Gran Turismo: Neill Blomkamp’s Unlikely True Story of Racing Driver Jann Mardenborough

‘Gran Turismo’ Director Neill Blomkamp on Telling Unlikely True Story

The South African filmmaker was able to merge his two passions, filmmaking and cars, to tell the unlikely true story of professional racing driver Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe).

The British racer turned his Gran Turismo video game prowess into actual racing career by winning the GT Academy in 2011 and earning the opportunity to drive for Nissan.

While Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story was filmed with as much practicality as possible, Blomkamp does not want to undersell the significant contributions of his VFX team.

In 2009, Blomkamp had impressive debut with the sci-fi District 9, which garnered 4 Oscar nominations including best picture and best adapted screenplay for Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchell.

District 10 Sequel

“I don’t know if it’s getting made or not. I don’t know if I even want to make that right now, but at some point down the line, it’ll probably get made,” Blomkamp says.

Are you a Last Starfighter fan? 

I haven’t seen The Last Starfighter since I was 11. A lot of people have referenced that movie in relation to Gran Turismo, so I’ve got to watch it again. I know the basic premise, but I don’t remember it.

Gran Turismo is the real-life version of Last Starfighter

I knew Gran Turismo as a racing simulator, so I couldn’t believe that they actually wanted to make this film until I understood what the approach was. And when I realized it was a true story, I went and looked up Jann Mardenborough and GT Academy, and I was surprised that I didn’t know about it. I’m very into the cars that Jann was racing then, the Nissan GT-R, and I’m also a fan of Gran Turismo as a game. I couldn’t believe I didn’t know about GT Academy and Jann, but I did know about the spectacular crash at Nürburgring only because I was a fan of that car.

In that community, everyone was like, “Have you seen this absolutely unbelievable car crash?” So I had seen that, but I didn’t know it pertained to Jann. Eventually, I was like, “Wow, I remember that in 2015.”

Columbia Pictures GRAN TURISMO
Director Neill Blomkamp (center) and the real Jann Mardenborough (right) with crew on the set. GORDON TIMPEN

This world wasn’t completely foreign 

I’m obsessed with cars. I’ve kind of always been obsessed with cars. It’s a side interest that’s obviously very unrelated to the film industry, and I never in a million years imagined that I’d be directing a racing film or a film that centers around cars. It just wasn’t on my radar, but my obsession and love affair with cars was easy to translate into the movie. I actually wouldn’t even say that I’m a massive racing fan. I have enough knowledge about it, I guess, but I’m not an avid fan. I had to actually learn how GT3 racing works and how Le Mans works and all of the different classifications. So I had to really get up to speed to be able to make the film.

Crazy turnaround

This film’s turnaround was crazy quick for me. I had sold Sony a different science-fiction. So I was talking to them around April of 2022, and maybe in May, they gave me this script. And then I was in Hungary in June. So prep started in June 2022, and now the movie is in theaters in August 2023. It’s a crazy turnaround. Working at breakneck pace.

Inspired by Gene Hackman in Hoosiers.

David was adamant that Hoosiers was a reference point for him. I rewatched that film, and it was pretty on point in a lot of ways. Even Robert Duvall in Days of Thunder is very different. So Hoosiers was a good reference, I think.

Did you revisit Rush and Ford v Ferrari?

I really like Rush and Ford v Ferrari, but the only one that I watched was Ford v Ferrari. It’s a very different kind of movie, and I watched it just to re-familiarize myself with it. It fits in a different category in my mind.

Le Mans with Steve McQueen

But I also watched Le Mans with Steve McQueen. And that film is amazing in its rawness. There’s a sequence at the start of Le Mans that this film pays homage to; the beginning happens where the cars start driving. That was the one that I directly wanted to emulate a shot or two from, but other than that, the references were from real-world racing.

Shooting Gran Turismo realistically 

There was some talk initially about video walls and stuff like that, but it just didn’t make sense for this kind of movie. It makes sense for other types of films, but in this film, every time you see the actors in the car, they’re going the speed that it looks like they’re going. It really was incredibly real.

