed too good to be true."
In keeping with the authentic nature of the film, production designer François Audouy did everything he could to keep the scenes grounded in reality, even if it meant picking up scraps by the side of the road.
In the same making-of feature, Audouy explains that during production he would pull his car over to the side of the 405 freeway in Los Angeles to collect tire scraps for accident scenes. "We didn't have time to give someone a knife and shred steel-belted tires. It's a messy, ugly job. So I would pull over and walk up and down the shoulder with a five-gallon bucket and collect whatever," says Audouy.