“Gran Turismo is the ultimate wish fulfillment movie,” says Neill Blomkamp, who directed and co-wrote the film based on the true story of Jann Mardenborough, one of the unlikeliest racecar drivers of all time. You can have the best reaction time, and all of the skill, but when you’re going wheel-to-wheel at 200 miles per hour, that’s when you get the chance to prove that you’re for real. And that’s what happened to Jann Mardenborough.”
The story of how Mardenborough became a real-life driver, Gran Turismo is a film that Cinemablend calls “Rocky with race cars” – a classic underdog sports story in the tradition of Seabiscuit, Hoosiers, and Remember the Titans.
Blomkamp says that Jann makes a compelling character because his real-life story is an unbelievable series of dreams coming true. “When I read Jason Hall’s script, I couldn’t believe it was actually based on the true life story of Jann Mardenborough,” he says, crafting a new draft with Hall and Zach Baylin, based on the PlayStation Studios video game. “The events in the film are pretty much exactly as they happened.”
“Gran Turismo has all the qualities of a great underdog sports story,” says producer Doug Belgrad. “Jann has a dream but is underestimated by everyone – especially the establishment racing community, who say it’s impossible.”
In the film, Mardenborough has always been a racing fan. As a working-class kid, he obsessively plays the Gran Turismo video game to experience a simulation of racing but imagines he’ll never feel the thrill of what it’s really like to put his foot down in a high-performance car… until he competes in a Gran Turismo competition against the best of the best for a chance to win a spot on Nissan’s GT Academy race team. This ordinary Brit is plucked from thousands by a wild-eyed marketing exec, put under the tutelage of a cynical, washed-up former driver, and given the controls of one of the fastest machines ever devised by humankind – going on to race for Nissan in their high-performance vehicles in such famous races as the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Adapting A Video Game
“There’s no one way to make an adaptation,” says Asad Qizilbash, head of PlayStation Productions and producer of the film. “Uncharted, the TV series ‘The Last of Us,’ and now Gran Turismo each had different approaches, but they all start with asking, ‘why do people love this game?’ For ‘Gran Turismo,’ I think it’s because most of us will never in our lives put our foot down in a racecar or take a chicane at Le Mans, but the game puts you in the driver’s seat. That was what we wanted to capture with the movie, and the movie does it in two ways – first, against all odds, Jann Mardenborough got a chance to experience it all in real life, and to tell the story, Neill Blomkamp has made the most thrilling, most realistic racing movie I can imagine.”
Like a lot of young adults, Jann seems more interested in playing video games than in making something of his life, until he’s given a chance to play for real. “Jann is playing ‘Gran Turismo’ in his parents’ house when all of a sudden – after years – he sees the option for GT Academy,” Blomkamp explains. “Only then did he learn how to drive proper cars – how to hit an apex and exit a corner – everything he’d done intuitively inside the game, but had never been taught.”
In Blomkamp’s hands, Gran Turismo is a movie that puts audiences in the driver’s seat and lets them imagine what it would be like to strap themselves into a 200-mile-per-hour rocket ship for the first time. “I knew Neill would bring a visceral, blood-pumping feel to the movie,” says David Harbour, who joins the cast as Jack, a washed-up driver who becomes Jann’s chief engineer and teaches him the ins and outs of a real racecar. “What I didn’t really know was how much we were going to be working with actual cars, actual drivers, actual tracks. We’re in the cars, we’re doing pit tire changes and gassing up the cars in real time with other drivers blazing around the track at 200mph. It’s really me in a helicopter flying 30 feet above racecars. It all plays into the intensity of the experience—which is critical to making a film about people having a very intense experience, risking everything for what they love.”
The actor says that at first, he was skeptical about a movie adaptation of a racing simulator because for him a movie is not like a videogame. “You want to play the game, to control the characters,” Harbour says. “One of the things I really liked about this movie is that it’s not a movie about a videogame – it’s a movie that incorporates a videogame into its narrative, which is about a young man with tremendous talent who does something incredible, and about a coach who has been through a lot and becomes hardened – but who comes to believe in this kid.”
Blomkamp’s way into the film was through a longtime love of cars—the merging of mechanics, engineering, art, and design—and that meant the exciting possibility of showing what these cars can do. “With a movie like this one, sometimes the temptation is to go all-digital. Shoot some background plates, do digital cars, drop your actors in from a virtual production environment. But in this case, everything is real, and I mean literally everything is real. When we portray an actor driving the car, they are actually going around the track pretty close to the speed that they should be going.”
Producer Carter Swan says that when Blomkamp’s name was first suggested, he thought first of the director’s visual effects-driven science fiction films. Would Blomkamp be interested in this film? “When I learned about his passion for cars and the motor world, and that he wanted to get it as real as possible, that’s exactly what we had always envisioned for this film,” he says. “Because it’s a true story, we wanted to keep it authentic.”
