F1 community "didn't have anything to do" with Rush says Ron Howard


Over the past month publicity for the upcoming Formula One movie Rush has been revving up. It centres on the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1976 F1 season and opens in the UK on 13 September. There is a lot riding on it.

Rush is the first Hollywood production about F1 since John Frankenheimer's Grand Prix in 1966. If the movie is a hit, it could boost F1's popularity in the United States where the sport is trying to get a foothold. The movie has the ingredients for success as it is distributed by Universal, is directed by Oscar-winner Ron Howard and Hunt is played by A-List actor Chris Hemsworth who is famous for his roles in comic book movies Thor and the Avengers. The question is why did the film-makers decide to focus on 1976?

There is no doubt that the rivalry between Hunt and Lauda was scintillating but there have been other long-running battles in F1's history which were equally, if not more, electric. If Formula One Management (FOM) had wanted a movie to showcase the sport in new markets then it would be logical for it to be about a recent rivalry. At least the scenes shown on-screen would then more closely resemble the current cars and action. There is good reason why Rush didn't end up like this. In a nutshell, FOM didn't have a hand in putting it in motion.

Rush was originally helmed by Paul Greengrass, the British director whose portfolio includes two of the Jason Bourne movies. However, he was replaced by Howard at an early stage after leaving the project to direct Captain Phillips, a thriller starring Tom Hanks.

The Rush screenplay was written by Peter Morgan who also wrote the critically-acclaimed Frost/Nixon and The Queen. It ended up in the hands of Eric Fellner, who is co-chairman of movie production company Working Title and happens to be a huge Ferrari fan. Fellner reportedly had long wanted to make a motor racing movie and jumped at the chance to sign up Working Title as one of the studios behind Rush. Focussing it on 1976 brought with it flexibility for the film-makers which would not be open to movies about more recent F1 seasons.

Hunt versus Lauda may not be the most well-known rivalry in the modern era of F1 but it is the most recent high profile battle with footage which FOM does not own the copyright to. FOM's ownership of copyright to race footage began in 1981 when it signed the first Concorde Agreement, the contract which governed the terms of the teams' involvement with F1.

This point is made clear in the prospectus for the stalled flotation of F1 on the Singapore stock exchange which states that "the Group owns copyright in footage of each Event since 1981. Ownership of this copyright enables the Group to license that footage to broadcasters and to take legal action against infringers of that copyright." It means that FOM can charge fees for use of archive F1 footage from 1981 onwards and anyone who uses Youtube will know that it is diligent in removing race videos which can be viewed online at no cost.

FOM's fees for footage are understood to be far from bargain basement but the Rush team managed to avoid paying the company by setting the film five years before its copyright began. In a recent interview with the official F1 website Howard explains that although Rush is not a documentary, it does indeed contain archive footage.

"We used historical cars, we built some replicas and added digital cars - we used every conceivable imaginable tool. We even did kind of a Forrest Gump trick but instead of putting Tom Hanks next to Richard Nixon we put Niki Lauda's car in a pack of cars at Monza so the shot that we've found was of good enough quality to use and with a tiny bit of manipulation we could make it apply to our story in a very exciting way."

Not only did Howard and his team not need to pay FOM for footage but he reveals that the F1 community actually had nothing to do with the movie. When asked how helpful the F1 community was to his project Howard responds "they've been very welcoming, but they didn't have anything to do with the movie. We didn't ask very much of them."

In contrast, he says that "the historic Formula One people were fantastic. They gave us the cars, they supplied us with cars, the people who run historic races helped us as technical advisors - they really meant a lot and they wouldn't have done it if they didn't feel that Formula One is welcoming us."

It hammers home the point that Rush is firmly about the history of F1 and has little to do with the modern-day sport. Motor racing fans who want to take a step back in time to the 70s will be in their element.

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(Editor's note: Interestingly, one of the most recent films using F1 as a backdrop was the romantic drama Bobby Deerfield starring Al Pacino. In the film, Pacino drives for the Brabham-Alfa Romeo team which was owned by Bernie Ecclestone who is acknowledged in the films credits for his "technical assistance" and "special participation".)

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Published: 11/08/2013
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