Film & TV Set Design Work

The Early Years

The creations by Foy & Co have featured in TV and film productions for more than fifteen years, from Made in Dagenham to His Dark Materials. Maria and Liam Foy explain how their company helps art directors and set deecorators bring movie dreams to life...

Foy & Co’s first film commission was a giant banner which read ‘We Want Sex’. This was the working title of the film that was eventually released as Made in Dagenham, about the women machinists from the Ford Dagenham plant who went on strike for equal pay. The story goes that when the women marched on Westminster in 1968, they carried a banner saying ‘We want Sexual Equality’. But the banner didn’t completely unfurl, so the only words visible were ‘We Want Sex’. Barbara Castle, Labour’s then employment secretary, is reputed to have leaned out of her office window, done a double take and said ‘Don’t we all darling?’.

That first foray into the movie world saw Foy & Co’s creative team making all the furniture for Barbara Castle’s Whitehall office set, as well as a ballroom setting complete with swags and tails, and the pattern pieces for the car seats and interiors that the Dagenham women sewed.

It’s appropriate that their first production was a story about sewing skills, creative energy and dogged determination, because these are the ingredients that come into play when Foy & Co takes on a film or TV project.

‘We often create huge pieces to tight deadlines and we’ve never let anyone down,’ says Maria Foy, who began creating high-end curtains and upholstery at the tender age of sixteen, when she completed an art college course and served an apprenticeship under Cardiff based perfectionist, Barbara Smith. ‘We offer a 24-hour service and sometimes it takes determination, defiance and sheer get-up-and-go to complete the project,’ she adds. ‘When you’re tired, you have to find the strength in your gut to keep going and just do it.’

Choice and Reliability

Foy & Co’s 100% record for reliability is a key reason why production designers, art directors and set decorators keep coming back to them. Their huge range of fabrics is another reason. Hundreds of fabrics are stocked at the company’s warehouse in South Wales.  ‘We offer a one-stop shop for productions,’ explains Liam Foy, who started his career in the antiques trade before developing a fabric retail business. ‘We provide the fabrics and we make the products.’

The wide range of fabrics and round-the-clock service provide an important resource for clients, especially when a fast turnaround is needed. ‘Once, we were asked at 10pm to create a pair of curtains to a particular design for Agatha Raisin,’ says Maria. ‘Because we had chocolate velvet in stock, and we were already working that night in the studio, the customer was able to collect the finished curtains at half past midnight.’

The company also has a large network of industry contacts which allows them to quickly source anything not stocked, including specialist items. The finished products can be delivered anywhere in the world, too. ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re in London, Manchester or Merthyr Tydfil,’ says Maria. ‘We can courier things anywhere. We have clients in the USA and we send all sorts of items overseas. For example, we made horses’ outfits for Dracula which were couriered to Slovenia.’

As well as making items to order, Foy & Co also hire out taxidermy and furniture. ‘You don’t necessarily have to buy it, you can rent it from us,’ says Liam. ‘We can also source all sorts of items for sets.’

Period detail and explosions

Because the team has vast expertise in upholstery and soft furnishings, they are often asked to provide period curtains and furniture for productions. Projects have included seating for airships in His Dark Materials, pelmets and bedheads for Upstairs Downstairs, and enormous Austrian blinds for The Pursuit of Love, where 12 metres of voile were used to create blinds with a 5 metre drop.

‘We are used to making 16th and 17th century mattresses out of rough linen,’ says Maria. ‘We’ve done everything from a four-poster bed for Tredegar House to a sofa in the shape of a pair of lips for a Welsh TV series. We’ve made some very large pieces of furniture, for example for the sets of King Charles III and The Gentlemen.’

After being on set, the furniture has a special kudos and might be sold at the end of the production. ‘The items are sought after because they have notoriety,’ explains Maria. ‘For example, we made about 40 pieces of furniture for Quartet and some of it was bought by clients when it came back, because it had been used by Billy Connolly or Maggie Smith.’ 

But frequently, the items provided by Foy & Co have a worse fate. ‘A lot of our furniture goes up in flames,’ says Maria. ‘It’s newly upholstered and it’s set on fire straight away! Or it’s blown up, or shot to pieces. We’ve made exploding car headrests, and for one production we had to make the same car seat covers several times over, because after being exploded and blood spattered, there would be a retake.’

Whether the items survive or not, the variety of objects Foy & Co are asked to make is one of the joys of working in film and TV, says Maria. ‘There is no typical thing that we do. It’s always very different.’ Some of the more unusual projects have included a padded cell for Moriarty in an episode of Sherlock, a leather wheelchair for the 2015 TV movie, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a medieval castle backdrop made from chain mail, and, for the 2009 TV series Grandpa in My Pocket, a seat for the eponymous Grandpa which allowed things to jump out of it.

Replicas are a frequent requirement, because Foy & Co can often produce a replica more quickly and cheaply than the production team can source the original. For example, Foy & Co created the interior of a Jumbo Jet for an episode of Sherlock, because this was far more cost-effective than hiring the plane for a day. For His Dark Materials, the company created replicas of Arctic tents. ‘They couldn’t get real Arctic tents made for two or three months and the cost was astronomical, so we made several complete replicas within a week,’ explains Maria.

Finding solutions

Another challenging project was a marquee for Ironclad. ‘We were asked to make a replica of the marquee where the Magna Carta was signed. We had to think about a way to suspend the huge tent in the studio and allow the cameras to access it at every angle. I decided to attach Velcro to every panel, so it could be taken off and put back again, and I also used Velcro on the outside to attach it to the frame, which made filming easier.’

This inside-out marquee is a good example of a project where the customer provided the vision, and Foy & Co had the practical expertise to make the concept work. ‘Customers do the historical research and give us a design,’ says Maria, ‘but we have to work out the practical details of how to turn it into reality.’

Their winning combination of practical design skills, creative vision and utter reliability has seen Foy & Co work for several award-winning art directors and set designers, and on some major productions.

For the future, the Foys hope to continue expanding their film and TV portfolio while serving their long-standing customers.  ‘We’d love to do a James Bond film!’ says Liam, slightly tongue in cheek. But all their clients receive the same five-star service with an ironclad guarantee.

‘We understand that in this industry we have to deliver on our promises. When we say we will do something, we do it.’

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