Heavy Metal Affliction – Apex: The Making of the Hypercar
It may be difficult to do so, but if you look beneath the tremendous cinematography, the roar of some of the most amazing engines to ever internally combust, and the informative viewpoints of key auto industry leaders, there is an amazing story. Apex: The Story of the Hypercar details the development of the Koenigsegg One:1 while sharing detailed and dramatic looks at a few of the cars it competes with. The cars themselves are brought to life by possibly the only team in the world that could get the kind of access to tell a story this rich, the guys from /DRIVE led by J.F. Musial.
As a prelude, we have an interview with producer J.F Musial to get you warmed up for tonight’s epic television debut tonight at 7:30 Pacific on NBCSN in between Formula One free practice. The film will air a total of ten times over the Formula One season.
Heavy Metal Affliction: What made you a car lover? How did it evolve into making car films?
J.F. Musial: Of course it goes back to my father, it was more than just cars, it was driving. My father and I would go on road trips all throughout my childhood, up through high school and college. He owned a [Audi] B5 S4, and we would just get in the car and drive. In college, we drove from Chicago to New York, then Chicago to St. Louis and back, all in two days, just for the hell of it. More so than anything else, I love cars, but I love the experience of being in a car. Every year I aim to take a cross-country road trip for whatever reason I can write it off as.
HMA: What was your first car?
JFM: It was an Audi A4. A B5 Audi A4. I’m very much a German sports car fan. I’ve always owned German cars. I still own that car, it doesn’t run. I now have an E46 M3 that I play with on the track.
HMA: At this point what is greater: your passion for cars, or for filmmaking? Do they compare, or are they the same thing?
JFM: It’s cars. Filmmaking is just a means to an end. To do what I love is cars. Outside of being a racecar driver, we have the best job in the world. We get to travel around the world and film cars.
HMA: Talk about the evolution of /DRIVE and what the recent acquisition by Time Inc. means for fans?
JFM: Back in 2011, we were part of the YouTube grant program. We got money to build a new brand. We built it to be what it is today from that initial funding and it is considered to be one of the few brands to have successfully started from that grant program.
We poured every cent into content. We didn’t waste money on going anywhere else except for content. We built the catalog up. We love seeing these cars and telling these stories in unique ways. What we did with DRIVE was spend as much time focusing on car content we always wanted to see but never saw, and we wanted to be the ones that were going to bring it to people first. So, we put as much effort as we could and cared about it and it didn’t make money in the first few years. It was really, REALLY hard. But, we built it and eventually NBC took notice and NBC picked it up, we are now going into our third season on NBC Sports.
We had interest from big media companies that saw how big we grew the audience in such a short amount of time and Time Inc. wanted to get into the automotive sector. They saw us as an opportunity to do it and they acquired us about two months ago.
HMA: Does this mean you will be able to do things that were out of reach before? Is it all upside or is there a downside, like less creative control?
JFM: I would say that there is a need for companies like Time Inc. to try new and different things. Luckily there are the right people in that organization willing to take the risk. I’m happy we got to meet those people because they are taking the risk, and fortunately letting us take the lead and more so I’m just acting as a vendor to Time Inc. People like Mike Spinelli are there full-time and he is leading the charge and they are letting him do what he needs to do and what he wants to do.
So it’s not that bad when you think of a corporation taking over a small entity like ourselves. But, we will see.
Of course there is more money. When we were running /DRIVE by ourselves, we were not only trying to build great content we were also worried about the business. How are we going to pay our bills? We don’t have to worry about that anymore. We are strictly just editorial. The time it took to worry about the business side, we have more capacity to focus on editorial. That is a huge benefit.
HMA: Tell me about the role of producer, what parts do you play in making something like Apex: The Making of the Hypercar?
JFM: Relationships, everything comes down to relationships. Building great relationships with Koenigsegg, with Pagani, with Ferrari, with all the manufacturers you see in the film. They had to have a lot of trust, because we were filming things way before people within their own company were seeing it. As a producer it really came down to trust and building relationships with manufacturers to let us film these things.
And, of course managing schedules. [For example,] We didn’t know if Koenigsegg was going to be able to go to Spa or Nürburgring, so for a few weeks I had a few of my guys on standby ready to go within 48-hours’ notice ready to go get on a plane to go shoot.
HMA: Does that mean you make everything happen?
JFM: I’m not going to take all the credit, because when we looked at how this film came together it was only about five people who shot, produced, directed, wrote, and did everything within the film.
