Interview With Oscar Winning Director: Asif Kapadia

Asif Kapadia’s unsettling documentary about the tragic life of singer Amy Winehouse, ‘Amy’, just won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. ogilvydo caught up with him a couple of years ago at the Ogilvy & Mather regional conference in Kyoto. Asif’s session was on story telling and he talked about the unique way in which he decided to tell Formula One champion, Ayrton Senna’s story. Asif decided he wanted to create the film from real footage. He wanted all the visuals to come from archives. In the end, against all odds, he was able to put together a winner. Apart from the story telling ideas, there are three important takeaways from his talk.

1. Go for the gaps. This is a way of thinking that we need to use for our business.

2. Use social media for co-creation and marketing. (Asif used social media to both source footage from fans to make the movie and then create interest in the movie).

3. Don’t worry about the technical elements but focus on the story.

Asif Kapadia Interview: transcript.

Tom Crampton: I’m with Asif Kapadia the director of Senna, the fantastic documentary, which broke a lot of rules. All built on archival footage. How did you overcome those challenges?

Asif Kapadia: It was pretty unique the way we where trying to make the film, I mean, I’m sure films have been made previously where the film’s made entirely with archives, but our film worked on a kind of classic three act structure for drama, so it plays like an action film, it plays like this rivalry at the centre of it, it makes it feel like you’re watching a drama. There was a story and the story was purely told through the archive material, we had material coming from San Paulo from Rio from Japan and Tokyo from Paris from Rome, with people all over the world looking for footage that we could piece together like a giant mosaic. Some of it’s VHS, some of it’s YouTube, it looks technically awful but it’s emotional it’s real there’s no second take, that happened, that was that moment in time and it’s the only way we can show it, so we’re going to use it, and it was really important at the beginning of the film to have a sequence which sets up not only all the themes of the film about the journey of this character coming from San Paulo to Europe.

Tom Crampton: Then there’s this moment where his mother’s talking about God in a way that’s like “protect him”

Asif Kapadia: She’s like “ I don’t care what he wins I just want God to look after him, I want him to be safe” because they know, and anyone that knows anything, Formula One racing is dangerous and Formula One is really dangerous so he’s going into this world and she’s just being a mother, she doesn’t care about the title, she cares about God looking after him, and then when he gets in the car for the very first time the thing he says is “I thank God for giving me this chance.” So faith and spirituality play a big part in his story.

Tom Crampton: What are some other elements that you bought out to make it a story and more like a feature film then just a documentary?

Asif Kapadia: Well the story, it was all about character and emotion and we had a writer on the film. Manesh Pandey, was the person with all the knowledge. He was the big Senna fan on the team. He knew everything about him, there’s no way I could have watched every single race and read every book so my idea was just: I’m the director, I will judge what I see and what I hear and I did the interviews but Manesh was a person I worked very closely with who knew what the story was.

Tom Crampton: In terms of how you engaged people or the audience itself.

Asif Kapadia: Yeah, a lot of it was that we had a great trailer that was made and a great poster, an iconic image; you see yellow diagonal with green so it’s the Brazilian flag, His helmet very, very strong bold text, there’s really great bits of graphic design which swiftly spread over Twitter and Facebook and everyone knew that’s the iconic film that I want to see. The fans knew about it, so when we would go to new territories and new countries they’d want to re-design the poster and they just thought, they cant its already been done. The trailer really, really quickly had millions of hits all over the world, I mean, people just wanted to see the film, people write, you know, in just seeing the trailer made them cry, that emotion was there right from the beginning that was the key thing was; how people care? You have to find a way through that and the main thing was to get to understand the man, and to understand his life and his challenge and what he lived for. All of his ideals were good ideals so it’s very, very easy to just feel like you’re on his side when he’s fighting the establishment.

Tom Crampton: Excellent, Thank you very much.

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  1. Khaled Omer

    Asif Kapadia is a very smart director. Out of the three important takeaways from his talk, I find Asif’s use of social media for co-creation and marketing was very smart.

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