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Senna Masterclass

2 Apr

Yesterday afternoon (1st April) I attended a BAFTA-organised screening of Senna which was then followed by a masterclass with director Asif Kapadia and archive editor Paul Bell. Sadly Manish Pandey was unable to attend due to illness. The event was well attended, especially for a sunny spring afternoon in Brighton. I took my mum along who has never seen the film before and is not an F1 fan (especially after I made her sit through the Canadian Grand Prix last year!) and she was completely captivated by Senna’s story. Incidentally, Paul mentioned that when considering the film’s appeal to non-F1 fans, he thought of whether it would appeal to his own mother who hates F1.

Having run the last Senna Watch with Manish participating i was looking forward to hearing Asif & Paul’s insights (albeit after rather than during the film). They certainly didn’t disappoint. The two experiences were quite different and each had their appeal; the spontaneity of tweeting during the film with Senna Watch is fantastic, as was hearing Asif & Paul talk at length afterwards. Both clearly had so much to say & aren’t tiring of talking about it after all this time!

The masterclass lasted over an hour and I can’t recount all of what was said, but what follows here are snippets of what I found to be the most interesting.

The initial eight minute cut they created was done using YouTube footage. As many F1 fans will know, F1 footage doesn’t last long on YouTube; Bernie’s team have it removed as soon as they’re aware of it. Consequently the team had to be careful when dealing with Bernie. Several questions were asked by his team about how they knew certain pieces of footage existed, and the answer was inevitably YouTube. The team weren’t allowed to just rummage through Bernie’s archive at Biggin Hill; they needed to request specific bits of footage. The cost of paying for footage made it as expensive as actually filming an ordinary film.

Those helping the team by providing footage were often making assumptions about what they would or wouldn’t be interested in. For example, one provider assumed they wouldn’t be interested in the karting footage at the start and end of the film.

The team had to use quite extensive detection work to determine who would have some of the original trackside interview recordings & footage from the angles they wanted. This was often done by recognition of hands holding microphones & dictaphone under Senna’s nose. The team then had to contact reporters & broadcasters to see if they still had it.

The beautiful, evocative soundtrack initially had to be composed ‘blind’ by Antonio Pinto as they weren’t allowed to send him the archive footage they had obtained. The first piece composed was the music for the Brazil ’91 race. Pinto was determined to compose the music for the film as it meant so much to him.

A number of preview screenings were organised, and showing it to Ron Dennis & Sid Watkins was understandably very emotional – both were tearful throughout. Having Sid’s backing was incredibly important as he is so well-respected in F1, which is such a tight-knit community.

Prost was offered a number of screening opportunities but was always too busy. He says he has not seen it but also says he doesn’t like how he’s portrayed! Incidentally the film got savaged in France….

The production team talked to Lewis Hamilton for several hours at the MTC one Sunday morning, but didn’t use any of it as Lewis is not part of Senna’s story.

Many thanks to BAFTA, Asif & Paul for such a great session. I can highly recommend BAFTA events off the back of this, or indeed any chance to hear the team behind a film talk about its creation.

Next stop now is Senna Watch on 29 April. I hope you can join in with this unique opportunity to share the experience of the film with other fans.


Reflections on ‘Senna Watch’

9 Jan

24 hours on from the start of ‘Senna Watch’ I’ve now managed to collect my thoughts on the event.

Firstly, I’d like to thank everyone who participated in the event. Having never organised anything like this before I’ll freely admit to being quite nervous about how it would turn out, but it more than exceeded my expectations. By 8pm last night we had about 250 followers on the @SENNAWatch twitter account. It is hard to tell exactly how many participated but there was a very healthy stream of people using the #SENNAWatch tag throughout the event. It was a truly international event with participants everywhere from Atlanta to Bangalore, although the main concentration was in the UK.

I decided to just sit and read the flow of tweets rather than actively contribute to the discussion, and retweeted a few of my favourites. I’m really glad I decided to do this as it was a pleasure to read every tweet appear in step with the film without being distracted.

It was particularly pleasing to read tweets from those unable to fully participate in ‘Senna Watch’ but who were logged in to twitter and following the #SennaWatch tag. They were contributing to the discussion and sharing the experience even without watching the film with us. It was clear that these people had watched the film many, many times!

Amongst us was none other than Manish Pandey, Writer and Executive Producer of the Senna film, who shared his thoughts and insights throughout the film, as well as answering questions from other participants. I know that this was appreciated by everyone and Manish seemed to enjoy the experience too. Sadly Asif Kapadia, the film’s Director, couldn’t participate as he was filming in Utah, but he wished us well and hoped it was a success. I think I can speak on behalf of everyone when I wish the whole Senna crew luck at the BAFTAs and WGA.

Light-hearted moments

The early part of the film has a number of amusing touches which are clearly loved by fans; hearing classic phrases such as ‘he comes and devours Niki Lauda’, Senna charming the Japanese journalist, and the fun of spotting current faces of Formula 1 in their early days with questionable 80s fashion and considerably more hair. There were a number of virtual cries of ‘Murray!!’ when Mr Walker’s commentary was first heard in the film. I bet many said it out loud too.

