EXCLUSIVE: Lewis Hamilton is launching film and TV production company Dawn Apollo Films.
The seven-time Formula One champion, who holds the record for most F1 wins, pole positions, and podium finishes, sat down with us to discuss plans for the company, the important role film has played in his life and the role it could play for him after retirement.
The Mercedes star has set up the firm in partnership with his manager, Copper CEO Penni Thow.
Already on the slate are two anticipated projects with Apple TV+: an untitled Formula One racing film from Top Gun: Maverick director Joe Kosinski, starring Brad Pitt; and a feature documentary on Hamilton’s own journey, during which he has famously broken barriers on and off the track. The former will follow a driver who comes out of retirement to compete alongside a rookie against the titans of his sport. Both titles will be executive-produced by Hamilton under the new production banner.
Hamilton says main ambition for the company will be to push “meaningful conversations and impactful storytelling”. The iconic sportsman is particularly keen to build opportunities for diverse voices whether they be from sports, fashion, culture, or technology backgrounds.
Check out our chat below, in which Hamilton discusses working with streamers, meeting with Hollywood A-listers Jeffrey Katzenberg and George Lucas, the chances of him stepping in front of the camera, and his advice for frustrated Denver Broncos fans (Hamilton is part of a consortium that recently took a stake in the franchise).
DEADLINE: It has been a challenging year on the track. Some people are still pretty ticked off with how last season ended. You must feel that even more…
LEWIS HAMILTON: I try to move forward. Whether it’s positive or negative, I try to channel energy into the right direction through my work. This year has definitely been difficult. We’re really, really trying to improve the car for these last few races and then we’ll see. But I’m really hoping that next year’s car is better. Everyone is.
DEADLINE: You’re now branching out into some new areas. Why did you want to launch Dawn Apollo Films?
HAMILTON: I’ve always been into movies. I watch a lot. I find it a real escape. There are a lot of movies I find inspiring and I’ve always dreamed of one day doing something in this space. The question was often asked whether I would act. I’ve been very fortunate to be an F1 driver so I never really had time to dedicate to the craft of acting but a dream of mine has been to story-tell. I sat down with my team, and I asked ‘what would it take for us to start a production company’, and I went around and I met a range of producers and filmmakers in LA just to gain knowledge. One of them was Jeffrey Katzenberg.
The goal is to make impactful stories and ultimately to inspire people through movies and storytelling. A big part of the new company will be about social impact, community and causes. That’s very important to me.
DEADLINE: Why did you choose that name for the company?
HAMILTON: Apollo is the Greek god of sunlight, music and poetry, so I’ve always loved the name Apollo. Dawn because it is a time of other-worldliness and light and symbolizes new beginnings. It’s generally a time of day that I love.
We have a couple of great projects in the works with Apple TV+. One is the documentary and the other is the F1 movie we’re making with Brad Pitt and Joe Kosinski. I actually had an opportunity to work with Joe on Top Gun: Maverick. Tom [Cruise] put me on the phone with him and Joe moved heaven and earth to create space for me to be one of the pilots in the film, but I wasn’t able to make it work, which I regret every day. I try to grasp these opportunities when they come up now, but the racing season is still paramount.
DEADLINE: Might you act in the F1 movie?
HAMILTON: I don’t plan to. I can’t say it’s impossible but at the moment I’m enjoying the lessons I’m learning in the background from Joe, the writing team and Brad…
DEADLINE: When might we see the documentary and the narrative feature?
HAMILTON: The documentary most likely end of 2023 or early 2024. The movie’s script is still being fine-tuned so a release date isn’t set yet.
DEADLINE: Will you be staffing up the company?
HAMILTON: Yes. We’re just in the process at the moment. Penni Thow and I started it together and it’s important for us to find a diverse team.
DEADLINE: Your first two projects are with Apple. Do you have an exclusive deal with them?
HAMILTON: Not currently, but I would love to do more work with Apple. I’m a big fan of the brand. I love the stories they tell and how they go about promoting them. There is an opportunity for us to do more and we’re trying to find more inspiring stories. There’s a lot coming in the pipeline.
