There is legal action afoot over the upcoming movie about Niki Lauda, with a European consortium claiming that they had agreed a deal with the Austrian to make a film called “33 Days – To Hell and Back”. Lauda wrote a book back in 1986 called “Meine Story” in German, but this was named “To Hell and Back” in English-speaking markets. It is not clear whether the “33 Days” film was going to be based on this book and whether a rights deal was agreed.
It is a story that goes back to 2007 when Austrian film-maker Hannes Schalle of Moonlake Entertainment (which makes a lot of videos for Red Bull) began working on the idea of movie about his fellow countryman Lauda. I happen to know this is true because Schalle talked to me at the time about perhaps being involved in the writing. He told me that Lauda would be involved. I heard nothing more and assumed that there was no money.
Schalle had not given up, however, and in 2009 he produced a TV documentary called Aus eigener Kraft (Against all Odds), about famous sporting comebacks, which chronicled Lauda’s extraordinary return from a near-fatal accident in 1976 to fight for the World Championship with James Hunt. This was broadcast in 2010. By then Schalle and the German production company called Phoenix Film had begun to plan for “33 Days”. The first draft of the script was finished in February 2009 and, according to Schalle, Lauda was delighted. The final script was not presented until the end of December 2010 and was sent to Lauda, but the film-makers heard nothing back, and discovered a month later in a German newspaper that screenwriter Peter Morgan was writing a screenplay for the Niki Lauda film to be called “Rush”. This was to be directed by Hollywood’s Ron Howard. Ironically, Peter Morgan’s mother-in-law Dr Therese von Schwarzenberg had appeared in Schalle’s TV documentary talking about how she managed to walk again after a skiing accident, after two years in a wheelchair.
Despite Lauda’s involvement in the “Rush” project, “33 Days” was officially launched at Cannes in 2011 with the aim being to shoot that summer. At the time Schalle told Screen magazine that Lauda has “assured his full support for the project” and the production was looking to sign Daniel Bruhl and Yvonne Catterfeld to star opposite “Harry Potter” star Tom Felton as James Hunt. The crew had at that point had already started scouting for locations and agreed a collaboration with Daniele Audetto, the former racing director of Ferrari.
When “Rush” was officially announced it Bruhl also listed for the role of Lauda, alongside Chris Hemsworth and Olivia Wilde, with heavy-hitting Hollywood finance behind the project.
Lauda says he is not worried by the legal action.