Instructions: how to recreate Le Mans 66?

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Le Mans 66
Twentieth century fox

James Mangold’s film, starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon, will air tonight on France 2.

With Le Mans 66, broadcast for the first time in clear on France 2, James Mangold embarks Matt Damon and Christian Bale in a legendary race. The director explains to us the precision mechanics necessary to recreate the circuit of the time.
BY FRANÇOIS LÉGER

Le Mans 66: Christian Bale, phenomenal [Critique]

01 By delving into the archives

James Mangold passes without batting an eyelid Logan to Mans 66, which traces the true story of trainer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and British driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), sent by Ford to dethrone Ferrari at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. with formidable precision and to achieve this result, the filmmaker and his teams immersed themselves in dozens of hours of archives: “It was very informative. We quickly noticed that at the time, we did not care much about the safety of the crowd: people were picnicking right at the edge of the track and spectators could just hang out next to the cars. An almost family spirit that surprised me a lot. “ James Mangold also confides to have seen again Le Mans by Lee H. Katzin, with Steve McQueen. “We even had access to previously unseen footage from the shoot. And we came across an incredible radio archive of Ken Miles: There’s a moving moment in the film where he describes to his son what it feels like to complete a perfect lap. Much of what he says comes from an interview given shortly before his death. “

02 By not turning on the real circuit

The 24 Hours of Le Mans circuit as we know it today does not look at all like what it was in 1966. There is no question, therefore, of running on the spot. “It’s become five times bigger, there are huge sponsors and buildings that didn’t exist. It would have been simply too hard and too expensive to recreate the circuit of the time on the spot. “ So, the director set down his cameras in the United States, between two states located 4,000 km away: “We replicated the legendary turns of the circuit in Georgia, but in four or five different places, at times from each other! And for the finish line, we went to California, to an abandoned airport that allowed you to drive fast. “ Everything then had to be unified during assembly. “So to be connected on a lap in the film, when we were shooting the first scene in the morning, all the following ones had to be shot in the morning light. If it was raining, all the scenes after that also had to be filmed in the rain. Without counting the level of soiling on the cars which was to increase … A rather monumental task. “

03 By not pretending

James Mangold wanted to escape digital effects as much as possible, which were mainly used on the buildings around the track and to simulate the crowds. “Sometimes a vehicle was missing a bit of dirt and it was added by computer. But the cars are real, like the racing scenes. In virtually every shot of Christian Bale or Matt Damon driving, they are in a car and going over 160 km / h. No green background, they didn’t need to pretend: they lived it. I wanted us to feel this realism. “ The filmmaker has also worked to bring the circuit to life by making sure all extras seem busy on screen. “The refueling team came from the automotive world, they knew exactly what they had to do. For the others, they had to use tools or be eating: we gave them baguettes, sandwiches, wine … It’s my job to observe every corner of the frame and control that everyone plays the game. Otherwise, it breaks realism. “

Christian Bale no longer wants to endure extreme weight variations

04 forgetting that we are telling a true story

How not to be trapped by the weight of history and transform the race into a documentary, in a succession of historical facts? James Mangold found the parade: “You have to get rid of the idea that you’re working with real people. I wanted to do them justice but at the same time it works as a movie. When i did Walk the Line with Joaquin Phoenix, he often came to see me before the first take of the day: “Tell me the thing, please. I replied, “You are not Johnny Cash.” And he thanked me. It’s a burden for the actors to play someone who really existed. It can be very heavy and kill your creativity. We are not only aiming for the truth of these people, we are aiming for an even greater truth. Something a biographer would never find out because you understand things by putting yourself in their shoes, by doing what they’ve done, by going where they’ve been. The character then begins to take possession of the actor’s body. It’s almost magical what happens at that point. “

05 Fighting against technology

Most of the new cameras are equipped with stabilizers, which greatly reduce sudden movements. Or the opposite of what the director was looking for: “We deactivated this stuff because we wanted to capture the movements and vibrations in the chassis. It is essential to make you feel the speed. It is not enough to drive over 160 km / h, although this is obviously very important. Look at what happens on TV shows of motor racing: when the camera is far away and does a dolly, you don’t feel at all what it feels like to be in a car launched at full speed on a very narrow track. My goal was to put the spectator where the television does not take him, as close as possible to the pilot. We had to understand what he was doing, the decisions he had to make at all times. I wanted us to be able to feel the vibration, which is the connection with the car. This is where the vehicle becomes a character in its own right. “

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