DEADLINE: Would you entertain an exclusive or first-look deal with a streamer?
HAMILTON: As we set out, I think it’s important we remain open-minded with our approach and it’s important we’re able to voice our key values…Throughout my life, even back to when I was a kid, I’d refer to movies. Whether I’m talking to a friend, my engineer or a CEO, I often quote movies. Cool Runnings is one I often think about and reference. It’s so uplifting, but it was also very relevant to me as a kid when I was the only person of color at the race track. The kind of look that we got as a family was the same the Jamaican bobsled team got. It inspired me. For me, the end of the movie when they are determined to finish the race even if it means carrying their sled over the line, is about integrity and values. I want kids to leave the cinema and to think ‘wow, I can be great too.’
DEADLINE: In recent years you’ve been more outspoken about social justice causes. Have your experiences in Formula 1 made that desire for change more urgent or has it been something else that has prompted that?
HAMILTON: I think it’s from growing up in the UK. As you get older you see reality more clearly. I’m an empath. When I see people in pain and people being divided and so much conflict, it makes me want to try to unite people while I’m on this planet. I think about my niece and nephew, who are seven and eight now, and it makes me want to be someone uplifting. I think about myself as an eight year-old, and I think how can I inspire the eight year-olds today to make the right decisions, to be compassionate, to chase their dreams.
DEADLINE: It feels like you’re in something of a transition phase. You have a lot of interests outside F1. How many more years do you see yourself behind the wheel and to what extent might film and TV be something you concentrate on after?
HAMILTON: My main focus and my core job is still motor racing. I’m 37. I’m very focused on my health: on my body, my mind and my spiritual wellbeing. I’m very conscious of other great athletes who spend their whole lives as I have, focused on their sport, and when they come to the end they might not necessarily have had the right people around them to help structure the course ahead for them.
I’ve spoken to people who have said: ‘Look, when I stopped it all came crashing down. I wasn’t prepared to do other things. I hadn’t taken time to learn any other crafts, other skills. I don’t know what my other passions are, so, I didn’t really focus on trying to understand what those are and create pillars’. So, when I do stop racing — which I don’t plan on doing for a while; I still feel I’m in a good place — I want it to be seamless. I want to be able to move on to fully focus on Dawn Apollo Films and to be able to jump in at a similar level to what I’ve been used to.
DEADLINE: You’ve done film voice over for Pixar’s Cars franchise. Would you like to act in front of the camera?
HAMILTON: I’m fascinated by it, I really am. I would love to try it one day it but I’m very conscious of the fact that it takes ten thousand hours to master something. I’m very stubborn. If I’m going to do something, I want it to be really good. I don’t have to be the best at everything, necessarily, but I know how much hard work these actors have put in. I don’t want to be one of those celebs that just moves into a different field and thinks he can easily do it.
DEADLINE: What advice did Jeffrey Katzenberg give you?
HAMILTON: I’m very fortunate to know Jeffrey well. He’s a really positive human being and he really cares about the work he’s doing. He told me that if I had any questions his door was open. There were others too, others I truly admire. George Lucas, for example. I wanted to pick their brains on what to focus on, the pitfalls, how to find like-minded, compassionate people to work with, people who want to make an impact. They both recommended good people to work with and some different routes I could take.
DEADLINE: You’ve recently bought into the Denver Broncos and were at Mile High the other night to see a game. They’re a great franchise but have had a challenging start to the season. What’s your message to Broncos fans?
HAMILTON: It has definitely been a tough start. With so much change, that’s natural. I loved being at the game, the atmosphere was incredible. For our team, I think we’ve just got to be patient and understand the process. The fans are what inspire us to continue as athletes so we couldn’t do it without them.
Our offense is not strong enough at the moment. Russell [QB, Russell Wilson] is obviously new to the team and he’s still learning and building those relationships, and he needs protection, as every quarterback does. We’re also dealing with a lot of injuries so we’re working on fitness and preparation. But I’m inspired by the energy. I get sent videos of speeches by the coach in the locker room before the games and I’m inspired by all of them.