AS: You directed a few feature films yourself. How was that different from production designing?
JF: I enjoyed directing but I love designing for films.
The thing that was difficult for me about directing was you’d first have an idea and then you’d talk to a writer and get a script together and then go to a studio and try to get money. And then get actors the financiers would approve. The whole process took a couple of years. I found that I would rather get called when the studio already has the money. Work hard in a creative position and leave the day shooting ends.
AS: Do you ever oversee visual effects that go on after principal photography?
JF: On Tree Of Life there were a lot of visual effects but I really wasn’t involved. Terry knew what he wanted so I had no concerns. On Water for Elephants we were shooting the desert in California for New York State so all the backgrounds were put in with CG matte paintings. I worked with the people at Crazy Horse Effects during shooting. I made some models and gave them my suggestions, but I knew I wouldn’t be around when they were working on the matte paintings. I did do some work planning a scene on the Fox lot’s Mulberry Street to illustrate to the director how extensions could work there.
AS: Does it bother you not to be there when they’re working on the visual effects?
JF: That’s just the nature of the beast because they’re not going to pay us to hang around for months. The solutions that I come up with are to do as much physical, practical work as possible to avoid CGI and when there is extensive CGI just to figure it out as much as possible before shooting is completed. If you’re shooting a scene where you know there’s going to be a lot of CGI you really have to have an idea of what the extensions are going to be before you even shoot it. And then you just pray. It’s never quite up to your standards but that’s just the limitation of the business.
The best situation was Avatar where Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg were working together. Because Robert was in years before Rick Carter and years after with an extensive knowledge of visual effects, the art department was represented throughout. Rob loves to paint and he’s got a good eye. So they had the best of both worlds there. Stromberg did some of the matte paintings for us on Water for Elephants. Most of us need an education on how the process works and the options available.
AS: Like Robert Stromberg and Rick Carter you shared an art director credit on Carrie but I understand it was a different scenario…
JF: When I did Days of Heaven in 1976 I wasn’t in the union but Canada said, Sure, you can work here. But when I did Carrie we were in Culver City and the producers ended up having to pay a union art director to do nothing. We never even saw him. They just said, Pick a name. Pick somebody. We’ve got to sign off on it. For all the days I worked on Carrie a union art director was getting paid and he never came to the lot. That’s how the union worked for a long time.