Thoughts on Oscar night
FEBRUARY 25, 2008
BY JOE SAWARD
It has been very quiet this winter in Formula 1 circles, probably not a bad thing given the mess that was last year. It has been so quiet in fact that I decided to do something a little different and ended up writing a book about the adventures of a sea captain. There was no motor racing connection at all - and the whole process was relaxing and energising.
A change, so they say, is as good as a rest.
This will be my 21st season in F1 and it is great to report that I still get excited in the month or so before each season begins. Yes, I like being at home and leading a relatively normal life, but the lure of the circus remains. Last year's politics took a heavy toll on my motivation but as we head towards the spring the decay of last autumn is fading away and new interest is sprouting.
Testing is giving us a few hints about the season ahead but no-one is really sure how things are really going to be when we get to Melbourne and that is what I like. The sport, for all its faults, is always on the move, always changing. All you have to do is wait around long enough and you are presented with a new world.
At this time of year - it is half term in the real world - it is always a good moment to stop and take a few days off before hitting the road once again and I have been taking a few days away from the computer and the mobile phone. I have been reading novels and all that sort of stuff. I am not much of a television viewer, but I have turned on the box a few times in the last few days and the other evening I found myself watching the second half of Will Ferrell's motor racing comedy "Talladega Nights". If you haven't seen it, it is not a bad movie, although the absurdly gay French racing driver is way over the top. F1 is very keen to be socially acceptable and I think it would probably benefit from a gay driver, although I am not sure that there are any gay drivers left in F1.
That is not really the point, however. The fact is that "Talladega Nights" is a brilliant piece of promotion for NASCAR.
And as I was watching the movie it struck me that in all my years in F1 there has never been a proper movie made about the sport. I do recall a period when Sylvester Stallone used to come to races and there was talk of a movie but Sylvester did not get what Sylvester wanted and he soon disappeared off and made a pretty bad movie about CART called "Driven". Since then the only link between the film world and F1 have been cross-promotions at Monaco where George Clooney, Brad Pitt and others have done walk -throughs in the Monaco paddock and pit lane to promote their latest movies. This probably did them more good than it did F1, but it was if nothing else a photo opportunity that got F1 into the world of celebrity magazines. That is where the sport be.
NASCAR's understanding of the movie and TV world leaves other racing series - notably F1 behind - despite the success of John Frankenheimer's 1966 movie "Grand Prix", one of the higher rating movies that year and the winner of three Oscars.
NASCAR's attitude has long been to work closely with the producers to promote their series. "Talladega Nights" followed in the footsteps of "Cars" and "Herbie Fully Loaded". There are more movies in the pipeline.
"Cars" is the biggest car racing movie ever and compares favourably with the figures generated by "Days of Thunder" back in 1990.
NASCAR does movies really well, allowing the filmmakers the access they need and even getting the NASCAR drivers to get involved without seeming wooden.
There was a fascinating piece of research published the other day after the Daytona 500. Last year they explained 46% of the commercials during the race featured one or other of the drivers. In total there were 19 of them who made appearances and as a result the audience during the breaks remained at 95% of what it was when the racing was on. The underlying point here is that the fans engage with the stars and see them as good role models. People relate to the stars.
This is something that some of the F1 sponsors understand but it seems to me that the sport does not do anything to promote the idea. The drivers remain cocooned away from the public and the teams do not seem to do very much to force them to connect with the fans. This is a shame because F1 needs a more human face.
The problem is not that film makers do not want to make movies about Formula 1 - they would love it - but rather that they are dissuaded from doing so by the high prices charged for F1 footage and because of the lack of assistance from the F1 authorities. The sport does not seem to understand - or perhaps care is a better word - about the need to build the F1 audience by any means other than the TV coverage. The bottom line in this appears to be the bottom line: F1 does not like the idea of others making large sums of money on the back of the sport. The fact that a movie is a powerful promotional tool is simply overlooked.
Money is all that counts.
Last night I flipped on the TV again and there was Frankenheimer's "Grand Prix". I guess it was being shown because of the Oscars and I realised that I had not watched the movie in years. And I enjoyed it.
Sure, it was dated but it was good to watch and the camera work was really impressive given the era. It was terrific that the film was able to slide fictional characters into the background of reality.
I could not help but wonder what could be done with the promotional skills and the movie technology of the modern era.