Set Decorator Peter Lando SDSA generously gives us insights into sets and story,
in the slice of filmmaking below and the absorbing photo captions above... Enjoy the ride! Karen Burg, Editor
...from Peter... There is a lot of automobile racing in FORD V FERRARI, and it is exhilarating. However, it is the portrayal of the human stuff...the vanities, betrayals, and loyalties...which remain in my mind long after the 427 engines have cooled down. Central to the story in FORD V FERRARI is the relationship between the racer turned promoter, Carroll Shelby, and the “pure” racer, auto design savant, Ken Miles, both real-life racing legends.
I thought I would illustrate for you how a single item of set dressing found its way into the film and illuminates a greater truth about the character of Ken Miles.
This dressing was not a story point, but rather a character piece, a reference to the character’s history. It goes something like this…
The talented hands of a master appear to have massaged life into a 1940’s military issue BSA motorcycle. Almost complete, with canvas saddlebags and olive drab paint finish, its gas tank rests on a grease-stained oilcloth surrounded by bolts, washers and gaskets. This personal project takes up more space than it ought to in a commercial garage...the prerogative of its owner.
The camera finds this restoration project in the automotive repair shop Ken Miles operated in Hollywood in the early 1960s. The idea to bring a vintage motorcycle into this character’s sphere came to me early in the production process. It resulted from questions like, “Where was this character during his formative years?” and “What happened to make him the person he was?” The simplest questions often yield the best rewards.
Rather than referencing an authoritative biography of Ken Miles (if one exists), information about him...from academic sources, popular culture, living witnesses and those who knew him...filtered into my consciousness. As the character’s personal narrative began to emerge, I was able to weave in anecdotes, reminiscences, and speculation.
I see this as the set decorators’ license and imperative: to create a “back story”. Does conjecture violate the integrity of non-fiction? Well, it’s non-fiction, not a documentary. No story contains all of the facts, and if there is to be no perfect telling, then I direct my fidelity to spirit over fact. I don’t believe that Jim Mangold, the film’s director, lost any sleep over portraying Enzo Ferrari clocking the 1966 race from the Scuderia Ferrari boxes at the Le Mans track. Jim knew Enzo was not at the track for the race, but the spirit of the story was heightened through this choice.
The historical record tells us that Ken Miles was born November 1, 1918 in Sutton Coldfield Parish, about 7 miles from Birmingham City, Warwickshire, England. It doesn’t take a genius to speculate about what a 20-year-old man from Birmingham was doing in 1938. An easily found photo shows the man in his twenties, pipe in mouth, in the wool uniform of the British Army. Ken piloted a tank in Europe during active duty in World War II. It seems he had some talent for driving.
Ken was known for his motorcycle racing after the war and then expanded his racing interests to automobiles. When I found myself asking, “Where would Ken Miles most likely have encountered motorcycles during his formative years?”...the period of his military service seemed a plausible answer. Hence the passion project I chose for him, the restoration of a WW2 vintage BSA.
When Jim reviewed my boards and I explained my reasons for including the motorcycle in the set, he was enthusiastic. Having worked once before with the actor Christian Bale, who plays Ken Miles, I recalled that he loves motorcycles and that he rode a fast bike on THE DARK KNIGHT. I knew that a vintage British bike would be the kind of set dressing this actor would feel good about, and that felt like a significant contribution.
The cost of bringing a vintage motorcycle on to the show for several months sent me down the product placement route, hoping that Norton Motorcycles would provide something sweet at no cost. Mark McFann from Cast A Long Shadow Product Placement offered some contacts at Norton, but I was unable to land that fish. However, he also passed on the contact information for Hayden Roberts, a collector of British motorcycles.
Hayden and I spoke a number of times and I found him very resourceful. We would have used one of the bikes from his list of contacts had we not found one eventually nearby in Southern California. Hearing Hayden’s British accent led me to explain that I was looking for a bike for the character of Ken Miles. He was intrigued. It appeared he was also from Birmingham UK and was very familiar with Ken Miles's story. Blindly fishing, I inquired about the football team Ken Miles would most likely have supported as a young man. In the UK these allegiances are typically local, tribal, and passionate. I thought Hayden might be able to offer some insight. He explained that the popular club for most “Brummies” was Birmingham City, but Ken grew up on the “posh side of the tracks”, closer to Aston. Hayden suggested that Ken Miles would likely have been a fan of the football club Aston Villa.
