Oscar-winning editor Pietro Scalia, ACE, jumps into the driver’s seat to discuss intercutting, when to spot music, and how to build relationships on director Michael Mann’s biopic.

Today on Art of the Cut, we’re talking with Oscar-winning editor Pietro Scalia, ACE, about editing Michael Mann’s Ferrari.

Scalia won the Oscar and an ACE Eddie for JFK. Was nominated for an Oscar and an ACE Eddie for Good Will Hunting.  Won a BAFTA and an ACE Eddie and was nominated for an Oscar for Gladiator. Won an Oscar and an ACE Eddie and was nominated for a BAFTA for Black Hawk Down. Nominated for another BAFTA for American Gangster. And was nominated for a BAFTA and an ACE Eddie for The Martian.

Pietro has been on Art of the Cut before to discuss his work on The Martian and Alien Covenant. Pietro’s other work includes Solo: A Star Wars Story, and The Amazing Spider-Man 1 and 2. 

Pietro, thank you so much for joining me on Art of the Cut today.

Thanks. Glad to be here.

Ferrari is based on a book. Did you read it?

Yes, I did. It’s a Brock Yates book. I read it after (director Michael Mann) offered me the picture. I had read various drafts before that because it’s a project that I’ve been wanting to do for many years - over 20 years, I think.

He always was very generous and would always tell me he was about to go. He was always considering me. So, I saw the evolution of the script, but I fell in love with the last draft, and it really kind of crystallized all these years of research into the man and into a story.

But I wanted to find out more, so I also did some of my own research with interviews on Italian TV over the years. One book that I read was a biography by an Italian author, Luca dal Monte, which is 1000 pages or more. That really gave me an overview of who this man was.

Specifically, his early years as a child growing up during the war and then losing his older brother and, right after that, losing his father, growing up with his mother, trying to find work to maintain the household now that he was the only son remaining at Fiat.

There’s a little hint of that in the movie. Those are the kinds of things that really enrich the script. Even though it was so concise and even though it seems like a fairly straight dramatic story, there’s a lot of weight and a huge amount of research behind these characters.

That really stood out in the way it was written and the dialogue. So, researching more about Ferrari really helped me as well.

Many of the editors that I’ve talked to about doing research on biopics and true stories are pretty evenly split between wanting to do the research - wanting to know as much as possible -  and saying, “I just want to know what’s in front of me. I just want to see what’s in the dailies.”

I’m on the other side. I want to do as much research as possible because you really do a deep dive into exploring the world and the era and looking at archival footage.

Being a fan of Formula One - growing up in Europe and following that – and being a car enthusiast; going with my friend to the Geneva Auto Show and seeing the latest cars. I was always into that.

Ferrari himself also being a race car driver in the early years until he started his own scuderia with Alfa Romeo cars. So I like doing the research. It enriches me and helps, hopefully.


For those who don’t know your background, you are an Italian.

I’m Italian. Yes. Both my parents are southern Italians. I grew up as a son of immigrants in Switzerland, in the northern part of Switzerland. So, I grew up speaking German and Italian in the household.

I don’t think you’ve worked with Michael Mann before, correct?

That’s right, but I’ve known Michael socially over the years and I’ve been a great admirer of his work, a big, big fan, obviously, from seeing the masterpiece The Insider.

He was finishing Insider when we were finishing up Gladiator with Russell Crowe. Amazing performances, both in The Insider and Gladiator. Even earlier, with his film Thief, which I thought was brilliantly shot, showing Chicago in Collateral.

He’s done a lot of amazing pictures, so it was great to finally get a chance to work with the master.

Adam Driver and Michael Mann, behind the scenes on the set of Ferrari, photo credit Lorenzo Sisti

Let’s discuss the intercutting, early in the film, between the Mass and the test track. Can you talk about whether that was scripted that way and how you chose when to go between those two locations?

I just remember reading that section in the script and said, “Oh, this is a great opportunity to cut both the energy of the race track, the church, the sermon, the community of Modena: all the workers, the engineers being concerned about the race track and the stopwatches and the timing and the perspective of the locations. It really stood out on the page. 

