PV: That’s my approach in every film. I like the subliminal symbolism in films. In the movie C.R.A.Z.Y., we hung a specific painting in Zach, the main character’s bedroom when he’s a teenager. Zach turns out to be gay. The painting is one he made of the Pink Floyd album cover from Dark Side of the Moon. The prism, the triangle. I picked that album because the prism projects the rainbow, the colors of the rainbow. So it’s like seeing into the future.
AS: In terms of creating the symbolism is that easier to do when you’re building on stages? On location was it just a matter of bringing set dressing?
PV: Bringing set dressing or finding the rooms that suited the vision. It’s not just finding any room that looks great. It’s about finding a room that looks great but also follows the vision.
AS: Tells the story.
PV: Yes, tells the story. We shot the Duchess of Kent’s drawing room at a castle where there was a great regency style room that was just totally, totally over the top. That room was peacock-themed which I thought was perfect for her.
AS: Before you did the short with Jean-Marc that lead to The Young Victoria, you studied at university?
PV: Yes. I started very young actually. I studied sound design at Concordia in Montreal. That’s why I often compare production design with sound design because both create moods. Just as music creates moods, production design should create moods. Good music in a film puts you in a mood but you don’t hear the music -it simply puts you right where you have to be.
AS: The fact that you’ve worked on both soundtracks and production design reminds me of a story. There was this DP working with a new director on a film and they were shooting in a cave. The DP was positioning the lights and the director asked, Where is all the light coming from? We’re in a cave! And the DP said, The same place the music is coming from!
PV: (laughing) That’s funny! That’s a good story. Yes, the last year at Concordia I did a multitude of soundtracks to student films. I wrote the music for the scores and played the music and recording it. My friends for whom I’d done the soundtracks started working as production assistants for commercials so I started doing that too. They hired me when they needed an extra production assistant. And I looked at the people who were doing the set construction -they seemed to be the ones having the most fun! Little did I know they were the ones working the hardest!
Because it was good fun you know- they were passionate people and I wanted to be with those guys. So I did a couple of gigs as gopher, an art department runner, and then I became assistant to a guy who was production designer. Shortly after that I was working on a music video as a PA and the woman who was supposed to do the art direction on the gig was not able to do her job and I was asked the day before the shoot if I could help with the art direction. It was something that I’d never done before and I looked at the director and I said, I think I could have fun but I’ve never done that in my life. He looked at me and he said, You know what, I’m kind of screwed so I can use whatever you can provide me with. So I did four different sets overnight and from then on that director gave me all his music videos. That guy became very, very popular doing music videos. So he helped me build a name for myself. After that I started working with other guys and in 1995 I met Mr. Valée.