HMA: Is the Koenigsegg One:1 the star of the film?
It was the only car we had full access to from the initial concept. We started filming at Koenigsegg when we did the first season of /DRIVE in 2012 and that’s when the One:1 was being conceived. That’s when I saw the first CAD drawings from Christian [von Koenigsegg] so, we had the access from the very beginning, that’s why fifty percent of the film is Koenigsegg. As a storyteller, as a filmmaker, if we kept jumping between all the different stories it wouldn’t have worked.
There was one thread and it was David versus Goliath. You look at Christian, a few years ago he had a company that few people knew about but, they didn’t know how to spell it. We are now in a situation where people know how to spell Koenigsegg and they are looking for him at the Geneva show stand and want to see what is going to come out next.
I don’t think even anyone in his company knows what is flying around in his head. He is the most mysterious, well-spoken, ethical, and authentic person that we interviewed throughout the entire film. He is just so interesting to just sit and have a cup of coffee with and when we started spending more and more time with him we felt, and this is the whole basis for where Apex came from, we were all sitting in a room, my team and I and we thought it would be a disservice to not make a film.
We are one of the few teams who have access to these manufacturers, who have the relationships, we would be doing a disservice to the car community and to our own lives if we didn’t do this. It was a no-brainer to use Christian as a central focus of the film.
HMA: How many hours did you spend shooting?
JFM: It’s hard to say. I can put it into data form. It’s about 30 terabytes of footage.
HMA: How many hours did you spend editing?
JFM: If you include the 4k color correction, six weeks between four guys. The way we were doing it was “hot swapping.” We locked ourselves into a room and we did it always in one-week increments so, we did one week on, one week off. We would all lock ourselves in a house or a cabin and have edit shifts. One editor for four or five hours, then the next editor, then the next. Within the first week we had a rough storyline, then we kept building, and tweaking, and fine tuning week after week.
HMA: How many countries did you travel to?
JFM: I think nine. U.S., U.K., France, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, UAE, [and Belgium]
HMA: Do you have a favorite part of the film?
JFM: Yes, the chapter named “Push to Geneva” that moment right when Manuel the production manager for Koenigsegg says “We’re not building a car, we’re building a dream that you can buy.” From that point all the way to the door opening at Geneva is my favorite part.
My other favorite part is “The Rawness of P1.” Chris [Harris] driving the P1 at Yas Marina. The rawness of that section was awesome. I edited it so, I am a bit jaded but, I liked that section.
HMA: Was it worth it? Does the film exceed your expectations?
JFM: The short answer is yes. But, I think the creative side of me knows the sections we could have done better at and improved on. It’s also funny how technology has increased over the span of just three years. I think the only real regret I may have is LaFerrari, I think we could have done a little bit better with LaFerrari. Nothing we could have controlled because we only had 30 minutes with the car and the track. In comparison to P1 where we had one hour to film that on track in the middle of the night.
HMA: How much does the sound of a car you are filming play a role? What other roles are there?
JFM: I’ll first answer this by saying sixty-percent of the work that went into editing Apex was sound design. Choosing the right music and the exhaust audio. So, I think when you look at a vehicle it’s just part of the equation. It is one of the most critical, if not the most critical part of an experience with an automobile. Hearing it or having the sound move through your body. Whether you are sitting inside it or standing behind it. Sound is probably the most important element to whether a car is appealing to me or not.
HMA: Tell me about your interest in Forza and why Dan Greenawalt played such a large role in the film?
JFM: Forza is the modern day equivalent of the poster on our wall we had as kids. I grew up with a Testarossa and a 928 on my wall. I feel, that as an entry point into this industry for an enthusiast, Forza is the place. Everyone wants to go out there and build their own opinion on cars, and the sad reality is the majority of people won’t be able to drive hypercars but, they can experience them within Forza. They can build their own opinions on the cars through playing them in the game rather than just reading articles about them or watching YouTube videos about them.
With Dan, the first time I heard Dan speak, it’s like this guy has got it. He’s not just a car enthusiast but he is looking at the holistic view, looking at the industry in a way that very few people are these days. I look at Dan as having a better understanding at what car enthusiasts want probably more than some board members within the industry from some top level manufacturers have.
Now with that insight in mind, Apex: The Making of the Hypercar should be even more interesting. Next week we talk with Turn 10 Creative Director Dan Greenawalt about his involvement in the film. As J.F says above, Greenawalt has a certain way of putting things that make him very interesting to talk to.
All photo credits to TangentVector.