So, I was looking forward to putting it together. The way the sermon was scripted on the page showed that it was going to go back and forth with the race car driving and cutting to the reactions of a stopwatch, so all that was in there.

When I first put it together, I kind of followed that structure even though we didn’t have all the pieces at first. The pieces were coming together, and I was basically structuring and building it the way it was scripted, but when Michael saw the first cut, he said, “I don’t want to cut away from the sermon too much. I want to really stay with it.” 

That was an interesting choice because you really wanted the words from the priest to resonate. So the evolution of that was really just: what is essential? What are the elements to show?

But I think stylistically, it established very early on this dynamic or contrast between both the action of the racing and the dialogue-driven speech, which also reflects the aggressive cuts and contrasts of cuts between handling the host or raising the chalice with the engine, that juxtaposes and parallels what you see later on in the film as well between something very lyrical and musical - for example, the opera to a very harsh cut to race car driving. So both visually and with sound to create dynamics. 

As that scene evolved, using the element of the choir in the church and continuing that over the race track but at the same time incorporating the soundtrack, which had a very percussive musical element to it. So, that combination of the music and the juxtapositions of the action really made that very exciting.

Ferrari, photo credit Eros Hoagland

We had watched a film shot by the BBC - probably done in the 1950s with Fangio driving exactly that race track, and one thing that Michael wanted to point out was the chicane (an S-shaped curve in the track).

These race car drivers take the chicane and establish that as an element visually of how the car turns and how it steers, so you visually establish the geography.

What was very interesting when we looked at the footage from the BBC and how Fangio drove, it was amazing the composition that they were able to achieve: low-angle position of the tires from behind, point-of-view frontal shots…it’s really amazing for that time to get that coverage, but it really gave us a lot of insight on the track and what good driving looks like how you enter the chicane and how you follow the perfect line.

You have to both downshift and then upshift. Very early on in the film when Ferrari double-clutches and changes gears, so he doesn’t lose RPMs. It’s very tricky with your foot and changing gears, but you don’t want to lose all RPMs when you do that, so that’s what we tried to show.

The pedals enter the curve, leaving the curve. When it comes around the curve, you can see a lot. Michael is an amazing driver, how the wheels go into the curve, trying to be very precise with those elements. That’s one of the signatures of Michael’s film: his research, which is a thousand times more than I did.

He’s very keen on how these people have excelled in what they do, how they do it, and showing it. You can go back to Thief, and you see what it takes to melt down a metal vault door. That’s exciting, and I think that specificity and attention to detail is what makes things stand out.

Throughout my career, it’s always the details about how to build something. What does it feel like? We talked in the past about Black Hawk Down, but also being specific about action the same way. You have to be very specific with performances and character.

What rings true? What is too much? What is not enough? Michael is also very attuned to the performances and the subtleties,  like, “No. You don’t need that extra word. It’s a repeat.” Just paying a lot of attention to the smallest of details. A small look, a hand gesture. But it’s those details that make a big difference.

Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari on set in Modena, Italy, photo credit Lorenzo Sisti

Some scenes play without music, obviously, and others have cues. What’s guiding your decision about when to spot music, or how do you collaborate with Michael and the composer on what you think needs music?

Well, Michael has always been really at the forefront of using music. All of his films have unusual and amazing scores. This one was not easy to find the musical tone. We tried different pieces. We wanted something thematic like The Godfather, something recognizable.

What would an Ennio Morricone score sound like? It didn’t fit. Somehow, it belongs to a different animal. It just didn’t work. So it took some time to find the music. But I think Michael really is very sensitive about using too much music.

And I tend to agree. Sometimes, when when you work in temp, you do it because you don’t have all the sound. You didn’t have everything, and it tends to make things look good. 

But in terms of sound design, after the beginning of principal photography, we talked about sound. The car sounds, specifically. We were using replicas of these cars, so they did not have 12-cylinder engines. So later, we went back, and we recorded the actual sound specific to the car engine.

What does acceleration sound like? Downshifting, braking, all those elements. Michael was interested in the specificity of the sound. Specifically, what does it sound like when you have 12-cylinder engines or cars riding through the cobbled streets of Modena, reverberating against these medieval houses?

