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Knights Ride Again: RUSH Is Developed
British screenwriter/playwright Peter Morgan believed that the Lauda-Hunt rivalry and their accompanying thrilling battles during the 1976 Formula 1 season was a story that transcended the sports pages. Morgan has earned a reputation as a master of modern-history movie scripts. He captured the intrigue behind Uganda's brutal dictator Idi Amin (The Last King of Scotland), Queen Elizabeth II's struggles following the death of Princess Diana (The Queen), the behind-the-scenes drama surrounding David Frost's 1977 interview with former U.S. President Richard Nixon (Frost/Nixon) and British Prime Minister Tony Blair's relationships with both his successor, Gordon Brown (The Deal), and former U.S. President Bill Clinton (The Special Relationship). For his work, Morgan earned Academy Award nominations for Best Screenplay for both The Queen and Frost/Nixon. "I grew up in England knowing all about James Hunt," Morgan recalls, "but I never knew Niki's side of the story.'"

The screenwriter, who lives in Austria, approached Lauda with an idea to write a script that dramatized the tumultuous 1976 racing season. Lauda consented and provided Morgan with invaluable input during the draft stages. "We had a lot of discussions about the Hollywood movie and the reality," Lauda says. "I always brought him back to the reality. They were very interesting discussions."

Morgan grew more and more taken by the incredible tale as he put pen to paper. He explains: "I wrote it on spec. I found it interesting but I was an Englishman married to an Austrian, living in Vienna. I didn't know who else might be interested. Once it was finished and I started showing it around, I found other people who also found it interesting."

One of the first people to whom Morgan showed the script was director Michael Winterbottom's longtime producer Andrew Eaton, with whom Morgan had been working on the Fernando Meirelles drama 360. "I was aware of the project because I was working on another film with Peter," Eaton relays. "He gave me the script to read, which I loved straightaway."

Eaton, a co-founder of Revolution Films, recognized that while the movie is set amid the glamour and excitement of F1 racing, at its heart is a story about two quite contrasting personalities. "It's a character story with two characters: one Austrian, one English," Eaton says. "It's mainly about these two men, their different styles and their different lifestyles. But it also happens to have this amazing backdrop of motor racing and Formula 1, making it a character piece with action."

The themes and the period in which Rush is set attracted the attention of Eric Fellner who, with his partner Tim Bevan, owns and operates Working Title Films. They had recently co-produced Asif Kapadia's award-winning Senna, based on the life of the great F1 champion Aryton Senna, and grew even more transfixed with the sport.

Fellner explains that his fascination with racing began as a boy: "The mid-'70s was the period that brought me into the excitement of Formula 1 racing. It was the Hunt-Hesketh days. I was just a teenager at school, and Formula 1 was an epic piece of the sporting calendar on a weekly basis. These guys were gladiators -- incredibly sexy and incredibly exciting because they rolled the dice with death every weekend. They were rock stars, and no one personified that better than James Hunt."

From beloved projects such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually to 2012's blockbuster Les Miserables, the London-based Working Title has made a global imprint with its movies. For the production partners, story has always trumped spectacle. "I started making films back in the '80s and had always wanted to make a movie about Lord Hesketh's brief, but glam- orous involvement with the sport of auto racing," states Fellner. "We were never able to pull that off, but years later I was approached to do a documentary on the life of Aryton Senna. I saw that a documentary was a good low-budget way of approaching the subject. I always thought a Formula 1 feature, especially a period feature, would be prohibitively expensive. Then Peter Morgan and Andrew Eaton came to me with this script, which they said could be made for a reasonable price. I couldn't resist, and I said I was in."

Brian Oliver, president of Cross Creek Pictures, which has produced critically and popularly acclaimed fare such as Black Swan, The Ides of March and The Woman in Black -- the latter two co-produced with Exclusive Media -- recognized that the setting and dramatic elements could make Rush a viable project. Oliver agreed to work on the financing structure and immediately called executive producers Nigel Sinclair and Guy East, who head Exclusive Media -- a mini-studio whose film credits include the upcoming production Parkland, the critically acclaimed End of Watch, Snitch and through its documentary label, Spitfire Pictures, the Academy Award-winning documentary Undefeated. "I read the script and immediately thought, 'Wow, we've got to do this,'" recalls Oliver. "It was one of those screenplays that transcends that sport and becomes fully about the characters."

Sinclair concurs: "As a Formula 1 fan, I immediately saw the potential of the wider appeal for this gladiator rivalry story."

East and Sinclair, along with Exclusive's head of production, Tobin Armbrust, quickly agreed to fully co- finance the budget with Cross Creek and also to look after the international distribution and marketing of the movie. East comments: "With Ron Howard so dedicated to the process of making Rush as an independently financed film, we knew our international partners were going to be very supportive."

