Behind The Scenes: How We Filmed Derek Bell And Two Porsche 718s In Sicily
Film editors usually spend their time in dark, window-less cutting rooms. This time, it was going to be different, as I was about to also wear the producer hat. Turns out, it was one of the most rewarding film shoots of my life. But before we could upload our feature on Derek Bell and the 1960 Targa Florio-winning Porsche 718 RS60, we first had to get the driver, car, crew, and gear to Sicily, Italy.
It was my job from the start to ensure we’d tell a memorable story about this car—and overcome any problems we encountered along the way. Go figure: Derek, the car, and Sicily were the easy parts!
Film shoots always take on a life of their own, and before the car had arrived via the (amazing!) Collier Collection at The Revs Institute, this one was no exception. One of our stars, the 1960 RS 60, had been delayed in transport—finally arriving on the same boat, the last boat, that was taking our gear across on the ferry. A crew member took a picture in front of the truck with the door open with the car to show me, and I went to bed in tears, saying to myself, “At least we have that…”
But we didn’t yet have a driver: when I landed in Sicily, I learned Derek’s flight schedule had been messed up due to weather. That’s when you have to find the right person and, you know, someone who works with you and understands. With some luck, a Lufthansa agent helped me get him into Sicily at midnight—just in time for his 5am wake-up call. Of course, Derek was a gentleman and cool with the situation. Anyway, this was the car, the driver, and the location—we were ready to go!
Sadly, the van we reserved ahead of time had a punctured tire—something not easy to have repaired on Easter Monday in Sicily. Between the rental cars, equipment, and crew, in three days I did six trips to the airport—and the airport is an hour and a half from the hotel.
By the start of the first day, I was completely exhausted. It’s 4:30 in the morning. I barely had any sleep. I didn’t have breakfast, just an espresso. I’m in a car with a stick shift, driving a Le Mans winner, Derek Bell, to an unknown location…in the middle of nowhere…in the dark. No pressure. We had a bit of time each morning as the car was getting warmed up, time we had to account for on our shoot schedule. On the first day, there was more than an hour of checks on the car, but everything checked out OK.
The first day went really well, and it was a really beautiful moment when the car came out of the truck. As the car was warming up each morning, it’d be making a lot of noise—noise that the Sicilians had heard before.
Although we were often in the middle of nowhere—on the first day, for instance, we were about 7 miles from the closest town—I went to get lunch and I could hear the car being revved up that far away. People started arriving and being really curious about it. Throughout the shoot, it was a challenge to be nice and respectful to these people as we tried to tell them, “No, listen buddy, you need to move, because it’s not safe…No, you can’t touch it”.
Why? Because we had people walk up to it, touch it, and realize that it’s the Porsche that won the Targa Florio, and then they would kneel down, kiss it, and start crying. It’s because they remembered it, seeing it in the 1960s. These were, now, older people who knew all about it. They’d say, “This is the 1960 718 RS60 that won the Targa Florio, driven by Hans Herrmann…” We’re like: “Yes”. Their knees would give in, saying, “I remember that race…I was a kid…It was fantastic…” That whole area is very mountainous there’s often not much going on, except for the Targa Florio event. When the race was in its heyday, it probably took between six and eight hours to get to the closest “big” city, Palermo—and so it doesn’t take long to realize that the race and everything about it are inseparable from Sicily and its people.
They’re why we looked up at the sky a few times and just said, well, “the gods are with us,” like when a brand-new vehicle in our small convoy got a puncture, and its wheels and performance tires…replace them in Sicily? “We’re screwed,” I thought. Not yet: a guy from Malta traveling with his family who’d stopped to check out the shoot was staring at the broken tire with the rest of us, and said, “No, hold on a second”. He took everything out of his truck, with the last box being a patch kit, hair dryer, and air compressor.
That patch got the car to a mechanic, who is friends with our awesome photographer Rosario, and the mechanic said: “If you bring the tire to me, the car to me, I can get the whole wheel off and drive it 200 kilometers (~125 miles) to the service center, get the tire replaced, bring the wheel back, and put it back on—so you only lose half of a day”. All he wanted was 40 euros to do all this, and he did.
The 718 RS60’s only problem was a lack of fuel at one point, and when we went to get more, we discovered that the only fuel pump in the closest town wasn’t pumping: the power was out. After knocking on some doors and explaining the situation, we had what we needed. In maybe an hour and a half we were back in business: Sicilians are amazing.
You cannot ask directions in Sicily, because whoever you ask directions to, they will say, “Oh, you know what? I’m going to get in my car and take you,” that’s what they will do. They’ll mobilize a whole town in order to make that happen and to help you for nothing in return, just because they want you to feel at home and welcome there—and be known around the world as what they do.
That said, when we shot the barber, I lost my voice, because we’re in this tiny, tiny town and we blocked off maybe a road that it was 100 yards long, not even. There were doors everywhere, alleys, we were in a small town center. When we started the car and began warming it up, everybody just flipped. We had people at the top and bottom of this road that was closed to traffic, but containing foot traffic was impossible because they kept walking in, anyway. Even if we told them, “Please don’t walk here. He’s going to start. He needs clearance to drive, and you can’t walk around just anywhere…” they just went past me.
We were like the Madonna had come to town; I think everybody was there. Our photographer Rosario took that beautiful shot of Derek waiting to take off, surrounded by all these people—from a balcony up above, on the third floor. It was a beautiful scene, and definitely something you would have witnessed during the actual Targa Florio.
For the duration of our shoot, the roads were closed to traffic…but not to sheep. On one occasion, we were traveling in front of Derek at speed, making sure the roads were clear, and coming out of a bend we saw, literally, a wall of sheep. We had ABS, and traction control, and everything else a new Cayenne does to make it stop on a dime, and we had two inches to spare (the sheep didn’t flinch). I got on the radio to Derek to warn him, yelling, “Sheep! Sheep! Sheep!” but the car was so loud he thought I was saying something else—“No! Animals!” I shouted, and both Derek and the sheep were spared.
Don’t get me started on the guy in an old Honda who materialized on the “closed” course, who was driving very slowly because he was leading a horse along!
But over five days, it all worked out. The crew was incredible, and we all really just bonded. Starting from Derek Bell, who is an amazing person as a person. A great driver, and on top being super professional, he is also very caring while maintaining his sense of British humor. It was an honor and really special to revisit this piece of history, and if I’m honest, once the 718 RS60 hit the tarmac, it seemed more natural to have it on the Targa Florio circuit than to have it in the truck.
Its mechanic said, “I’m amazed it’s been five days and this car has held up so well,” after driving it to our 60-mile distance limit over each of the five days. This car just doesn’t want to be caged, you know?
Nor did we: with a total of 8 hours of footage, (and a director in a time zone 9 hours ahead) we had the edit done in five days.
Photography by Rosario Liberti