That again shows you his attention to detail because it is very effective. You don’t need music during that time. It goes back to a famous shootout scene in Heat, the same idea where the realism of the reverberation and you can’t reproduce that with the sound effects. You actually have to go and record it.

You have to go out and record these sounds. We did that later on when the picture was locked, and we were working on the sound. Tony Lombardi went, and we recorded the sounds and created that realism. 

Daniel Pemberton’s music was very effective, and I like the direction the music took, the percussiveness to it, and the weight of it. A lot of times, we had music, and then Michael removed it on a little bit more dramatic scenes simply because it felt too much.

It was not necessary. It didn’t need that. So, it’s always a question of taste and balance. But in this particular case, it was all Michael in terms of being very specific about finding the right tone and the quantity of music that needed to be used.

Ferrari, photo credit Lorenzo Sisti

It struck me with the relationship between the two women, the mother of his young child and his wife that he’s married to. How did you juggle that in editing, or didn’t you feel like you had to: that was just in the script.

Well, it was in the script, but also, going back and reading the book and his relationship with these two women, she wasn’t a mistress. It was a woman he was in love with.

His relationship with Laura was fraught with a lot of tension and unhappiness, not in the film but for many years. In the early years, when he married Laura, the mother was not happy with that marriage.

There was unhappiness there, but they did build this business together. She was as instrumental in creating and supporting him over the years. She was also often away because she was not feeling well. I think that it’s also during the war that he met Lena, you know, and then fell in love and had a child in such a small town like Modena where everybody knows everybody’s business, and he was able to keep this relationship secret from Laura because he knew that would destroy her.

So, the two women are completely different. Laura: very powerful. A strong woman to stand up to a character like Enzo versus Lena, who was maybe more of a modern woman.

She was educated. She may have had a different, more liberal view of things, not so provincial or conservative. Michael wanted to point out right at the beginning how tender he is with both Lena and his son and that family and the juggling back and forth of this life, trying the best he can.

It was almost like a refuge for him to go there and have a meal with his son, whereas his home felt cold and depressed after the death of their son. After the death, I don’t think the relationship ever recovered.

He obviously cared about Laura just as much, but he’s a completely different man with both women, and that had to be expressed in the performances.

Penelope Cruz as Laura Ferrari, photo credit Lorenzo Sisti

When Laura discovers this second home. That was a powerful scene, I thought, and constructed with very few shots: Six or how many? It didn’t feel like a lot. The discovery of the toy car.

Exactly. You see the toy car. That’s very specific. It’s an amazing performance. They did several takes, not too many. Penelope was spectacular. The shot’s on her and kind of turns around, and it has this classic, almost signature shot going behind the head and seeing the house in the foreground, but the expression on the face and then revealing the house, it is very, very powerful.

But it is because of the performance of Penelope and everything that that could possibly mean. It’s the toy that Dino used to play with, a replacement for a son.

The toy has been given to Piero now. You can see that later on, right before the opera, when Enzo comes into the room, you can see that it’s the car that she picked up - trying to retain a memory of his son, which then gets expressed emotionally. 

Everybody reminiscences during the opera about loss and about death or a more joyous past. It’s this continuous movement and mélange of emotions that carry us through both lyrically and, at other times, very aggressively. It’s this balancing act that I was fascinated with.

Ferrari was an iconic industrialist in Italy: a huge personality. How he balanced all these elements that were affecting his life, not only the relationship between the two women, his grief about the loss of his son, his determination and the desire to always be better, faster, the way he would talk to the drivers or to his lawyer or to his competitor, Maserati, his interaction with the journalist, the other men.

I think there are a lot of layers of Ferrari and the character that Adam Driver really pulled it together and did an amazing job. Not easy. And you have to step in somebody’s shoes, and there’s a lot of vigor with a biography of a real person. As an editor, you get gifted these amazing performances, and so you basically just hope not to fuck it up. Just don’t mess with it.

Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari in a crowd, photo credit Eros Hoagland

Stay out of the way of the performances.