Poignant and serious moments

The mood of tweets inevitably changed in line with the mood of the film. The first poignant moment came with the New Year feature where Xuxa kisses him and wishes him ‘Happy New Year’ for every year coming but stops at 1993. This was one of the most tweeted about moments during the whole film.

Japan 89’s post-race drama provoked the strongest anti-Prost and Balestre feeling from participants. I think it was inevitable that the majority of ‘Senna Watch’ participants are fans of Senna rather than Prost, and as a result of this tweets defending Prost were rare. I don’t believe there was a single pro-Balestre tweet all night.

The footage of Donnelly’s crash and his miraculous survival prompted horror (those images of him laying contorted on the track will never get easier to see) as well as significant admiration (including calls for a knighthood) for Dr Sid Watkins and his actions that day to save Donnelly. Admiration also flowed for the way Senna got back in the car and drove his heart out to claim pole position. While it is easy to say that Senna would have been expected to drive a belter of a qualifying lap (after all that’s what drivers are paid to do), to do so after such a horrific accident was truly exceptional.

The events that decided the 1990 championship again provoked a strong response. There was sympathy for Senna with a consensus that  ‘he did what anyone would have done’, and again some strong anti-Balestre tweets.

Brazil ’91 naturally brought out admiration for Senna’s incredible victory. This part of the film is one of my personal favourites and this was reaffirmed for me last night. The film segment that covers the race starts with fans chanting ‘Ole ole ole ole Senna Senna’, and ends with a transition to Ayrton and a young Bruno on a boat. Bruno has massive shoes to fill but I believe he is doing his uncle proud. As speculation mounts today about the open Williams seat, I hope that Bruno continues to have the chance to develop as an F1 driver and that the same chant will continue to ring round Interlagos.

Imola ’94

As the film moved to the Imola weekend, the mood of tweets of course changed again. There was reflection on Rubens Barrichello’s miraculous escape from his major crash, and outrage amongst many of our participants that the weekend’s racing was allowed to continue. This sentiment was echoed further after footage of Roland Ratzenberger’s fatal crash. It was touching to see so many tweeting that Roland should not be forgotten. I have always been saddened that his loss was overshadowed by the loss of Ayrton.

The flow of tweets slowed significantly at this point as many reflected upon what was about to happen to Senna. Many were again reduced to tears (myself included). Some could not bear to watch this part of the film again and had called it a night as the Imola section of the film started.

Final thoughts

The inscription on Senna’s tombstone ‘Nothing separates me from the love of God’ has stuck in my mind since last night. As Senna is contemplating ahead of the race at Imola his faith in God is made clear to all those watching the film. Nearly 18 years after his death Senna continues to be revered like a god; his fans are faithful followers. Over the passage of time the devotion from racing fans and drivers has not faded (just look at how many current drivers have a tribute to Senna on their helmet designs and the impressive sales figures for the Senna documentary). Nothing has separated Senna from the love of his fans. Sporting heroes who die in their prime are always cherished by their fans, but feelings for Senna are on a different level.

After a tragic year in motor racing which claimed the lives of Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli, we have relived some of the agony of having our racing heroes taken from us before our eyes. I think it is inevitable that films will be made at some point in future about both Dan and Marco, and I have no doubt that those films will provoke similar emotions in fans.

It is clear from the feedback received so far that ‘Senna Watch’ was a great success. I have received a number of requests/suggestions from fans to repeat ‘Senna Watch’ again later this year or as an annual event. If demand is high enough (which I suspect it will be) this is certainly my intention. There were also requests that the ‘watch’ concept be extended to other F1 related media content or historic race footage. I am delighted to have received this response as it is clear that the format was successful – I will be giving thought to what else we could do this with. If you have any suggestions please do contact me or leave a comment below.

Thanks again, everyone.


‘Senna Watch’

7 Jan

In the weeks after the end of the 2011 season (just when F1 withdrawal was starting to kick in) I saw the Senna film for the second time. After an F1 season where I got seriously in to tweeting about F1, it felt quite odd to be watching something F1-related without being able to tweet my thoughts and read those of others as the action was happening on my tv screen. After seeking the opinion of some fellow fans I decided to create ‘Senna Watch’ – a fixed date and time (8 January 2012 at 8pm GMT) for fans to all hit ‘play’ at the same time for a simultaneous ‘watch and tweet’ of the film.

If I’m completely honest I was hoping for about 50 people to join in with the event. Here we are the night before the big day and the dedicated @SENNAWatch twitter account currently has 186 followers, and there are more tweeps out there using the #SENNAWatch trend. Having that many fellow fans engaged with the event is just brilliant. I’m also pretty darn excited that the film’s writer, Manish Pandey, and director, Asif Kapadia, are aware of the event and may well be participating in it too. Not bad eh?

I’ll be posting a write-up of the event early next week.