10 Jun 20

How dinner with DiCaprio launched Formula E film ‘And We Go Green’

He hatched a plan with movie star Leonardo DiCaprio over dinner in Monaco. Formula E’s founder and chairman Alejandro Agag fell into conversation with the US actor in the principality some four years ago, and the pair cooked up the idea for a feature-length documentary charting the electric racing series’ evolution.

DiCaprio offered to produce the film, and the result is “And We Go Green” – set for global release on Formula E’s YouTube channel, Facebook page and via the website this Friday, 12 June at 19:00 BST.

“The birth of this movie happened years ago,” said Agag. “The concept first came about in Monaco. I met Leonardo DiCaprio for drinks and dinner in a restaurant there over the Grand Prix weekend. 

“We started chatting and he came up with the idea that became ‘And We Go Green’. We had a number of thoughts about what the movie could be and he suggested a documentary.”

DiCaprio drafted in “Tiger King” producer and Academy Award-winner Fisher Stevens, alongside co-director Malcolm Venville, to delve under the drivers’ skin whilst showcasing the dramatic battle for the 2017/18 crown.

The film, which also features DiCaprio and premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, highlights the series’ goals of combating global warming, promoting electric vehicles and reducing air pollution.

And We Go Green teaser trailer...

'Strange creatures'

Agag, as a long-time admirer of the 56-year-old’s work, felt Stevens would be best-placed to tell the Formula E story, particularly in capturing emotions and coaxing the protagonists - the drivers - those “strange creatures”, out of their shells.

“I’ve always wanted to work with Fisher,” Agag continued. “He’s been brilliant at getting to know the drivers very closely and in encouraging them to open up, as well as orchestrating how to best film the cars and the on-track action. 

“He really captured the emotion and the personalities of our drivers perfectly. Racing drivers are very complex beings. It can be like walking up to a wild animal at times! You have to approach them carefully and thoughtfully. 

“This is one of Fisher’s great talents as a documentarian. He could infiltrate the drivers’ minds, just before a race, and find out their feelings, their stresses and strains. 

“A racing driver who isn’t winning is a very strange creature. One who is winning is an amazing person. 

“The film really discovers the soul of racing drivers and what they are like to be around.”

Hollywood meets Formula E

Stevens himself was initially guarded having been approached by DiCaprio about making the picture.

“Leo brought me down to Brooklyn for the E-Prix,” he said. “He told me about the opportunity to make this film, I had questions in my mind but as soon as Alejandro gave me the tour of the pit and the circuit I was sold. 

“The buzz was there. I immediately got on to my buddy Malcolm (Venville), who provided the motorsport brains, and knew how to shoot beautiful pictures.

“He and I demanded creative freedom and Alejandro opened the doors. I knew we could make something really great if we were let loose.” Venville describes his first encounter with Formula E in Valencia as “a real thrill”.

“The energy was incredible,” he said. “You could feel the pulse of a very forceful new type of motorsport.“I wanted to capture the dynamic of the racing, the drivers, the sport and the human drama – as well as the technological background to it all.”

All-star cast

On picking the protagonists, Stevens’ methodology is to cast a documentary like you’re casting a movie. 

“I like my documentaries to be like features – like you’re going for a ride,” he said. “You need the wildest, most engaging characters to take you on that ride and I could see those figures right away from that Valencia test. 

“JEV (Jean-Eric Vergne) and Andre (Lotterer) were the first to grab me. Jean-Eric had that instinct and an interesting dynamic with his team-mate where I got the sense that he was the boss, despite him being 10 years his junior. Then Malcolm had his eyes on Nelson Piquet Jr., with his motor racing father and his history.”

Venville added: “Fisher is an actor. He had a nose right away and feeds off those jabs of energy you get from certain people – he had that feeling about JEV. We keyed with two other champions in Lucas (Di Grassi) and Sebastien (Buemi) and then Alejandro (Agag) as the ringmaster.

“So many things could have gone wrong – disaster can suddenly strike – but the way Formula E was brought together into this theatre of motor racing was part of the challenge for us to capture.”

In the beginning...

Agag feels Formula E is now “in the best moment in its history”, with a grid full of manufacturers, top-tier drivers and a calendar incorporating some of the world’s most spectacular cities. 

“It was hard in the beginning, but now we’re happy,” he adds. “Nobody believed that Formula E had a chance of surviving. Everybody in motorsport thought it was going to crash. 

“For many years, I worked in traditional, ‘normal’, motor racing – with combustion engines. Given the challenges of climate change, we had to devise a way for motorsport to play its role. 

We had the now-famous dinner, where myself and FIA President Jean Todt put down some ideas onto a napkin and, from there, the baby was born.

“There were questions of technology at the time, particularly in how the battery technology could translate into racing, but we saw the rate at which it was improving and that it would be possible to create a championship with that kind of tech at its core.”

Changing perceptions

“And We Go Green” highlights the championship’s mission; that of pursuing a greener future through sustainable technologies, via a world-class motor racing spectacle. 

“Actually, the film captures the big change – welcoming the transition from two cars into one during the races,” said Agag. “That is a really key moment and it pushed the championship to the next level. It’s a very real representation of just how far the technology has come since that founding moment.”

For Agag, the film is a means of inspiring people to work towards positive change by thrusting that intense spectacle front and centre.

“I think racing can be a powerful way to change perceptions and encourage people to think differently and engage with sustainability and in ‘going green’,” added Agag. 

“What we’re saying, and what we have said from the start with Formula E has always been very simple: more electric cars. That message has not changed since day one of this series. We continue brewing and accelerating the technology, we’ll continue to bring the show and the races, but the core message remains.

“This isn’t all about electric cars being clean. It’s about aggressive, fast driving and high performance. We wanted to capture that, get it on film and celebrate it.”

Tune in this Friday, 12 June, 19:00 BST for your feature-length fill of Formula E