You can read the Top Gear review here, but we’ve also had a good chat with producer Matthew Metcalfe about why he chose to make a film about Bruce, what he enjoyed, and what he found difficult…
Why make a film about Bruce?
“As a producer I’ve always been interested and inspired by stories that, I guess, celebrate a triumph of human spirit. That celebrate what we as people can achieve and what we can do when we put our minds to it. And that’s one of the reasons why I did Beyond the Edge about the conquest of Everest. I guess after making Beyond the Edge I was interested in exploring another story about someone who had triumphed over adversity and had changed their world.
“I wanted it to be a story that was positive and wasn’t just a car racing film. A story about achievement, about guts, determination and a will to succeed. I don’t know about you but I kind of look at McLaren and like, he was only 32! What the hell? He is kind of like the Zuckerberg of his time. He was doing amazing stuff. What he was doing was what in a way what internet guys are doing today. He was trying to change the world. It’s incredible.
“I don’t think he realised the importance of what he was doing at the time. I think he was so focused on just getting through the day, winning the next race, being prepared for the next race after that, building the next car, making a car a second faster, that he probably never stopped to think about just how epic it was what he was achieving.”
Are you a big motorsport fan?
“My dad used to race classic cars. So I grew up around garages and race cars. And although I haven’t gotten into it as much as they did, it’s a world that I am aware of. So whereas I’m not a complete petrolhead, I certainly have a solid appreciation of it and love of it. And then Bruce is a New Zealander like me, too.
“One of the things really struck me is this idea that Bruce just let nothing slow him down. He had Perthes disease, he had no money, he didn’t come from a wealthy family, he didn’t come from connections or a name that took him places.
“What did I love about Bruce? That he was the ultimate ‘just get over yourself and get on and do it’ kind of guy.”
What challenges did you face?
“It was just a tough story to tell. And the footage stopped 47 years ago. So you know, many people have passed away. Many people were very old. And you’re dealing with legend and myth.
“You look at the film now and you kind of just take it for granted that there’s some shots of this, someone talking about that. But my God finding that material was incredible.
“To bring it all together, it was sometimes like banging your head against the wall going ‘only if we had someone who had said this’. You know, because we’d know it was a true story, if only someone would just say it on camera. And we’d have to find them.”
There are lots of interviews in the film. Were they difficult to collate?
“To get those interviews the way Roger Donaldson [the director] did, they might only represent 10 minutes of the film, one particular person. But we’re talking about days with some of interviewees to get to that point. To build up trust and respect and understanding. Yeah it was quite a process.
“That’s one of the really humbling things when you make a film like this. You’ve bought into these people, and think ‘Oh my God you’re so interesting, I feel like I can make a film about you as well’. That’s one of the great privileges of this job, you get to meet people and there’s a little bit of you fanboying out and going ‘Wow!’
“We interviewed Sir Stirling Moss, and he’s not in the film unfortunately, but I remember being around Stirling and thinking ‘I’m around Sir Stirling Moss, wow’. Those moments are wonderful.”
You’ve used talking heads, actors and even animation to get around the lack of footage…
“We knew that footage was going to be limited. Bruce died right when he was coming into his fame. But we wanted the film to be dynamic and engaging, a bit like he was.
“We wanted to mix it up and convey the sense of the rock star world that racing drivers inhabited. So we used animation for one scene, because we wanted to convey his humour. And we also used footage from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
“I feel like Butch Cassidy tells us something about Bruce. Those characters, played by Robert Redford and Paul Newman, they take on all their challenges with a degree of class. And with a sense of ‘Well, we can survive anything’, and that is kind of the story of Bruce McLaren. And it’s interesting that in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, ultimately in the end they can’t get out of something, and tragically that’s what happened to Bruce as well.”
Will there be more pride in Bruce in New Zealand after this film?
“I think he’s going to be a bigger name after this film. I think a lot of New Zealanders are aware of Bruce, but I don’t think nearly as many people might know his story as we might like. And I’m really excited because I think there’s going to be a real surge of pride in the name Bruce McLaren and the brand McLaren after this film comes out.
“The whole team making this wanted a film that fans of McLaren and motorsport loved and engaged with, but we also wanted a film that went beyond that. One of the really lovely things is feedback from people who don’t care about cars at all, who’ve come out and said ‘Wow, I didn’t think I’d love that but I actually did’.
“There’s always a sense of ‘Oh my God, we’re making a film about Bruce McLaren, my God it better be good’. That makes it hard for yourself because you just think ‘I cannot take the easy way here, I have to do an A+ effort.’”