Yeah. Just enhance and make it feel as natural, powerful, and as authentic as you can.

You hinted at the opera flashbacks. Ferrari goes to the opera. You’re watching the musical performance. Then, you’re watching a series of flashbacks. Can you talk through what those were? How they were scripted? How do you change them from being scripted? 

The opera is an essential scene. In a way, it’s almost the heart of the film. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie. I started early on that during production. I actually took it upon myself to go and record the opera at the nearby theater simply because there was a discussion of what playback we would use and where we would get it. It is a specific song from La Traviata, and there are many different opera singers who sang this piece.

It’s very well known. But Michael was specific that he wanted to have the actual live recording of the singers.

The process of how to go about that is that you can’t find the playback because there is no separation between the orchestra and the singers in an opera. If you want to license a playback, you can’t. You don’t just get the musical piece because the orchestra is an integral part of how the singers sing to the rhythm.

It’s a combination. It can be separated. The performance itself dictates the meter, and the orchestra follows that. So, in order to create a playback or have the flexibility of having a recording that is separated between the singers and the orchestra, we went to a theater and wanted to make sure that we got the elements that Michael would use during the shoot.

First of all, we rehearse with the singers in the orchestra. I played for them versions that I liked.

Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari yellow, photo credit Lorenzo Sisti

We found the right tempo, and then we did a live recording together. Once the conductor knew the piece and the rhythm, we just recorded the music without the singers.

Later on, we recorded the singers separately to the instrumental playback, so we were able to create a master playback with separate orchestra and lyrics. However, when Michael shot the scene on the wide shots, we used that playback not trying to tire the singers, but when he shot the tight elements, that was actually a live recording of their voices – not the playback voices. What helped is that they had an earpiece. 

We had to do a little bit of finessing afterward, both in the editing and the mics. But basically, what you see is the actual live performance. He did only about three takes of that, but it was very specific to be accurate when you’re so close to the actors, because that was really central to how Michael saw the scene. It’s unusual being so close to the singers. Then the music drifts next door, where Adalgisa, Enzo’s mother, is listening to it, reminiscing about her son leaving for war. 

We also have magnificent moments with Laura in almost tears with a slight smile, reminiscing about the happier times in the past, on the bed as Enzo – as a much younger man - dances and sings the same song.

And then linking that with the very tight close-ups of the singers expressing those emotions and specifically, without being on the nose, because the song is about “We will have Paris again” in a certain way, but it’s about his lover who died. But it is the determination to be very close to the actors and to be very specific when in the song to come in. So you have various elements to play with it.

The most important part, obviously, is the performances of the actors and at the same time, the performance of the tenor and the soprano to be harmonious and to be emotional.

There’s a beautiful shot of Shailene Woodley being mesmerized by the song and the emotion. But her flashback is a joyous moment when she - during the war - goes and tells Enzo, “I’m pregnant.” The editing decision has to be both musically where you cut.

We spent a lot of time on that sequence and there was a vast amount of amazing performances. I could just stay a minute on Penelope Cruz’s face and just experience that. It was so powerful. Seeing that from the dailies or even Adalgisa, his mother, beautiful. Just her breathing in the room and her eyes … I mean amazing performances.

So we were very, very, very accurate, not only musically where to cut in rhythm, but that you really nailed at the best moment that expression or that emotion that the actors feel.

So a lot of little balancing and fine tuning of that. And if you analyze it, the song was longer. We had to trim it a little bit - which bars you take out without destroying it. I’m proud of that scene because it is built like a Swiss clock. I don’t want to praise myself, but I’m very proud.

Ferrari, photo credit Lorenzo Sisti

I could feel it. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to ask you about that scene because it’s beautiful, it’s very powerful.

Sometimes, there’s the question: it’s esthetically beautiful and emotional, but what is it with all those elements? They say they run perfectly right, just like a fine-tuned engine.

The cylinders are hitting, right? I mean, you hear them, the sound. You see it visually. It’s moving. Does it affect the aesthetic of cinema? And those elements do affect you emotionally. That’s what’s amazing about it. Making films when you get good material like that.