There was also a ton of VFX, and I should not underplay how much VFX there was, but it doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a disproportionate front-loading into production and into logistics that happened just to get that number of cars onto that number of racetracks. The film felt like old-school film production, which just required a lot of logistical planning.

Columbia Pictures GRAN TURISMO
Jann (Archie Madekwe), Matty (Darren Barnet) and Antonio (Pepe Barroso) prepare to race the 24 Hours of Le Mans in Gran TurismoGORDON TIMPEN

Archie Madekwe is taller than the real Jann

When it came to shooting the scenes, I purposefully just shot them. It wasn’t like I tried to make him shorter or other people taller. My whole approach is to try to be as naturalistic as possible, and I don’t like it when you’re creating a synthetic or overly manicured fakeness to what you’re shooting, I like it to just be raw. I just let his height be what it is on purpose, but where it was an issue was in the race cars. He’s so tall that we had to make custom considerations. We had to pull seats out of cars a lot of the time. We had to give him seats that made him comfortable and so that he could fit in the vehicle properly.

We also had issues with cameras. It’s so claustrophobic in the car that we actually cut at the top of his eyeline, because the camera couldn’t physically tilt up more. The only place it became an issue was in the cars, and he absolutely hated getting in the car. I referred to it as the iron maiden; that’s how much he hated it. He just didn’t want to get in the car, but what’s cool about it is when he saw the film, he was like, “OK, that was worth it. It feels real.” Archie suffered, but it puts the audience there with him.

Did you get behind the wheel? 

The stunt department kept asking me to do that, but I didn’t. There was just too much work, and I didn’t really want to. If I’m not paying full attention to the film, it just feels wrong.


The completed VFX make a big difference. Without underplaying the VFX, you could see how much [practical effects] are really in there, and you could also see that the driving is real. The camera rigs were outside the cars, which is hilarious. It’s a point of view that most journalists definitely don’t know about the film. But I’m so happy with what Lorne did. He graciously did all of the Oats [Studios] films that I made, and I just loved working with him. I knew that his style combines something that feels digital and contemporary and almost video game-esque, with traditional score. And the combination of those two things is what the film required. It’s the virtual and the real, and his soundtrack sounds like that to me. So we spoke a lot about this concept of using synthetic vox for some of the female vocals and using synth, but then also using a lot of traditional stuff so that it sort of mimics this virtual and real-world aesthetic. So I’m super happy with what he did.

Columbia Pictures GRAN TURISMO
Archie Madekwe stars in Gran TurismoGORDON TIMPEN

Harbour’s character dismisses Jann at first

Yeah, but I think that’s common for humans in general. I try to be as open-minded as possible about everyone. But it wasn’t the case with Archie. We looked at many potential actors for Jann. I did a Zoom with him and I was like, “This guy just feels like amazing actor and very centered person, but also perfect for this movie.”

And then I went to London and did a casting session with him, and I couldn’t have been more stoked about what he did. His performance feels very real and unvarnished and accessible. By the end of the movie, you have no option but to root for him.

Gran Turismo is a little bit different to District 9 in the sense that I wanted the race sequences to be as authentic as possible in terms of imagery that the audience already not aliens that the audience doesn’t know. It really was about this feeling of trying to reinforce realism the whole time, and when you’re trying to reinforce realism, a lot of the tools that you’re using are very established VFX tools. A lot of the film’s elements were made in very traditional sense, and hopefully, the audience is never distracted by them.

Most Stressful

The only thing that was stressful about the film was the mechanics of the cars going down. Race cars actually have a very fragile nature, and the LMP2s, which are the very high-end cars that participate in Le Mans, are so finely tuned that a bunch of leaves got sucked into the intakes and hit the radiators. So we lost the cars for hours, and the crew used leaf blowers and stuff on the radiators to try to get theengine temperature down. So what would come to mind is the stress of shooting the race sequences and how mechanical failures can put you back hours in your day. I would think about some version of that.

Columbia Pictures GRAN TURISMO
Racing scene from Columbia Pictures’ Gran Turismo.


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