“Ford v Ferrari” is François Audouy’s third film as James Mangold’s production designer, but in an alternate universe, they would not have made it (yet).
“We were prepping another movie that we thought was going to happen at Fox, ‘Ford v Ferrari’ and a Patty Hearst movie. And I thought for sure it would be ‘Ford v Ferrari’ next, but it was the Patty Hearst movie, so we were going into production and the whole thing just fell apart about 12 hours before,” Audouy revealed at Gold Derby’s Meet the Experts: Production Design panel, moderated by this writer (watch above). “And then the next Monday, we just slotted right into ‘Ford v Ferrari.’ … It was a project that had been around for a very long time with multiple directors. It was a very, very difficult film to put together because of the finances. The cars involved are worth tens of millions of dollars each. And so it’s very, very difficult to figure out a production plan for making a movie that’s not $300 million.”
The period drama tells the true story of when Ford set out to build a race car that would defeat Ferrari at the renowned 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France. Matt Damon plays Carroll Shelby, the famed driver and former Le Mans champ-turned-automobile designer who created the Ford GT40 and recruited his old pal/maverick driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to race in the 1966 edition.
Audouy, who was no “car fanatic,” dove into research on classic cars and Le Mans. The climactic race takes up the final act of the film. “Jim calls it a reverse ‘Saving Private Ryan,’” Audouy shared. “It’s sort of a lot of drama and character development at the beginning, and it kind of builds and builds and builds and culminates in this incredibly immersive, exciting race sequence.”
SEE Tracy Letts on carrying the ‘enormous weight’ of the Ford family legacy in ‘Ford v Ferrari’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]
The problem for Audouy was that the actual track has changed drastically since 1966. Back then, there were narrow farm roads that went through the countryside, with farmers and cottages behind fencing, but now all the barriers are gone. “There is literally not one inch of that location that still exists in the way that it did in 1966,” he said.
Audouy and his team ended up building the track at four locations in Southern California and Savannah, Ga. The majority of it was filmed at Savannah’s abandoned Grand Prize of America Raceway. Because the track is so famous that every single turn has a name, Audouy meticulously recreated details to ensure verisimilitude.
“When you leave the stands, you hit the Dunlop Bridge, which is a very, very famous arch bridge that we recreated in Atlanta as a full-scale set piece,” he explained. “Then you turn … onto the Mulsanne Straight, the biggest straightaway where you could go well over 200 miles an hour, so we found that 45 minutes outside of Savannah, Georgia. At that point, you’re going past scenery at 150 feet per second … so each one of those seconds has to be thought about — signage and graphics and billboards, extras.”
Speaking of the stands, the real 1,000-foot long grandstand that housed the pit stop, VIP boxes and press at the start/finish line had been torn down in the 1980s. “That was the daunting realization that it’d have to be created and built together piece by piece,” Audouy recalled. They built one that was 700 feet long and three stories tall with full interiors and exteriors in Agua Dulce, Calif. And just when they thought they were done, their safety rep had some extra work for them to do. Because the cars are whizzing by the stand at more than 100 miles per hour, the original stand was not safe.
“We couldn’t have a car fly into a cardboard set. It looks like concrete, but it was made out of wood. At the last minute, our safety representative said that all of our walls on the track had to be built out of solid cement with I-beams going down 8 feet into the ground to withstand a 100-mph crash. So we had 500-feet of concrete barrier added,” Audouy shared. “[But] no one was hurt on the making of ‘Ford v Ferrari.’”
Video by Shane Whitaker.
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