How Adam Driver Drama 'Ferrari' Took Twisted Road to Venice Big Screen
By Nick Vivarelli
It’s no secret that it’s taken decades of twists and turns in Hollywood to get Michael Mann’s anticipated “Ferrari,” which makes its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival Aug. 31, to the big screen.
But what’s less known is that the journey of this drama about Italian sports car builder and racing pioneer Enzo Ferrari originated with Italy’s storied Cecchi Gori Group before the company went bust.
In 1991, Los Angeles-based Penta Pictures — which had been jointly founded by producer Vittorio Cecchi Gori and then-rising TV mogul Silvio Berlusconi — bought adaptation rights to the book “Enzo Ferrari: The Man, the Cars, the Races” by Brock Yates that is the basis for Mann’s picture.
Cecchi Gori subsequently hired Troy Kennedy Martin to write the script and when Penta Pictures was dissolved in 1995 the “Ferrari” rights went to its U.S. arm, Cecchi Gori Pictures.
The project languished in development until 2004, when Sydney Pollack came on board to direct “Ferrari,” with Al Pacino playing the lead, but it didn’t come together.
Then, in 2006 Cecchi Gori Group — which until the mid-1990s was Italy’s top production and distribution outfit — was officially ruled bankrupt by a Rome court after swimming in red ink for a decade. Vittorio Cecchi Gori had branched out from film into television and acquired the A.C. Fiorentina soccer club in a bold expansion attempt that put him in competition with Berlusconi in a direction that went horribly wrong.
A couple years later, enter Los Angeles-based Niels Juul, a partner in international brand recovery firm Nofatego, with a mandate to restructure Cecchi Gori’s U.S. side, which had been left out of the bankruptcy proceedings.
“They hired me to flip it around and see what assets were valuable,” said Juul. “And I saw two assets of particular value: one was ‘Silence’ [based the eponymous Japanese novel by Shusaku Endo that in 2016 was made into a movie by Martin Scorsese].” The other was Troy Kennedy Martin’s “Ferrari” script “with dust on it and an option that had actually expired from the Brock Yates book,” adds Juul who renewed that option with Brock Yates’ widow.
Mann, who had been involved in the project since the early 1990s – and had even optioned the book and screenplay in 2004 before Cecchi Gori ran into difficulty and the rights ran out – came back on board in 2010, according to Juul, and Christian Bale came on board to play the lead before bowing out in 2016. But financing finally came together for the $95 million film, which stars Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari, Penélope Cruz as his wife Laura, Shailene Woodley as Ferrari’s lover Lina Lardi and Patrick Dempsey as racing car driver Piero Taruffi.
Though most of the movie’s budget was provided by STX Entertainment, which is releasing “Ferrari” internationally, another Italian company, Andrea Iervolino and Monika Bacardi’s ILBE, has also been instrumental in the film getting made. In 2022, ILBE came on board as line producers. Through Italy’s Banca Intesa, ILBE provided $24 million that was needed to pre-finance the country’s 40% tax credit. “Ferrari” was shot on location in around the central Italian town of Maranello, known worldwide as the home of Enzo Ferrari and the brand’s Formula One racing team.
Mann produced “Ferrari” under his Moto Prods. banner alongside P.J. van Sandwijk and John Lesher, as well as Lars Sylvest, Thorsten Schumacher and Gareth West, with Juul among executive producers.