As a production designer I like to be on the set as much as possible, protecting everything we’ve created. It’s hard for me to come up with a plan and then not be there for the execution of it. I think it affects the design of the film. Most of the directors I work with are changing things constantly and I like to be around to make the appropriate adjustments.
AS: Would you say that’s a key quality that a production designer should have? The ability to stay up all night?
JF: I would say passion. And I think if you have passion about what you’re doing you may end up staying up all night. Once I hear about a film, my mind starts working and there’s no way of shutting it off, even if I’m not physically up all night. Once I tune into a project I don’t think about anything else.
AS: What types of preparation and research do you do? Do you watch a bunch of other films?
JF: I try not to watch films except maybe documentaries because I don’t want to use film as a reference for making a film. It seems like inbreeding. You might come up with a weird baby! I research as much writing as possible. I love personal journals from the period I am designing.
AS: Like for The New World.
JF: I read all the Jamestown narratives. Then I started to suspect that they weren’t truthful because the Jamestown Company was a business. They were trying to promote the colonies so they edited the journals before they were published to make Jamestown look better. John Smith’s journals were sent to England and published without him even knowing it. I got suspicious when I read about the fort. The fort was built in thirty days. And one colonist described the wall construction as wide boards. I knew they weren’t boards. Because to get a board in those days they would have had to cut two sides of a log. There’s no way, in thirty days, you’re going to cut boards for over a thousand linear feet of palisade. When I got suspicious of that I got a little skeptical of everything they said.
Then I met Dr. Bill Kelso the archeologist who discovered the real Jamestown fort in 1996. I talked to him about the fort we were planning to build and I said, Well, we’re going to simulate the fort, and I saw on his face he completely lost interest when I said simulate. And I said, What I meant was we’re going to build it exactly as they did in 1607! And then he perked up. And he started giving me all this information. He had found soil stains where every log was. Where each post was set it left a stain. So it was logs, it wasn’t boards. I learned a lot about the first English settlement from Dr. Kelso.
It became fun to build the way they did with wattle-and-daub. In my mind, I was making a documentary about Jamestown. But Terry is a philosopher and he was making a film about Pocahontas being the mother of us all.