I wanted to ask you about a specific cut. I can’t remember which race it was, but you’ll remember. They’re racing, and one of the drivers, I think, lets a driver pass him, and then it cuts mid-race to a dinner with the racers where Ferrari is basically scolding them. I think it’s the scene where he says, “Two objects can’t be in the same space.” Was that scripted that way? Were you trying to tighten, or were you trying to juxtapose the cause and the effect closer to each other?

It wasn’t scripted like that. There was much more about the race, going back and forth, and you came to a much cleaner end. But I think - Michael, much later on - wanted to be much more aggressive.

So it was not planned. I cut the dinner sequence, but I think it was later on. John Valeria, the additional editor, restructured that with Michael. In terms of specific details, how it came to that drastic cut, it was an evolution.

Ferrari, photo credit Lorenzo Sisti

Can you talk about constructing the beginning of the Mille Miglia race, where Ferrari is giving instructions to all of his drivers as they are about to cross the starting line?

I have to say that was a tough scene to put together because there was a lot of material - amazing material - that was shot both. That scene needed to express the rules of the Mille Miglia and how it starts at midnight, and the smaller cars go first - every minute, each car number progresses as the later cars, the more powerful cars, leave later in the race.

We needed to see how he spoke to the drivers each differently and to be able to intercut those elements with very aggressive compositions of the cars taking off, off the ramps, going up and down the ramp, and still keeping an order to it. We spent lots of time trying not to use similar compositions. I think Michael shot it with two or three cameras. We could switch back and forth. So there was always a decision of, “I can be on a profile or on the frontal as they go up and down.” We tried to make each car and driver visually different.

At the same time, we showed Maserati, talking to his drivers, how these two men are coaching the specific instructions to each of the race car drivers. There were probably a good dozen takes of the moment where Ferrari looks over to Maserati, takes off his glasses, and then puts them back on - that kind of iconic mask. We played around with slowing down time. Taking out the sound, having this emotional moment. 

That was tricky. Do we slow it down here? Where should we start? Do we need to get back to speed? We don’t want to let the steam out and keep the idea of the race going, but at the same time, create a little break and see how Ferrari really feels because, at that moment, for his character, that’s what’s at stake.

He has to win the Mille Miglia. If you want to save your business, you better win. So it’s a big deal for him. He has amazing drivers. But the rivalry with Maserati and his business being on the line needed to be felt.

Shailene Woodley as Lina Lardi, photo credit Lorenzo Sisti

I was thinking about the pre-title sequence: the black and white with Ferrari in the 1920s.

Yeah, when Ferrari was still a young racecar driver. We tried to create a race by using archival footage of the various Italian races - the Targa Florio and other races. It’s hard to find the material of that era because we had to be specific about the kind of car that he was driving during that period. We did some visual effects. 

The idea to do that sequence was an idea that came later on and was not in the script. Michael decided to do that during the final week of Adam’s driver’s shoot. He had this beautiful Alfa Romeo restored and made him drive around the track.

Basically, what he wanted was to infuse the film with a sense that Ferrari was a race car driver, and he knows racing from that perspective. He knows what it needs. That’s why his speech to the drivers at the dinner in the restaurant is very, very telling because he knows … he’s not just the coach. He’s been there. He knows what it means. Michael said you have to be a race car driver to understand why people do that.

Some of the footage of the cars themselves is fantastic. Talk to me a little bit about the racing itself, trying to construct those races, and also showing the beauty of the vehicles themselves.

You just have to photograph to show how beautiful the cars are. If you go to the Ferrari museum and Modena to the factory, you see the actual cars - the works of art in metal. It shows the craftsmanship and ingenuity of the Italian craftsmen.

But even more than that there’s Maserati and Ferrari is there. In Bologna, you have Lamborghini. They were all craftsmen using metal. And the priest talks about how we form metals and this car engine racing into the future.

But besides just being metal and machines, they’re beautiful to look at - the color. People fell in love with that. That’s why they wanted these cars. It represented high quality, beautiful design.

When you show the contrast of these futuristic-looking cars racing through a medieval city, Renaissance buildings or in Rome or out in the vastness of the mountains where they shot, it can look almost mythical, the drivers being gods or heroes on chariots.

