1: Life On The Limit - Paul Crowder interview (exclusive)
Interview by Rob Carnevale
PAUL Crowder talks about why he wanted to make Formula One documentary 1: Life On The Limit and how he went about reassuring the legends he interviewed that his film wouldn’t be seeking to exploit any of the car crashes or tragedies it depicts but rather celebrate the successes in the sport even more and show how they meant something.
He also talks about interviewing Michael Schumacher, his own favourite drivers and what appeals to him about making documentaries.
Q. What made you want to make 1: Life On The Limit?
Paul Crowder: It was the brainchild of an ex-roommate of mine, Jonathan Bracey-Gibbon, the associate producer of the film. He, Michael Shevloff [the producer] and l used to share a flat in the ’80s and we used to love watching and talking about Formula One. Jonathan had just seen Once In A Lifetime, my film about the New York Cosmos and said he wanted to make an F1 film with that energy and that kind of soundtrack… something that was that much fun to watch and he thought I was the right guy to do it. Basically, we wanted to capture what we grew up watching in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s and what it was like to be an F1 driver at that time, knowing that that kind of tragedy could come upon you every so often. It was a rollercoaster of emotions just to watch it.
Take James Hunt, for instance… we were in awe of him and wanted to be him – he was this brilliant race driver, he had beautiful girls on each arm, he loved to party, and he drove fast cars. He was an actor and rock star all in one, so he was very addictive in that respect. People tend to forget that the [F1] sport that people watch today lives on the shoulders and the legacy of all the people who got it where it is today. The safety improvements that have been made in the sport came about because of what happened to those guys. Indeed, we all drive safer cars today because of the technology and the development of everything that has happened in Formula One. And that’s what we wanted to capture.
Q. Some critics of modern Formula One argue that the danger element has been completely removed, which takes away some of the thrill. Do you think this film addresses that opinion and shows why it was important to make the sport safer?
Paul Crowder: Absolutely, without a doubt! And that’s not to say the danger doesn’t still exist. We’ve been inches away from people dying in F1 and there have been fatalities in other forms of motor racing. F1 has avoided it but, let’s face it, when you’re driving 200mph, feet first, if you crash, no matter what you do eventually we’re going to have another fatality. Felipe Massa only survived by inches when he had his big crash. If the spring had been even a little bit lower it may have killed him, but his helmet saved him. If he had been wearing the helmet from the year before, it might not have. In the last season alone, we had so many near misses where cars were going over the top of each other, so it’s still out there. It’s still a dangerous sport, but we’ve reduced that danger to a level where we’ve now survived 20 years without a fatality in F1. We’re approaching the 20-year anniversary of Imola [and the death of Ayrton Senna], which is quite something if you think about it.
Q. As an avid Formula One fan yourself, how much of a rush was it to be able to sit down and interview your heroes?
Paul Crowder: Oh man, I can’t tell you… the grin on my face during my first interview with Emerson Fittipaldi! I was grinning from ear to ear the whole time. He must have thought there was something wrong with me [laughs]. But it was just incredible, to have all those drivers sitting there and telling you these stories. But they were also so excited with the story we wanted to tell, so they were more than happy to tell us their stories. We got to Bahrain in 2010 and the 60th anniversary of the first race, so everyone was there. We found everyone in the paddock and pitched the idea… we were all staying in the same hotel, and we got a bunch of interviews just in that first week. It was incredible.
Q. When it came to showing some of the crash footage and interviewing people about that, how difficult was that?
Paul Crowder: Oh, it was very emotional. It was a very difficult thing for them to discuss. Really, the most important thing was to give the people involved the respect they deserved and to make sure that people understood this was not a film about exploitation of these tragedies. Rather, it was a film that sought to explain how they [the tragedies] affected the sport and how the sport was then able to advance itself in terms of safety. Basically, every time something bad happened, it helped push safety towards the right direction. So, it all meant something, every accident meant something. But it’s still a very delicate issue and obviously there were some very emotional times. It was the most difficult thing to do and to get right. But when we spoke to Bernie Ecclestone and first told him our idea, I was very adamant that he understood that we’d treat these tragedies with the utmost respect.
Q. So, with that in mind, what’s been your favourite response to the film so far?
Paul Crowder: The fact that people understood the sort of emotional rollercoaster you do go through and that those tragic stories are there for a reason and not merely exploitation. We’ve not had anyone saying that it [the film] feels like a collection of crashes and tragedies because that’s not what this film is about. It’s all about the triumphs – but the tragedies were part of what made the triumphs all the more impressive. A couple of reviews I read in Autosport and Motorsport magazine would have been the review I would have written myself [laughs]. People get this film completely and enjoy it for what it is.
Q. Having been a self-confessed fan of Damon Hill, how was getting to interview Michael Schumacher and did your opinion change of him in any way once you’d spoken to him?
Paul Crowder: Well, Michael proved to be a fantastic interview. He’s very honest and he has a tremendous knowledge about the history of the sport. But I didn’t have any animosity towards anyone. I was just impressed that they said ‘yes’ and wanted to be included and honoured to be able to sit there and be in a room with my producer and Michael Schumacher. I do think he is one of the best drivers of all-time and he holds all the records. I think it’s a very sad situation what has happened to him now. And it’s quite ironic that he has enjoyed a career like he has and yet it was a skiing accident at 12mph that has placed him in this life-threatening condition. It shows just how fragile we all are as human beings.
Q. Given the extensive research you’ve done into the history of the sport, who would you say is the best driver of all-time? Or do you have a handful of names to pick out of the hat?
Paul Crowder: I’d say that the people that impressed me, from watching the footage over and over again, are people like Francois Cevert, who was an incredible driver, and Senna and Prost. Both of them were amazing. Nigel Mansell, another of my heroes was an incredible driver too. But I have to say that I think Vettel is the best you’ll ever see. What he does with a car is amazing.
Q. You think so?
Paul Crowder: It’s not just because he’s in the best car. Webber has the same car but he’s not winning anywhere near the same amount of races. I think if he was in a lesser car he’d still be winning a lot of races. I really do.
Q. What draws you to make documentaries?
Paul Crowder: I just like telling stories and making the type of movies that I’d like to watch – and watch more than once. That’s why I pack so much in… so that if you watch it a second or third time you catch something you may have missed the first time around. But at the same time, they’re so packed that you can still watch and enjoy them straight away, you don’t have to invest a lot of time trying to get into the film. It’s immediate.
1: Life On The Limit is released theatrically on January 10, 2014, digitally on March 7, 2014 and on DVD and Blu-ray on March 17, 2014 from StudioCanal