The passions, personalities and competitive extremes of these characters -- not to mention his experience on his last film with Morgan -- convinced two-time Oscar winner Ron Howard to direct Rush. "I had the pleasure of working with Peter on Frost/Nixon and when he told me about the remarkable conflict between these two amazing characters, I found the story completely irresistible," Howard explains. "The characters are so rich. The rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda was dramatic. It was violent, sexy and, ultimately, it was very emotional and triumphant -- the makings of a great screen drama. During the 1976 season, everything intensified. Everyone, even people who didn't necessarily follow the sport, was talking about it. Everyone was writing about it because they were such opposites. It not only makes for great drama, it's a dichotomy that creates a lot of humor. And given the world in which they exist, it was a fresh story with totally unique characters.

"What Peter is great at is looking at characters," continues the director. "When he deals with true stories, he's fantastic at discerning what it is that makes them tick, what is that thing that gets under their skin in positive or negative ways and how to build scenes around that. Some of the scenes are purely factual, some are dramatic illustrations but they're all meant to serve these ideas he's developed. So, the results are always very honest, if not 1,000-percent authentic."

It's no coincidence that Howard's latest project, along with his Oscar-caliber films Apollo 13 and Frost/Nixon, is set in the '70s. The filmmaker admits he's long been captivated by the era.

"It's a very sexy, fascinating period in global history and popular culture," he explains. "I believe that by using today's cinematic technology, with a classic look at a remarkable time, we've made something that cuts through to the audience and feels fresh, rewarding and exciting."

What also sparked Howard was that this era was the same as his transition from performer to filmmaker. "When this story was taking place, Happy Days was becoming a No. 1 show around the world," Howard says. "So, I recognized the cultural differences of that period. It was the tail end of the sexual revolution, where there was nothing to fear and everything to celebrate...when sex was safe and driving was dangerous. The drive to express yourself, take chances and stand for something unique and particular was depoliticized coming out of the '60s, but it was still there on a cultural level. When I hear wild stories about Formula 1, I realize people don't quite do those things today but they are not entirely alien to my own understanding of what the world of celebrity was like in the '70s."

Their wish list of directors had been a short one, and the producers agreed they had the top name on the list. "Ron is one of the great American film directors," Oliver says. "Having him involved in a European racing project is a huge plus for the success of the film. It wasn't a big stretch to believe that the man who brought us into the world of astronauts and firefighters could make a great movie about race drivers."

Eaton appreciated the indefatigable energy the crew would find in its leader. He commends: "When we were looking around for directors, Peter had breakfast with Ron in Los Angeles and Ron told him how much he wanted to do the film. He's a huge sports fan and even though he wasn't really familiar with Formula 1, he appreciates the drama inherent in sports competition. Ron also has the same energy and drive as the two lead characters. It's inspiring to work with him because of his attention to detail and his raw energy. He was the perfect person to direct this movie."

The producers knew that Howard could find the humanity in real characters from recent history better than most. "From the mathematician in A Beautiful Mind to the astronauts in Apollo 13, he excels at capturing an environment in which real people operate," says Fellner. "It's a plus that he came in knowing little about the sport. It's been my experience that if you have a director who comes to a film without knowing everything there is to know about the subject material, you often get a more interesting point of view. Ron's take on this world brings us to places no other director could have taken us."

"One of the most exciting aspects of the film was Ron Howard's involvement," says executive producer Tobin Armbrust. "Watching him work first- hand, I was inspired by his ability to move smoothly between heart-pounding race sequences and intimate character moments."

Joining the production team on Rush was Howard's longtime partner at Imagine Entertainment, Oscar-winning producer Brian Grazer, who found himself as intrigued by Morgan's script as he was by the writer's last screenplay for Imagine. "Ron and I worked with Peter on Frost/Nixon," Grazer relays, "and Peter has this ability to study somebody and at the same time get so microscopic that he can see the pores in their skin."

Grazer found that Morgan's latest examination of the machinations of men was just as laser focused and explains where this project sits in the canon of films that he's produced with Howard. He notes: "The continuity that Rush shares with the other films from Ron and me is that it's about the characters' identities, about how their psyche works. Rush is also about two men who have giant flaws who are competing with each other. Oddly enough, this film isn't about winning the race, it's about how these men overcome their flaws through a competition and become more complete. Their victories lie within. Ultimately, James and Niki not only improved themselves through the racing, they improved each other's self-worth."

With Imagine as one of the final pieces of the puzzle, the financing in place and Howard in the director's chair, Rush moved quickly into production.

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