Ford v Ferrari, A High-Octane Drama
Linda Romanello
December 12, 2019

Ford v Ferrari, A High-Octane Drama

It was 1966 when car designer Carroll Shelby, working closely with his test driver Ken Miles, developed a revolutionary car, and put together a team of unconventional thinkers to take on Italian racing legend Enzo Ferrari at that year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France. Telling the true story of one of the most legendary tales in the history of motorsports,  Ford V Ferrari  from Twentieth Century Fox and director James Mangold ( Walk the Line  and  Logan ) , stars Matt Damon as Shelby and Christian Bale as Miles.

Behind the scenes, Mangold put together his own team of thinkers (many of whom have collaborated with the director before), including Academy Award-nominated DP Phedon Papamichael, ASC/GSC (Nebraska, Walk the Line), production designer François Audouy ( Logan, The Wolverine), VFX supervisor Olivier Dumont ( King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, The Tree of Life) and film editors Michael McCusker, ACE ( Logan, Academy Award nominee for Walk the Line), and Andrew Buckland ( The Girl on the Train). 

Shot on location in Southern California, Georgia and Le Mans, France, over the summer and early fall of 2018, Papamichael captured Ford V Ferrari on Arri Alex LF cameras, while editors McCusker and Buckland cut it on Avid on the Fox lot in LA.

Here, McCusker and Buckland speak exclusively with CGW’s sister publication, Post, about jumping on the fast track with Mangold to create the full-throttle drama. They discuss working closely with Mangold to help him realize the dual challenges of staging the film’s thrilling racing sequences that would put audiences inside the cars while also spotlighting the turbulent friendship between Shelby and Miles, who both had strong and distinct personalities.

What were some of the early discussions about what director James Mongold wanted in terms of the look and feel for this film? 

Michael McCusker : “That evolved over time. His first intention, particularly with the racing scenes, was to spend a lot of time on the track and allow the audience to run the circuit, in a very subjective way. But in pretty short order, as we started to develop the assets in preproduction, It became clear that it was going to be a more frenetic kind of a construct. He started to develop the story more around, not only the drama in the car, but the drama that was happening in the pits, which we had been setting up throughout the rest of the movie. It’s one of the reasons why the film almost plays like a four-act movie. What happens at Le Mans is its own small movie, because all of the set up, the intrigue, the ultra motives and politics — it all sort of plays out at Le Mans.”

What was your approach to cutting this film?

McCusker: “Unlike a lot of the movies that James has made in recent years, this one is more of an ensemble piece. There are several characters that we’re setting  up at the beginning and that was the trick. Although the movie really coalesces around Carroll and Ken, there are a lot of other pretty starkly drawn characters that demand the time. The trick at the front end was just trying to find a balance. Giving everybody their time and understanding their story. As far as developing the story and developing the script for Le Mans, and developing a story for Le Mans, a lot of that was stuff we were doing in preproduction. I was brought on very early, a couple of months early to help work with a previsualization team that developed Le Mans and as we were doing that it presented us with opportunities to sort of inject that sequence with other story points, so that we weren’t just following cars around a track.”

There were two editors on this film, what was that relationship like? 

Buckland: “Mike and I have known each other for a long time and it’s pretty fluid in the cutting room in terms of what scenes we work on. We didn’t necessarily have an exact plan, because as we’re working during production, dailies were coming in every day and there was a lot of material to cut. It was basically whoever was available to do what they could. In some cases, if someone was working on a scene that was more complicated and requiring more attention, like a race, as other scenes were coming in, then the other editor would take those. For example, Mike was working on Daytona, and that required a lot of time because they shot a lot for that scene, and of course they’re still shooting other scenes, so the scenes would come in and then I would work of those scenes and then vice versa.”

McCusker: “I think the trick to any sort of teamwork in terms of an edit, on any movie, is do you share like styles? Are you going for the same thing? Luckily, it’s one of the reasons why Drew and I work together so well, because we really do. I don’t think that you look at this movie and think, one editor cut this part and another editor cut this other part. Our approaches are very similar.”

I would think that could really be a problem if your approaches were not similar.

McCusker: “You’re absolutely right. And that happens more than you would think. There there cutting rooms with multiple editors that are more team oriented and then they’re cutting rooms with multiple editors that are more competitive. I’m not interested in that at all. I want to work as a team and make a holistic movie. But you know, as much as you want, you can end up with people that just have a different approach, a different style, see the movie or the scenes in a different way. And you don’t know that until you get into a cutting room with somebody. It’s one of the greatest advantages of working with Drew for as long as I have. But also, Drew and I have worked with Jim for a long time. It’s one of the great stories behind the story of the movie — Jim’s post production team on this has been together for a long time, and we always make ourselves available to work with him because he’s a great filmmaker. We also really love the working environment and the working relationship.”

Buckland: “We all know each other very well. We’re all basically friends and it was a very fluid, organic process, and it was very collaborative.”

Was there anything unusual or groundbreaking about the way the film was cut? 

McCusker: “We have three major races in this movie and two of them were shot in a much more traditional way. They went out with storyboards and an idea for the story and shot what they though they needed. The Le Mans race was just so complicated and there was so much going on that. I wouldn’t say it was groundbreaking, so much as just an example of a sequence that was around 30 minutes long, so a movie unto itself.

“It’s also a great example of a sequence that was realized through modern technology in a lot of ways. I was developing it with the previs team. I was on the movie about two, two-and-a-half months, before production started and I was working with the previs team, and we were designing shots, designing sequences in that time. And that’s where Jim said, ‘You know what we need? We need a story point here. We need to develop an idea around story.’ And so that’s where the technology really allowed us to nail down what we wanted to achieve when we actually turned to the camera and it served as a roadmap for the production units to go out and say, ‘This is what we want to achieve.’ For postvis, we worked with Clint Reagan with Halon [Entertainment], who is a great collaborator. He’s done a couple of movies with us. So again, it makes for a very collaborative and challenging environment because we are always challenging each other.”

You cut the film on Avid, was that a personal
editing preference?

McCusker: “There are a few reasons for it. It’s actually the platform that both of us know the best, but that doesn’t preclude us from using others. But the one thing that Avid currently is more advanced on than the other platforms is the shared projects. When you have a movie that is this complicated, and you have sound designers and visual effects artists and tons of other folks working on it, you’re hanging like six or seven workstations off of it, and everybody has to talk to each other, it’s just the Avid process right now handles that better than the others. With these larger movies, Avid has the corner on it right now.”

Did the film turn out the way you hoped it would?

Buckland: “Oh, yeah, definitely. When we nailed down the structure of the film, especially in the beginning of the movie and how the movie sort of reveals itself with the characters, it definitely was really an exciting thing.”

McCusker: “Something that was a concern for us was that the movie starts off kind of small and it grows into this great big scope. Le Mans is a behemoth of a sequence, and frankly, we were worried about time. Is the audience going to want to go along on this ride? It certainly isn’t a short movie. You know for sure when you do the test screenings and people come out of the movie going, ‘That didn’t feel like a two-and-a-half-hour movie.’ That’s sweet, sweet music to an editor’s ears. I’m just very happy that people are having that reaction. We were successful in giving them something that’s entertaining.”