The Brief & Shooting Challenges

The folks at TBWA Singapore came up with a series of films for Michelin that would portray not-so-famous racing drivers that shared a common characteristic: at some point in their lives all of them had to overcome a handicap that regular drivers didn’t have to. And all of them managed to do so with passion, effort, and determination; being a fighter inside and outside the racing track. Little I did know at that time about one of those drivers and his amazing history.

Two were the main challenges I remember facing in this project. None of them related to the creativity. First one. 45C (113F) ambient temperature at any time of the day, 90% humidity. Welcome to Singapore. Without a doubt one of the two most physically demanding shootings I’ve ever been. The other being that one at -40C in Inner Mongolia that almost killed one of my producers.

Anyway, at that temperature, funny things can happen both to you as a foreign director and also the cameras. The camera’s internal temperature rise to “egg cooking” levels, tends to reset randomly and you have to keep it cool wrapping bags of ice around it. The same happens to your brain. In my case, I remember feeling like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, soaked in sweat, barefoot in the jungle against the advice of my first AD. A mix of exhilaration and brain damage that caused amusement among the local crew.

Secondly, there was this surreal moment, which topped off and already surreal production, in which we had to stop the shooting because the King of Malaysia had decided to drop by, say hello, and drive himself a bit “because he is the King and he can do whatever the fuck he wants” [sic.]. So we waited for the King to do his royal thing and after one hour, invested in recording voice over, we resumed shooting Michael doing his Daredevil thing. Just another day in the life of a director.

A story of raw courage and determination

As part of its series “Passion for performance”, Michelin presents “Driving Emotions”, a collection of stories in which drivers explore their joys and fears in the racing track.

The story of Michael Newman stands above them all. Born blind, Michael could have chosen to have a quiet life. Instead, he decided to be a racing driver. At first, he was met with skepticism, but his determination to succeed proved everyone who doubted him wrong. Today Michael holds 7 Guinness World Records for being the fastest blind man on Earth.

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The backstory

In my professional career, there have been projects that for one way or the other had an especial impact on me, personally.

This was one of those. When I knew about Michael I just couldn’t believe his story. How on hearth a blind man gets even allowed to drive a racing car, and furthermore, race on it? There had to be a catch. A trick, something that made that possible.

But then I met and interviewed him. He was for real. A kind, approachable, inspiring person. Somebody who decided that he didn’t want to have a job meant for blind people because he was blind. He wanted to try what he dreamed of. Racing. Among all things he could have chosen, we wanted to f*****g race.

And there was no trick. The only aid he had was a beep that Michael would hear if he was getting too close to the limit of the track. Although at 200kph, there’s little you can do if you already hear that beep. He really didn’t need it. Michael had learned to drive and keep the car on track because of touch,  hear and memory. A real-world Daredevil. He would walk the track, feel the track, map it in his mind to the last corner. Then he would drive. Slow at first. Faster once he knew how the car behaved. Then he would say “I’m going in” through radio. That’s the moment we would all keep our breath and he would press the accelerator to put the car at 200 plus KPH. While turning blue, we would see him go for a full lap or two until he would stop the car at the paddock, get out of it, and laugh like a kid that just did something naughty.

To this day, I think I’ve never seen something that baffled me that much. The brain doesn’t compute what you see happening and what you know is happening. A blind man crossing the finish line at 250KPH. But also an example of perseverance, of ingenuity and passion. A good damn hero.