Director Nick Hoedeman and Pulse Films’ Executive Producer Tom Keeling discuss how they produced Max Verstappen: Anatomy of a Champion.
The three-part documentary series will premiere on Viaplay from 2nd April and offers viewers unprecedented access to Verstappen’s life, revealing for the first time the complex individual behind the talent. The series focuses on the World Championship-winning 2022 season, and shows how Verstappen – still a young man – strives for perfection, often feeling the weight of the enormous media attention and obligations on his shoulders. The series also looks back at his childhood, delving into his intense relationship with his father, Jos Verstappen. It was commissioned by Nicole Horanyi, Head of Documentary, Viaplay Group.
Tom Keeling, executive producer
To say that Max Verstappen is a busy guy, is a massive understatement and therein lay our first challenge. As reigning F1 world champion his race weekends are a minute-by-minute rollercoaster of commitments, let alone the actual racing. So it was immediately clear that we weren’t going to be able to schedule or shoot this like a conventional doc. As such, our first challenge was how to find time to film with him, and what to film when we did.
Fortunately, in that department, we had Nick (Hoedeman – director). Nick has been working with Max for 6 years, and our need to hit the ground running was made infinitely easier by the relationship and trust he had already established with Max and his team. He’s a skilled, and self-sufficient director who our production team, led by line producer Amy Rattray, could deploy anywhere on Earth at a moment’s notice, to grab nuggets of time and content that would be key to the series’ success – be it in Japan to capture Max when his dad calls to celebrate his second championship win, or to Amsterdam to see him knighted by the Dutch government.
Max doesn’t have time for anything constructed, so Nick was a fly on the wall in the purest sense – whether that wall is in a car, a private jet, or the pit lane. But in those difficulties lay the key to making something fresh and new. We didn’t want to make a series about an F1 driver, we wanted to get to know Max the man, to understand what makes him tick, as well as, what and who made him the man he is. No matter how short those intimate and private moments were, they became the key to unlocking a surprising take on one of the planet’s most well-known sports personalities.
Next challenge – alongside the pictures – was how do we get enough time with Max to tell us his story. Very early on we decided that our interviews would be audio only – giving us minimal set-up time, and also a much more relaxed and conversational dynamic. Witnessing how often and how many cameras are pointed at Max, we felt that an interview environment away from that would give us something different, and more intimate. It also meant that the viewing experience would be completely immersive.
Then we had to put it all together and figure out how to structure a narrative with the material we were capturing. With series editor Emma Jay at the helm of an incredible team of storytellers, we realised that the contemporary story – some of it shot as full scenes, most of it snatched in vital but fleeting moments – wasn’t the story, but was the access point to his life story, which we could unlock through a gold mine of archival material – be it his childhood karting career or the reams of amazing F1 footage. Viaplay’s editorial team worked closely to support the Pulse team, combining these elements into a fascinating and unfolding biography of one of sports best known enigmas.
Nick Hoedman, director
Working with Max over the past six years [on promotional material] has taught me a new way of working. To be able to work in the F1 world and with this top athlete, flexibility is one of the most important things. To be able to get and above all, stay close to, small crews and sometimes directing and filming myself remain the best option. Where possible we expand the crew, but there is often only space for 1 person in the pit box, driver’s room or the plane.
We shot this series on the Sony FX6 and FX9 with prime lenses. Prime lenses were quite a risk looking at our workfield because things can change every moment with Max and the team but we managed to find a way to make it work.
During the Grand Prixs and other shoots the communication with Tom and the Pulse Films team was tight and we talked about the progress of the storyline or the options to film new scenes during the race weekend. Because all race weekends are basically the same, we look for an angle per grand prix to be able to tell the story from Max’s point of view.
In recent years, everything around a race weekend has been recorded. In addition to the registration of the race, analyses of dozens of broadcasters over the world and social content from all teams themselves, there is hardly a moment on the circuit that Max is not being filmed. All TV broadcasters have all access during the race weekend. That’s why our focus shifts to other moments. When all the crew film Max walking to the car on Sunday and going home, we sit in the car with him and capture that intimate moment. Our access continues where all others stop.
Because I have been able to work with Max in recent years, a relationship of trust has been created, which resulted in a special access. As a result, we get to see moments of the current F1 world champion that have not been captured before.
Max’s story is mainly known to the Dutch racing fans, but for this international series we have succeeded in deepening the story of Max and his family to appeal to global and even non sport fans.
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