I looked up the club. Something clicked when I saw the team photo. What was it about the Aston Villa club that was significant? Then it hit: the legendary Ford GT40 that Ken Miles drove at Le Mans was painted the Aston Villa team colors. This small discovery filled me with excitement. I had uncovered some small insight into the life of Ken Miles. This may have been a triumph of fact, but what touched me was the spirit of Miles’s life and times.
In our process as filmmakers, are we not always asking the question, “Who are the people whose story we are telling?” Don’t we attempt to curate the material world in which they appear as we think they might? Don’t we offer objects for the screen which would carry meaning for our characters as if they were sitting in the theatre watching their story unfold?
We immediately ordered some Aston Villa team merchandise to add to Miles’s sphere. You might catch a glimpse of the Aston Villa team scarf in the cubicle where Miles rests between driving shifts at the Le Mans circuit.
In retrospect, I could have asked the Picture Car Coordinator for a motorcycle, but he was buried so deep in work that he didn’t see daylight until the picture wrapped. His wasn’t a particularly easy job and he was already under great pressure. As it turned out, he owes me one, as the motorcycle we see Miles riding to the Shelby American shop at LAX is the very same bike that began its motion picture career some weeks earlier as an item of set dressing.
I could not have explored the slice of life described above, or myriad other aspects, without the hard work, creativity and support of the set decoration team. Lead Man Jason Bedig was stoic and calm knowing that his excellent crew had his back. Nothing got past him. Our fabricators gave us a range and flexibility that turned potential nightmares into dreams. Jeff Khachadoorian can build anything. His molds of the Ferrari engine blocks were sublime. His 2-sided, illuminated Dutray clocks suspended over the Le Mans track worked flawlessly. Deborah Jones was incredibly professional and resourceful with fabric, blinds and upholstery. I loved the crisp lines of the built-in seating in Ford’s office. It was perfect. Lori West worked so hard on the never-ending list of graphic requirements. Chelsey Morin, in the co-ordinator’s chair, was solid, thorough and tireless. Buyer/Asst. Set Decorator Walter Martinez was in his element when talking to the automotive community. His creative drive and energy brought order from chaos. Buyers Stephane Allen, Danny Diamond and Philip Edgerly never said, “You can’t get those any more.” or, “It’s not out there.” Before she went on to another project, Buyer Claudia Bonfe brought to my attention the perfect desk for Enzo Ferrari’s office. I also want to acknowledge those that joined the team and left during the course of the filmmaking.
Our collaboration with the art department on this production was seamless. We worked as one team. The exchange of ideas and images never slowed. Production Designer François Audouy was accessible and sincerely appreciative of what we brought to the table. He took a big, bold, committed stance to the work on this project. We have developed a shorthand and a range of common ground which allows us to easily communicate and advance the process. [ Editor's note: See LOGAN below! ] We were able to retire to Burbank’s Blue Room on a Friday night, where the subtleties of the project underwent intense scrutiny.
The set decoration benefitted from the Art Department’s insightful research. Coupled with what we were able to unearth, our efforts found a place in François’s grand design. Supervising Art Director Maya Shimoguchi kept a vigilant eye on our interface with other departments working under the art department umbrella. The other talented set designers, art directors, graphic designers, and art assistants also felt like fellow team members.
This was a difficult project for all of the right reasons.
The director pushed very hard to get what he wanted.
What he wanted was to make a better film.
There were times when I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to deliver. In order to save enough money to hire a second buyer for three weeks, Jim and I spent the better part of one weekend sending e-mails back and forth as I tried to identify parts of locations he pledged not to shoot and I wouldn’t have to dress. We worked it out and he shot those areas regardless.
No real surprise there.
In the end, we were all proud of what we did.
I walked away with sincere respect for the teams that had worked so hard, demonstrating the professionalism and talent that LA crews are known for.
Would I do it again?
Enzo Ferrari office, Maranello, Italy...
Enzo Ferrari's office was my favorite set in the film.
It was anchored by a beautiful mid-century desk designed by the Italian, Geo Ponti.
Buyer Claudia Bonfe was with us for a while, and she brought this beauty to my attention. We covered the top with a piece of smoked glass, as is François Audouy's predilection. Brown Bakelite phone and fixtures adorned the honey-colored desk and wood tables.
Our research dictated that a side table be dressed with photographs of Scuderia Ferrari drivers who lost their lives driving for this organization. Alberto Ascari, Luigi Musso, Wolfgang Von Trips and others were memorialized in this set.
The set looked nothing like Enzo's actual office, but it felt like he ought to be working there.