Rush was equally appealing to Dod Mantle. "I loved Peter Morgan’s script and the drama in it, and I had always loved the sport," recalls the DP, whose credits include 127 Hours, Dredd and The Last King of Scotland. "And the first big challenge was, how do you shoot this? I looked at NASCAR cameras and studied [John] Frankenheimer’s great racing film Grand Prix, along with other racing films like Le Mans—and I don’t normally do that sort of research of relevant films about the same subject, but we had to as both Ron and I knew so little about this whole world."
Next, the team mapped out a visual and technical approach. "We quickly realized that while we had a small budget, we had pretty big ambitions, and we had to try and work out a way so we could give audiences enough value for the money, so that they do believe they’re in the middle of this whole world, which is incredibly expensive to re-create," explains Dod Mantle. "And, while the races happen all over the world, we didn’t have the budget to travel to Brazil and Monaco and so on, to shoot all these races, so we had to work out another way of doing it."Instead, the team researched archival footage on every format—from 16mm and Super 16mm to 35mm. Using that as their palette base, they then built on that, "which meant using what we could—even if it was poor quality, as it added incredible production value—learning from it, and even taking out the cars that were wrong and inserting our own, which became a very complex CG task," adds Dod Mantle. "That was my first cinematography nightmare, and I didn’t want the film to go down a grainy, desaturated, ugly road of another ’70s film. The material and setting were much too sexy, exciting and visceral for that."
The DP worked closely with the editorial team, producers and his grading team to figure out "what we could take where, and how far, as I didn’t want the film to bump between inferior and superior material and then stuff in between. I wanted to marry all the material and have it flow like an old painting, and we began this process months before the start of official preproduction."
Early on, the team also shot some tests at the famed Nürburgring course in Germany, which the DP supervised, although he couldn’t attend. "And way before then, we looked at all the archival material and agreed that whatever we used had to work in the context of the film, and had to pass the test of my eyes, my grader’s eyes and the post house," says Dod Mantle. "It didn’t have to be great quality, but it had to be right. So I quickly tried to find in the CO3 [Company 3] post house grading images that I felt I could make look interesting, that didn’t look like modern digital material or modern film or predictable ’70s archival gray mush."
To this end, the DP "really pushed it," he says, "to find painterly images that were quite degraded in resolution, but which were very visceral in their color." A good example of this approach is the scene where Hunt is lying on his back in bed, visualizing the track and every bend at Monaco, and practicing every move he’ll have to make on the day. "We created this montage full of really broken-up, colorful and visceral images with the palette that I wanted for the whole film," says Dod Mantle. "So, ultimately, it was a matter of me finding a visual territory somewhere in the middle where I could bring up the archival footage, and get it to melt in, and bring down everything we shot on boring, flat, gray English days in HD and 2K and 4K image-capture systems."
The DP didn’t shoot a frame of film and shot most of the film using ARRI ALEXAs. "We had a package of three or four on an average day, and on one day used up to 27 different cameras, which was the maddest day of my life," recalls the DP. The basic camera package consisted of the ALEXAs, several IndieCam cameras that he used on Trance, and five HD POV cameras—"which were used as ‘shoot-and-possibly-destroy’ cameras,’" he notes. "They recorded only on HD and were the only cameras I used where I couldn’t actually control the diaphragm or the focus, which I hate, as I always need to control placement of the focus and the aperture at a minimum. But, they were placed under the wheels of the race cars and in very violent and odd situations."