Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pie is a Paid Actress (Sort of)

I received a forwarded email a few weeks ago about a student production at USC looking for a German Shepherd to use in a film.  It was originally sent to the local German Shepherd club, but they responded back saying all of their dogs (really, ALL of them?) were training for an upcoming herding trial and couldn't help out.  The club said they knew someone with dobermans and would that work?  Sure, said the students, so the email was sent to the doberman lady.  The dobe owner was quite concerned about how her dog would be portrayed in the film.  The dog was to be a war dog in WWII, and she didn't want dobermans being associated with any type of aggression.  Her dog is a therapy dog, and what if someone saw the movie and became afraid of her dog?  Kind of seemed like a moot point to me, since she then went on to say her dog doesn't bark on command, which is something they wanted.  Due to her concerns, she did not want to be involved.  I understand not wanting a negative representation of your breed, but dobermans were historically used as war dogs...  note: as it turned out, Pie didn't even have to bark...

So, THEN the German Shepherd people said we know a gal with Malinois, will that work?  And the poor students probably have no clue what a Malinois is, but I think at this point, their eyes were glazed over from the lengthy response of the doberman owner, and they were getting desperate.  With their affirmative answer, the email was forwarded to me.

I contacted them saying I'd like to help out, but due to the short lead time, I had very limited weekend available.  I said I could do it last Saturday.  The following day I needed to be in Sacramento for Dottie's tracking test (!) and they said they could work around my schedule and get me in and out quickly so I could drive up to Sacramento that afternoon- about a 6 and a half hr drive.

Interestingly, there was some background work I had to do to get ready, such as apply for a one time exception to the USDA permit to exhibit a dog.  The thing that made me nervous about the whole thing was I couldn't 100% get the director to tell me what he wanted the dogs to do.  He mentioned tracking and barking and growling.  I tried to teach them to growl and we are actually making some progress.  I practiced having them stand still and look back over their shoulder and bark at me without turning around.  But I wasn't sure what they really wanted.  My plan was to use Pie, since she looks more like a real Malinois that Dottie, who kind of looks like a tall fox. 

I found the set and had no idea what to do once I got there.  The actual filming was not happening anywhere I could see, so I nabbed the first random person I found and said "I have the dog" and what should I do.  I was then introduced to the second AD, as if I should know what that means.  I guessed the second assistant director.  He introduced me to a few more people, and then finally the person who had corresponded with me, the producer.  The producer was very thankful (and in fact everyone was) that we had come, and kept asking me if I needed anything.  He had bought some treats for the dogs.

I watched a scene rehearsed, then they filmed it,  then they filmed it from the actor's point of view, then from one of the other actor's veiw point, then they added more snow, then they moved the camera around.  Then they thought they might need Pie soon, so I got her out.

The location was in a secluded canyon, and Pie was convinced we were there to hike.  When it is hiking time, she can't stop whining.  Not only is it not impressive for a war dog to whine the whole time, but it wasn't even her turn yet and I was afraid the whining would be heard on camera.  Acting with Malinois- not as easy as it looks!

I wanted to leave her in a crate when it wasn't her turn, but the walk from the cars to the set was long enough that if I had to go get her each time it would hold things up.  And the 1 rickety bridge and other creek crossing with no bridge sort of precluded carrying a crate to the set.

 Let me give a quick synopsis of the movie.  It is based on a true story of 1 of the student's relative.  Set in an Eastern European Country (not sure which one) during or before WWII.  There is a man and a woman and I believe the woman is Jewish and the man is not.  However, the man claims to be Jewish to save the woman, and I think that also saves a bunch of other people.  The movie is only 12 minuets long and is their 3rd project, but not their final one.  They get a tiny bit of budget from the school, and they contribute the rest.  Which is why I said Pie sort of got paid.  And why they didn't get a real dog actress.  They said they couldn't pay me, so I asked for a bit of gas money.  So they gave me $13 (plus the dog treats.)  Hey, I'll take it.

So- Pie's first scene.  "We just need her to walk in on leash with the K9 Guard and the Guard will had the coat to the officer and then she'll walk back off."  For most dogs, that would be super easy.  Pie doesn't walk on a leash.  First take, she walked in on her back legs she was pulling so hard.  They re-did it a few times and actually by the last take she walked normally.  The great part was the guy playing the K9 Guard used to train horses in dressage professionally, so he has a clue about large, possibly unruly animals.  He did a great job with Pie and of course Pie loved him.  As an aside, despite the whining, everyone on set was in love with Pie.

So after me mastered walking on leash, they filmed a wide angle version involving the hero.  Pie walks in, the handler gives the bad guy the coat with the Star of David, the bad guy throws it at the hero, the hero puts it on, and the bad guy shoots him.  The whole time the lines are being spoken, Pie is standing there whining.  So embarrassing.  The handler tried backing up a bit, off camera, and petting her to keep her quiet.  In the wide angle shot, she has to stay there in the shot.  I have the the utility sit signal.  She ignored me.  If they had more time I'm sure I could have gotten her to do it, but they only have 4 weekends to do the whole movie, so time was short.  What they did like was when the poor hero is shot, and falls forward, Pie lunged forward every time.  She was just curious as to why this guy is falling over, but they thought it was really realistic because a war dog would try to get him like that.  The actor was a bit concerned but I assured him it was just harmless "what is this guy doing?"  The funny part is because the handler did keep her from going too far forward, she tried to explore him using her feet.  I hope that is in the movie- Pie reaching for the fallen hero with her front feet.  :)

The next scene was much more to Pie's liking.  Just running through the forest on leash as if they are chasing the hero.  To get her to run away from me, I threw the tennis ball.  Then the director had them turn around and run back.  She came back with the ball in her mouth!  Oh Pie.

Next was her shining moment.  They wanted her to sniff around the base of the tree in some bushes.  I hid my tiny keychain flashlight fob and told her to find it.  Perfect!  The fake snow got on her face.

Lastly she ran through the stream on leash.  She liked that one too.

It was really neat being on set because even though it was a student movie, all the equipment was the real stuff and while everyone was young, they knew all the lingo and were very professional.  I quized the producer and he said most of the people there were in the class, but the actors were SAG and have an agreement with the college.  They don't get paid, but use it to fatten their portfolio.  They are up and coming actors.  Some non- actors were volunteers, again to further their work experience, such as the English young lady working on the costumes.  I watched her make a cap right before my eyes!  And finally, some people are groupies.  There are 12 classes, but only 3 classes are chosen to produce their movie.  You have to pitch it to a board and the board decides.  Then once your movie is chosen, the class decides who is the director, producer, sound guy etc.

I will eventually get a copy of the movie, and I should get tickets to the screening, but it might be a weekend I have to work.  Additionally, they will submit it to different film festivals.
Prop weapons.  And Guard Dogs.
The star of the production and her co-star.
Making snow.
The hero is cornered.
Some more snow.  That is the bad guy walking away.
The questionable bridge.
That long tube was for the fog.
Fog and lights at night.
Our hero and more fog.
I was there from 1 to 7:30.  They knew I had to go to Sacramento, so they tried as hard as they could to get me out quickly, but the director decided he wanted some night scenes.  One other item of note is the lunch was Indian food and I ate some but the chicken was spicy and the rice had way too many surprises in it!

1 comment:

zeeFM said...

what a fantastic experience !