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‘Ferrari’ Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt on Capturing the ‘Visceral Nature of Auto Racing of That Period’

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Will Tizard Contributor Michael Mann’s “three decades of research” provided the key to putting audiences in the driver’s seat of vintage Ferraris racing down a thousand miles of Italian roads that are well known for taking human lives.

That’s what “Ferrari” cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt discovered when he teamed with the director of crime classics such as “Heat” and TV’s “Miami Vice” to tell the story of Enzo Ferrari, founder of Italy’s most iconic racing car company, played by Adam Driver. “I asked him what I should look at and Michael said, ‘Why don’t you start with my library.’” Messerschmidt, himself known for exacting work on such films as “Citizen Kane” backstory “Mank,” which won him an Oscar, learned that Mann had indeed been researching Ferrari for 30 years.

The director had accumulated hundreds of books, photos, newsreels, clippings and letters documenting every aspect of Ferrari’s life, the early days of auto racing, plus equally impressive holdings on crime, psychology and other subjects of interest. “He had this amazing archive,” says the cinematographer. “So I started there.” The material was more than enough to help Messerschmidt picture the sleek, fast and often deadly open-top racecars of the mid-1950s and the landscapes they flew down on races like the Mille Miglia – the thousand-mile cross-country race that determined whether someone like Ferrari would realize his dreams or go bankrupt. “The race sequences use all real cars, real Italian roads, no green screen,” Messerschmidt says, with custom-built modern vehicles with vintage-style shells enhanced by something extra: “British engineers built-in mounting points for cameras.

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