Jeremy Comte talks about his Oscar-nominated short film, Fauve


Jeremy Comte discusses filming in quicksand, child actors, symbolism, and being honored in his Oscar-nominated short film, Fauve

Everyone has dreams about sinking, but only Jeremy Comte has taken those nightmares and given them a reality in his Oscar-nominated short feature, Fauve. The story follows two boys, Tyler (Felix Grenier) and Benjamin (Alexandre Perreault) who spend their days playing pranks on each other. Their pranks eventually lead them to a surface mind where Benjamin becomes trapped in quicksand. Tyler is put in a life or death situation that he could never anticipate and his decisions have dire consequences.

Watching Fauve is like a living panic attack. As Benjamin stands in the quicksand, sinking lower and lower, the audience becomes enraptured by what’s happening. What would they do in that situation?

In just under 20 minutes, the movie makes you anxious, scared, and melancholy for the mistakes made and the regrets that characters will live with for the rest of their lives. Director Jeremy Comte sat down with Culturess to discuss his nomination, how he made quicksand out of oatmeal, and more.

What drew you into telling this story?

The story comes from a childhood nightmare I had as a little boy. I was about 10, 11 years old and I used to have nightmares about myself sinking in quicksand. I was fascinated by this emotion and anxiety that I felt through dreams and later on in my life it came back to me. I was like I need to do something about those reoccurring dreams, but also explore elements of my childhood where I used to pull pranks with my friends. I wanted to explore that and the toxic masculinity you can have with boys, those strong rivalries that can happen and the dynamics that are being established; you need to prove yourself a lot and it can become dangerous.

It being nightmarish is so true because this movie spends a lot of time with these boys experiencing things completely alone.

We didn’t want to have adults from the very beginning of the film. We wanted it to be a child’s world, even the truck [at the end] plays on our anxieties as we question where it’s taking place. The only thing we have is that the boys are speaking Quebec French, but that’s it. There’s this lyrical emotion attached to the project.

Was there a belief that you needed to add more history to these characters or was it always planned to be a mystery about their background?

There were a lot of drafts and figuring things out. It was hard to balance things. Most of the ideas stayed there but, for us, it was trying to respect that child’s world where at one point we thought maybe have an adult come to save them but were like that doesn’t work. We wanted them to be alone in that world. I worked a lot with the actors prior to the shoot, going on-location with them [and] we did a lot of rehearsals, but they also helped the story by bringing in ideas, they brought in lines. For example, from the script, the boys are playing in old abandoned cars. When we started scouting we found these amazing abandoned trains and thought “this is so much better.”

Afterwards, I was with the kids and the first thing they wanted to do was explore them, go inside them, and in my mind when I was writing this film they were actually throwing rocks [at cars] but I realized that’s what they would do. Then we went with the story of he locks his friend inside [the train car]. It was a very organic, natural process of refining things. We knew the big action and emotional scenes but we refined it a lot going on-location and thinking about actions.

Can you elaborate on how you wanted to show toxic masculinity through the characters?

The idea of boys don’t cry, boys can’t be so sensitive, they need to be tough all the time. There’s this idea of these two boys playing this game, exploring and going in the right direction but they’re pushing it, they’re pushing it. Slowly they’re forgetting to limit [things] and Tyler pushing his friend crosses that limit. Ultimately, for him, it takes him the whole film to let the sad out and become human and vulnerable. It’s so beautiful to see a young boy cry and become himself. It sadly takes a tragedy for him to let that go and open up. The boys are almost fading into nature, being part of nature that has primitive elements to it, this animalistic instinct. Maybe toxic masculinity comes from those animalistic instincts that by portraying them in nature helps them understand it better. The end of this film Tyler finally opens up and learns from this. Even though this is a sad story it’s important to finish with hope.

What went into finding Felix and Alexandre?

We started casting in Montreal. We auditioned kids from the city, young actors, but it wasn’t working well because they were a bit too proper, a bit too clean. Growing up in the countryside myself I was like “I need that rough around the edges energy.” So we reached out to a lot of schools around the area where we were shooting and auditioned more than 50 kids there. Felix, as soon as he came into the room, he was so confident. We all looked at each other and were like “Wow, this is him.”

It took a bit more time to find Alex, who plays Benjamin. When we found him he was so interesting but we also wanted to cast him as Tyler, too, because he was so strong. In my mind, at first, the character was more intellectual and introverted. But as soon as we started going from 50 [auditions] to 13 to 3, we realized that Alex and Felix were meant to be together. They had natural chemistry between them. They didn’t know each other before but their energy was similar, but they had something where they could be best friends and it was fascinating to see them. They were the duo we needed.

How did you find the mine you used to set the film in?

In my dreams, I was always picturing quicksand in a surface mine so I knew we’d need to find a quarry. We knew this town in Quebec called Thetford Mines that is known for having a lot of abandoned mines around it. So we started scouting on global satellite and went on a trip, scouting [mines] one by one. What’s so funny is the surface mine in the film is the last one we visited and we almost didn’t go. We found something that was okay and didn’t think we’d find something better but at the end of the day we stumbled upon that one and were like “Wow, this is exactly what I was picturing.” It was almost like my dream manifesting itself. I saw it as a lunar landscape almost, super surreal, a huge space. There was this perfect spot at the bottom where it was already a bit muddy so it could be reworked to pull off that stunt.

And how did you pull off making it look like the boys were actually sinking in quicksand?

The ground is pretty solid there and it’s on the surface that’s a bit muddy. This was a big team that was with us and we had a digital effects supervisor who was with us. What they did was they dug the hole torso-high for Alex, so it wasn’t too deep for him. Then they fortified it with wood and filled it with oatmeal. Oatmeal’s pretty comfortable. We had a stunt coordinator trying to figure out how we’d make him sink slowly because I didn’t want to cut. I wanted to have it be a long shot of him slowly sinking. We thought they’d do a platform but that wasn’t working, there were a lot of tests. [Finally] we realized the oatmeal was slowly making him sink exactly how we wanted and it was perfect. At the end, he had to kneel down a bit once he reached the bottom. The real problem in all of this was it was very cold. There was a medic on-set so after every take we were taking [Alex’s] temperature and we had to stop because of that. He was so excited to be in it and was telling people “I was in quicksand.”

Was the ending always how you envisioned it?

I knew I really wanted to end with hope, and there was always an animal at the end and I was trying to find the right way to express that idea. From the beginning there’s a lot of foreshadowing to the two boys, there are a lot of signs that present themselves to them. They don’t listen to the signs around them and at the end, there’s a sign that’s coming again. I feel sometimes a coincidence isn’t always a coincidence, sometimes there’s something more magical to it and you can interpret it a million ways. It took me time to find the right nuance. In the early versions, the fox was there but they didn’t see it in the beginning, but I was like no, it’s a loop and the boy who is pulling pranks has to question what is real and not real. At one point he meets the fox in another way. The animal was there from the beginning but it took time to figure out how to present it.

When I talked to Marianne [Farley] she mentioned when she heard the Oscar nominations she was watching with you. What was it like hearing your own short was nominated?

It was crazy. It’s funny because Marianne and I were represented by the same company so we were in the same building but two different rooms. It was a crazy moment because, I don’t know if she told you, but our live-stream was delayed so she got the news before us. So my phone started vibrating and I didn’t know what was going on but I heard them scream, so I wasn’t sure if it was good or bad. Finally, we heard Fauve and I was with my whole team, my producers, and we just started screaming and jumping. It was very cool. It’s a dream come true.

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You can watch the 91st Academy Awards this Sunday, February 24 on ABC at 5 p.m. PT / 7 p.m. CT.