‘Amy’ is somewhere in the middle of authorized and unauthorized.
Hopefully, when people see ‘Senna’, they will understand why this inspirational story needed to be told, why it had to be made as a movie for the big screen, and why it is a film for everyone.
You don’t have to be someone who likes walking a tightrope across the Twin Towers to watch ‘Man On Wire.’
A big part of my filmmaking is that I can go somewhere new and, visually, be excited by it.
I’d always intended to make ‘Far North’ straight after ‘The Warrior.’ We had the rights to the short story, the script was in development, and I knew where I wanted to shoot it. It just took a long time getting the script together and raising the finance.
I worked with Michelle Yeoh on my last film, ‘Far North,’ and her partner is Jean Todt; at the time, he ran Ferrari. So I went as a VIP to the British grand prix.
I don’t have these crazy deadlines. I don’t have this, ‘Oh it’s got to be out tomorrow.’ I don’t like working like that.
I used to live in Pillgwenlly, and there was this old Italian pizzeria that used to be there with a really amazing character who ran it.
I made three short films of my own which I wrote, produced, directed… you did everything in those days. My favourite one was something I shot on VHS… a little documentary.
It’s always great to be able to go to a premiere with the actors there.
My interest in filmmaking was always very much the visuals and images.
Weirdly enough, I live in London – was born there and have lived there all my life – but I hadn’t made a film in London for a long time. I hadn’t found the right subject. I liked going away, to some far flung place.
There’s this great TV show we have called ‘Later… with Jools Holland’, a live-music show on Friday nights. Anyone and everyone’s been on it.
I never know going in if I’ve even got a movie to make. Once you start making a film, you hope there’s going to be enough material! My job as a director is always to push for more.
A lot of the time when I’m working, I’m abroad.
My family didn’t film anything. But then you look deeper and realize, maybe there are photographs, there are things. It’s also context: You give something a context, and suddenly it becomes really deep or meaningful footage.
The Tour de France would make a great movie. Drugs, corruption, political chicanery, guys risking their lives – everything you need for a great sports drama.
I wanted to make a film that wouldn’t just appeal to Formula One fans. That’s what the great sports documentaries do – ‘Hoop Dreams,’ ‘When We Were Kings’ – they’re human dramas first, sport second, if at all.
My films often have a spiritual dimension which comes from my Muslim background, and I’m happy to tackle that in cinema.
As a kid, I thought movies were boring. My parents would hire VHS recorders for the weekend and watch Bollywood movies. I’d get bored and go out to Stoke Newington common to play football.
I lived in Camden, Primrose Hill and Kentish Town for 10 years.
The subjects have to come with questions for me. I don’t make films where I’m a massive fan.
On ‘Senna,’ it got to the point where there was so much footage that our first editor had the wild suggestion that we only use the archive.
I worked in TV for a short time and couldn’t stand the fact that we’d always be filming someone talking, just giving information.
We were working on ‘Senna’ for a long time before we were fully financed, so we didn’t actually have an editor for a while.
We want to make movies for the big screen. We want people to go to the theater and feel like they’re watching a movie.
For me, ‘Amy’ is a very dark film about love.
I like to make films where I learn along the way, like the audience.
I’m a sport fan. So, I have always watched everything, and I used to watch racing. Formula One was always on. The genius about it is that it’s on at lunchtime on a Sunday.
In a film called ‘Senna,’ the clue is in the title, and we have a Brazilian badge on our sleeve as we were making it. We were making it from Senna’s point of view, with Senna narrating it.
I don’t normally make documentaries. I’m a drama director. I’ve made a few short docs, but I don’t like talking heads or ‘voice of God’ narrators.
Why make a movie about Ayrton Senna? Someone who drove around in circles at 200mph in a car that looked like a giant cigarette packet? Why would anyone who isn’t already a fan of Formula 1 care?
My team and I used the actual footage to create a three-act story of the life of Ayrton Senna. There are no talking heads and no voiceover. Senna narrates his own epic, dramatic, thrilling journey.
As far as I’m concerned, I make movies.
The big thing for me is to make films that you feel, whether you feel happy, whether you feel sad, whether you feel sick; it’s to make the audience feel so that the next day they remember what they saw.