Part of doing it for real was getting the real cars and shooting on the real tracks, including the Slovakia Ring in Slovakia, the Dubai Autodrome, the Nurburgring, the Red Bull Ring in Austria, and the Hungaroring; this latter track doubles for both the GT Academy (loosely based on Silverstone, the home of UK auto racing) and Le Mans.
But it wasn’t enough to have the right cars and real racetracks. The film also had to look and feel real. And to achieve that, Blomkamp says, involved two visual components. “One component is the experiential: how do you make the audience feel like they’re there as much as possible?” he says. This was achieved through camera choices. For example, in television coverage of real-life racing, productions often employ cinematic drones, which allow for beautiful, sweeping shots, and Blomkamp does here as well, but also Blomkamp uses first-person-view drones – more often used by drone racers – to keep up with the racecars and give points of view rarely, if ever, seen before.
Blomkamp was one of the first directors to employ the Sony Venice 2 camera with the Rialto extension. Because the Rialto allows the filmmaker to separate the sensor from the camera body, Blomkamp could place his camera in tiny, previously unreachable places inside and outside the car. “The prototype racecars are basically F16 cockpits,” says Blomkamp. “It is not possible to put a cinematic-level 6K or 8K sensor into the inside of that cockpit—to be with the actor without shooting through polarized glass—except with the Rialto. If you want to get intimate, to change the sound design, to be in the cockpit, and to be in the real car, there is no other way.”
The second way Blomkamp made the film feel real was through its lighting, photography, and production design. “If you hit pause on the film and you look at a single frame, it should never feel synthetic, or overly lit, or overly saturated, or fake. Everything is derived from reality. The production design is real. The photography style is real. The color choices are real,” he says. “If we were making documentary about racing, and all of these pieces were there, this is how we’d shoot it.”
And in the driver’s seat, Blomkamp had one other secret weapon in showing what it was like for Jann Mardenborough behind the wheel – and that was Jann Mardenborough himself, who served as the film’s stunt driver for the character of Jann. “The story is based on him, Archie portrays him, and he’s the stunt driver who drives Archie’s car as the character based on him,” says Blomkamp. “It’s amazing – some very interesting meta thing happening there.”
“It’s so surreal,” says Mardenborough. “The last time I was in Hungary, the track was packed with trucks for a race. This time, it was packed with trucks for a film being made about me. That blew my mind.”
South African-born writer-director Neill Blomkamp (Director / Screenplay) moved to Canada at the age of 18, beginning his career as a visual effects artist in film and television. He is best known as the co-writer and director of District 9 (2009), Elysium (2013), Chappie (2015), and his latest feature film, Demonic (2021). Since 2015 he has been developing experimental films for his independent studio, Oats Studios. The most notable works include Rakka (2017), Firebase (2017), and Zygote (2017).
Zach Baylin (Screenplay) is an Academy Award, BAFTA, and WGA-nominated screenwriter and was named one of Variety’s 2021 10 Screenwriters to Watch. Baylin penned the script for the Oscar-nominated King Richard and most recently co-wrote the script for Creed III, the third installment of the revamped Rocky series. Baylin also wrote Exodus, Reinaldo Marcus Green’s upcoming Paramount film about the life of Bob Marley. Baylin also wrote a re-imagining of the 90’s classic The Crow for director Rupert Sanders.
Previously, Baylin has written projects for Lionsgate, Imagine, TNT, Studio 8, and wiip, as well as for acclaimed filmmakers such as James Grey, Jeremy Saulnier, Francesco Munzi, and Jonathan Levine. Together with his wife Kate Susman, Baylin co-founded Youngblood Pictures, a film and television development company dedicated to telling true stories about complex, unheralded characters. At Youngblood, Susman and Baylin currently have a number of film and TV projects in development, including The Order, a true crime heist thriller set in the dangerous American militia movement of the 1980s which just wrapped production, and a feature in the works that will re-team them with Star Thrower, the producers behind King Richard. The duo is also writing and producing the limited series “Black Rabbit” for Netflix, which will star and be executive produced by Jason Bateman and Jude Law.
Jason Hall (Screenplay / Executive Producer) is an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker whose films seamlessly blend incisive social commentary with emphatically human stories turning real people and challenging issues into gripping, entertaining cinema. Hall was inspired by the remarkable story of Chris Kyle and entrusted with rendering his journey on screen. American Sniper, written and executive produced by Hall and directed by Clint Eastwood, was released in 2014 and earned six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for Hall.
Following the final untold threads of a life tragically cut short, Hall turned to a similarly true military story, Thank You for Your Service. Based on the David Finkel book of the same name, the film tracks the lives of a battalion of combat veterans returning home, while still battling the lingering effects of war. Hall wrote and directed the project, which was released in 2017. The film was produced by Steven Spielberg who graciously mentored Hall in his directorial debut. Born in Lake Arrowhead, Hall attended Philips Exeter Academy and USC. He began his career working as an actor before transitioning to filmmaking. Additional filmmaking credits include his debut feature Spread and the thriller Paranoia.