Patrick Dempsey as Piero Taruffi, photo credit Lorenzo Sisti

In an early race, you made a hard cut from nighttime racing to day racing. Talk to me about determining not transitioning or what other footage you had in there – needing to advance the story quicker.

This is really Michael’s decision to do that because we had a lot of material. There was more of the race. We have early dawn, and there were some amazing shots where you see these cars on a long street with the lights on and it’s foggy.

We missed some of that, but he had similar actions of passing, getting behind a driver, using it as a slingshot to pass, establishing, and showing the competition between the drivers, which are repeated in different sections.

I wish I had the other parts as well, but I felt it was strong. I don’t need it. It’s more aggressive. You see a pattern emerging, and I think that’s something that I learned from Michael. Also, John Valerio, our additional editor did an amazing job working with Michael and going through some of those sections and tightening it, if it was necessary.

Ferrari, photo credit Eros Hoagland

There’s a big tonal shift at the end of the movie. How do you navigate getting from a race ending to a tragedy and getting the audience successfully through a jump in emotion like that.

Obviously, the race was going to be exciting. The evolution of the races, the elements that were conflicting or coming together in his life. I was surprised by how shocking the reaction was to the tragic accident - even on the page. It was more descriptive of this violent accident that happens that took the lives of several bystanders and children.

So how do you show that? Really credit to Michael because he pointed to a crash that happened in 1956 in Le Mans, just a year before, where a car basically collides into a barrier and catapults the engine out of the car and into the audience. Seeing that as one shot by the camera operator, it is so violent. I think that was fundamentally what Michael wanted to do. I wanted to show it as one shot, basically, which technically is very difficult to achieve.

So there was a lot of testing done - research on how to achieve the crash, setting up multiple cameras, and how we can enhance it later on. But we really lucked out that he did capture exactly what he wanted.

He put dummies there to actually show how these bodies -properly weighted - would actually be effected. It’s the specificity of how close you can get to that authenticity that makes it so impactful. On a dramatic level, it comes completely unexpected in a way because you’re in the race.

But the moment where basically you go at full speed, and you have this ramp down to slow motion where it really just goes on the tire, and you show the explosion and then the crash.

I was surprised at how shocking that really is because I’ve been working on it. It’s very, very graphic. But seeing the reactions of the audience to that and how shocking that is, I wasn’t aware of it, but it works, I guess.

Gabriel Leone as Alfonso de Portago, photo credit Lorenzo Sisti

Did you have footage of the celebration at the end of the race?

There was more. Again, we were trying to be economical and cut it down, working with Sarah Gordon’s character, you know, the actress/girlfriend, being there, clueless.

The feeling was that once the audience knew that they’d won the race, then the focus needed to shift back to the accident…

Yeah, it needed to shift. I think we had to go back to Enzo coming onto the site and seeing how it affected him in that moment. I think that’s the more important storyline.

Penelope Cruz as Laura Ferrari, photo credit Lorenzo Sisti

Was there anything of Enzo being informed that that there had been an accident? In the movie, as it’s shown, he just shows up at the crash site.

Maybe it’s not so explicit, but I mean, the race starts in Brescia and ends where it started. Modena is not that far from Brescia. It could be an hour and a half. Ferrari would go to different sections following the race. He didn’t go to Rome or go to the mountains. 

The crash turned into a big deal for him. He was indicted for manslaughter. He had to defend himself for years, trying to blame Ferrari and his cars. It was a long legal battle, but we tried to move through these events in an economical way. The wreck of the car was meticulously replicated.

There was a lot of research and images. The people studied this crash because there was a trial, and people wanted to know how this could have happened. What caused it? It was so well documented.

Then we cut back to the factory, and the body of this wreck is being pulled into the machine room, kind of like this carcass to be analyzed, like an autopsy. It felt like a body being taken off and analyzed.

There’s so much good stuff. As an editor, there’s a German phrase: “die Qual der Wahl,” which basically means “the agony of choice.”

We need that on a T-shirt.

Pietro, thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciate it.

Thank you, Steve.