The worst thing ever for me is go see a movie, and the next day I go, ‘What did I do last night? I have no memory of this $300 million movie I watched because I felt nothing.’
People have always been recording what’s going on around them in one form or another.
I want to make my own films from my own scripts based on stories I want to tell, but they take time to put together.
I never realised ‘The Return’ would take so long to make – it was a very tough ‘political experience,’ and the post production in L.A. seemed to go on forever.
My wife Victoria Harwood was art director on ‘Far North,’ and she had designed my student film, ‘The Sheep Thief.’
There are no drivers like Formula One drivers. They are engineers, in a way. They are driving manual cars one-handed at 200 miles per hour around streets in Monaco. These cars use the ultimate in technology.
The Monaco Grand Prix is in May right around the time of Cannes.
To be teammates in Formula One actually means you are first rivals, not really mates.
I love telling stories with images. But I think there’s more to just saying a movie is great visually.
As much as I love creating entertaining visuals, I love toying with the pace of a movie and trying to perfect that. It’s imperative to the impact: faster cuts, cuts at the right moments that meld with the tenor of a scene. Creating and maintaining that feeling.
I don’t really rely on watching video monitors. They put you at a certain distance from your actors, and it makes me feel less a part of what’s really happening in the scene.
My background is Indian, so I believe in a spiritual idea that there is another level, another layer or layers, if you will, above us. I believe that there are elements that allow things to be drawn together, a sort of energy.
Real life is far more complicated than fiction.
I often make films about subjects I don’t really know much about. Maybe it’s laziness, but I don’t go in there having done a tonne of research; the research happens while I’m making the film.
My background is from India, and I always get asked, ‘When are you going to do an Indian film, a musical or Bollywood film?’
The thing people don’t get about Indian films is that the songs are the story.
I’m an ordinary Hackney boy, and I can talk to people.
If I’m going to do something, I’m going to spend however long it takes to get it right.
‘Senna’ took five years, ‘Amy’ took three years. You try and say, ‘Look, there’s no deadline.’ That’s important. Just saying, ‘We’ve got to make the film. And once the film’s ready, it will be out there.’
When I was given the opportunity to direct ‘Senna,’ I decided the film had to work for audiences who disliked sport or had never seen a Formula One race in their lives. It had to thrill and emotionally engage people who had never heard of Ayrton Senna.
I was a sports fan long before I had any interest in film-making.
Boxing is made for film – there is corruption, violence, tragedy and the chance that the underdog can catch the champion with one lucky punch.
We spent four days filming in a helicopter. I had never seen London from that viewpoint – you get a sense of how big it is and how easy it is to get lost. There was one day when we couldn’t find Brick Lane: we spent 25 minutes looking and then realised it was directly below us.
While still a young student at film school, I was lucky enough to get a golden ticket to a Martin Scorsese master class at BAFTA in Piccadilly: fancy, but technically still ‘the flicks’.
As a filmmaker, you complete a film you have spent years obsessively making, and you know the release prints will never look quite the same; prints get scratched and dirty.
Hopefully with digital projection, a film will always look the way the filmmaker intended.
You can’t stop people watching on mobiles, but I hope the old fashioned idea of sitting in a dark room with a big screen with a group of strangers lives on forever.
I studied graphic design originally. I used to like drawing, and I was quite into technical drawing. I was always interested in the visual medium, but I thought I was going to be an architect or something like that, but it’s quite a lonely job.
We were studying at Newport Film School, and I found that the only way for me to make films – because you need people and you need equipment – was that I had to be a student.
Directing can be very lonely and quite intimidating.
After Newport, I worked in television for a while, and then I went to The Royal College Of Art and did a master’s degree. I really did study quite a lot!
I wanted to study film at an art school – I loved the idea of being surrounded by designers and artists. We were encouraged to be experimental.
Martin Scorsese was being given an honorary doctorate, and one of the tutors asked if there was a student film he particularly liked. He mentioned our film. There was a dinner after the final show just for the tutors, but I was smuggled in to meet Scorsese over dessert.
I made several short films with very little dialogue. I’m still not a fan of talking heads. My stories are told with images as much as possible.
‘Do the Right Thing’ has been a big influence on me. I saw it when it first came out in 1989. I was about 18, and it blew me away on many levels – I had never seen anything like it before.
I just loved films. I knew I wanted to work on film, not video.