From Montreal to Melbourne, Foe Production Designer, Patrice Vermette, says he was delighted to travel to Melbourne in order to collaborate with Aussie Director Garth Davis. "We have a good mind connection, so when Garth called, I said, 'absolutely'."
Foe balances futuristic and olden day aesthetics in equilibrium, Patrice explains. Primarily shot in Victoria's eerily sparse Winton Wetlands; this unique landscape covers more than 20,000 acres of scorched earth with tens of thousands of petrified trees. Located about 240 kms northeast of Melbourne, the Wetlands served as the ideal dystopic setting for Foe. “For the story we wanted to tell, it was perfect,” Patrice said.
Hen and Junior’s centuries-old farmhouse contrasted starkly against futuristic design elements like a spaceship; both of which inspired the Canadian production designer to make the trip to Australia.
The creation of the spaceship, a vertical chicken farm and an ultramodern car from the ‘government entity’ all demanded meticulous planning and innovation from the production design team. In collaboration with Wētā Workshop, they crafted a seamless fusion of the familiar and the otherworldly in a self-driving car. “It’s not over-the-top futuristic,” Patrice says. “There are elements that we recognise from cars of today [inspired by the 1980s Citroën Katrin concept car and a 1970s Lotus Esprit], so it’s not distracting for the audience.”
“I think for the audience to believe in these aspects of the story, you need to ground everything in a reality, without overthinking or overdesigning anything. We filmed on a real chicken farm, for example, and the chicken towers we created are directly inspired by what we witnessed at that farm, but with an exponential growth in capacity to illustrate what mass production might be in 60 years’ time.”
One of the most impactful aspects of Patrice's journey making this film in Australia, he says, was the warm welcome of the Yorta Yorta people, the First Nations People of the country at Winton Wetlands. “We were humbly welcomed by the Yorta Yorta people.” Their collaboration was not just a formality, Patrice says, but a genuine exchange of culture and respect.
The importance and contribution of local talents continued when the production moved to Docklands Studios Melbourne. “Ross Murdock, the Construction Coordinator was one of the most imaginative construction managers I've ever seen. [His work] was brilliant and his way of approaching this project saved us a lot of money and allowed us to go above and beyond. I've learned a few tricks from him. Rohan Dawson, our Head Scenic, and his mate [Senior Stage Hand] Stuart Jones were also brilliant, I actually stole them after the movie and took them onto another project in Budapest. The Australian crews were perfect.”
“Montreal is extremely similar to Melbourne,” Patrice continues. “This gave us all a shorthand working together, because the way we make movies is similar. This project reminded me of when we did Arrival in Montreal, that was a special project. And Foe is totally a special project.”
Staying in Melbourne’s inner-north neighborhood of Fitzroy, Patrice appreciated the 15-minute drive to Docklands Studios. “We were living in Fitzroy, which was super cool. My wife actually found the house where we stayed through a website, and it ended up being – of all the houses in Melbourne – [Australian cinematographer] Greig Fraser's house.”
As for shooting in Melbourne and regional Victoria, Patrice is ready to come back. “I fell in love with Australia. I made some really good friends and the saddest part is that they’re on opposite sides of the world. But I hope to come back.”
In an era dominated by pocket-sized digital screens, Patrice is pleading with people to experience Foe on the big screen.
“I just hope that audiences will go to the theatre to watch it because it's a movie that I think is worth seeing at the cinema, as a communal experience.”
Foe is currently screening in cinemas