A version of this story about “Ford v Ferrari” first appeared in the Oscar Nominations Preview issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.
You might think that the auto-racing scenes in “Ford v Ferrari” would be the biggest challenge for the film’s editors, since the film about the Ford Motor Company’s pursuit of a title at Le Mans in 1966 needs to convey the power, tension and adrenaline of a 24-hour race. But editors Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland said the hard part came much earlier than that, in everything that happened before Christian Bale’s race driver Ken Miles climbs into his Ford GT40.
“Everybody talks about the racing, but the real challenge was the number of rich characters whose stories had to be told,” McCusker said. “How do we juggle that assortment of characters and give them their due without bogging down the narrative thrust?” The first edit, he added, “was not firing on all cylinders,” so they reworked it to find a better mixture of racing and character moments.
“It’s finding the right balance between the racing and the drama and understanding how the drama informs the racing,” added Buckland. “So when you’re watching the racing, you’re invested in the characters.”
The editing team and director James Mangold purposefully withheld the full racing experience. A short race at the beginning of the movie, McCusker said, is “almost a character piece more than a race” — and from there, Ford v Ferrari focuses on test trials that integrate the other characters into the narrative.
“We give the audience a carrot on a string, these powerful cars, but we withhold the experience of driving,” he said. “So when we do get to the race, those shots are more powerful than they would be if we were constantly hammering on them race after race.”
When the film moves to the fabled Le Mans track for its final stretch, “it had to feel like you were in a 24-hour race, but you weren’t just sitting in a car the whole time,” McCusker said. “There’s as much drama in the pits and the stands and at home as there is in the car.”
But, of course, there is plenty of drama in the car, in an extended racing sequence carefully assembled out of small bits. “All the little pieces really add up,” said Buckland. “The pedal, the gearshift, the speedometer, the tachometer — they really just add to the experience of Ken Miles responding to the machine. They give an overall sense of what he was experiencing driving the car.”
Read more of the Oscar Nominations Preview issue here.