Historical Accuracy: Design and Locations
With a global television audience of more than a
half billion, Formula 1 is the highest class of single-
seater auto racing in the world. Sanctioned by FIA,
the "formula" refers to the set of rules with which all
participants' cars must comply. Under the leadership of
director Bernie Ecclestone, who turned F1 into a billion
dollar business, the 1970s saw even greater commercial
success for the enterprise.
The F1 championship season consists of a series of
races known as the Grand Prix that are held on purpose-
built circuits and public roads. The results of each race
are combined with a points system to determine the
annual World Championships, one for the drivers and
one for the car manufacturers.
Although it began in Europe, F1's popularity has
transcended continental boundaries, with races now
also held in the Americas, Asia and Oceania.
No surprises here, but a period film about an
international sport required top talent, dedication,
extensive research, long hours and hard work. To
accomplish the myriad tasks ahead, the filmmakers
recruited a talented and dedicated crew who were
inspired by the work ethic of their director. "It was
arduous, unbelievably demanding on everyone but
we're thrilled with what we got and how much of the
flavor of Formula 1 we were able to capture," Howard
says. "We also captured a lot of the prerace moments,
life in the paddock, the culture of Formula 1. And
I believe we've re-created this period in a way that
captures the glamour, the daring and the excitement of
a very colorful time."
With the deft hand he brought to the ambitious
Slumdog Millionaire, production designer Mark Digby
knew he had an incredibly challenging shoot ahead of
him with Rush. By integrating all racing and support
vehicles into historically accurate environments, he
had the Herculean challenge of reimagining racetracks from Europe to Japan. "We had to create 12 to 15
different races each year from 1974 through 1976,"
says Digby. "In addition to the racecars, there were
lorries and caravans, ambulances and other support
vehicles. There was the paddock area at each of the
tracks where the mechanics work and bunting and
signage to indicate we're in a different country at a
different Grand Prix...since we didn't travel all around
the world to do our filming."
Adding to the authenticity was location filming
at the British tracks Brands Hatch, Donington Park,
Cadwell Park and Snetterton and at Germany's notorious
Nurburgring. Filming was also done at Blackbushe
Airfield, a former drag racing venue in the U.K.
The most emotional part of the production for the
crew was filming at Nurburgring, the site of Lauda's
horrifying crash. "We went to the actual spot where
the incident occurred," Howard says. "The first time
I went there to scout, it was chilling. It was almost
like entering a church, knowing Niki and what he
went through and that we were going to re-enact
it and re-create it. On the days of shooting, the
adrenaline was pumping so we were not thinking so
much philosophically. We were a little more practical,
but everybody innately understood that there was
something extraordinary about the opportunity to film
there and the responsibility that involved."
The director is most grateful for the chance to film
in some extraordinary places during his long career.
He reflects: "I've been lucky to film remarkable reefs
in the Caribbean for underwater scenes in Splash and
Cocoon, the Louvre for The Da Vinci Code, sacred
places for Angels & Demons, weightless simulation
facilities at NASA for Apollo 13 and Nixon's Western
White House for Frost/Nixon. Nurburgring was another
one of those experiences like the Louvre, like NASA,
where you are frankly just thankful that you are doing
a job that allows you these experiences. It was a huge
thrill and, most important of all, we got a great scene
In addition to the emotional impact, Howard took
away from the shoot a better understanding of the
expertise needed to negotiate one of the world's most
challenging racecourses. "I'm a neophyte, but I could
tell the skill level required to excel at a place like this
as we moved through that undulating, twisting track at
Nurburgring," Howard says. "It was like standing on a
great golf course. You don't have to participate in the
sport to sense there's something unique, specific and
remarkable about a place."
Howard is not a complete novice when it comes to
films about fast cars. He starred in a pair of low-budget
car-chase comedies in the mid-'70s, Eat My Dust and
Grand Theft Auto, writing and making his directorial
debut in the latter. The director also got a firsthand
look at another famous racetrack. Shortly after filming
wrapped, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway invited him
to drive the pace car for the Brickyard 400, a NASCAR
race held annually at the legendary track. NASCAR
star Jeff Gordon hosted Howard during his first visit to
Indy and introduced him in a prerace drivers' meeting.
Rush proved to be a labor of love for Howard. In
returning to an era he knew well in the milieu of a
sport with which he was unfamiliar, he found endless
overcomes. Still, he gives that this was one of his
easiest films. "The obstacles presented in making Rush
were considerable," the director sums. "The weather,
re-creating the '70s, replicating historical races:
challenges were big and plentiful. But from a casting
standpoint, this was one of the easiest films I've ever
done. Everything came together."
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