Friday, May 15, 2009

Best Eyebrows in the Business

We just wrapped episode 4 of the new Lifetime series "Drop Dead Diva," a legal drama slash comedy...a 'dramady' if you will.

Anyway, this episode called for many dogs. I won't give away the plot because its good and I don't want to spoil it for anyone who decides to watch it. But, I will say that the dog we used for the job was a gorgeous Golden Retriever and if you've read my blog, you know how much I LOVE Golden Retrievers. This great dog's name is Buzzy and Buzzy played a part with Diedrich Bader's character. They were together throughout the entire episode.

The thing that struck me the most about Buzzy aside from his stunning confirmation and calm temperment were his eyebrows. They were perfectly wrinkled with a velvet coating of golden honey-like fur surrounding his soft brown eyes. His eyebrows were by-far his most expressive feature and played wonderfully with Diedrich Bader's equally expressive countenance. Buzzy would lay his head down, chin on the floor and roll his big eyes up and from side to side while arching a single eyebrow in a quizzical and near comic look.

I'm really glad someone was there filming it!

Those eyebrows will definitely play well on television and I know director Larry Trilling and the whole crew at Drop Dead Diva captured the very best that Buzzy had to offer. Look for Drop Dead Diva on Lifetime in July.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Year of Horror

When the year started, we had no idea what lay ahead of us as wranglers. The Georgia legislature had enacted some very appealing tax incentives for film work in the state and we expected there would be a lot of movies this year, but without inside information there was no clue as to what kind of productions we’d see roll through.

Now, here we are at the beginning of the second quarter, and we’ve already wrangled four features in as many months, three of which fall into the genre of Horror. At first, I thought this was a fluke, just a coincidence. But then I got another call for ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ which is being reprised in Chicago.

I suppose the public always has a bit of blood lust. But, could it be that the arts are responding to the societal angst that seems to be at the forefront of every headline? Is the spirit of our age that horrific?

As a wrangler, we’re thrilled to be working on such interesting projects. Our animals are making appearances as ghostly visions and as counterpoint to man’s dehumanization in the face of terrifying consequences. We have been fortunate to work on films written by some of the masters of horror like George Romero, Wes Craven and John Carpenter. The experience has been memorable but I’m worried. How deep does this thirst for carnage run?

After last year’s election which resounded with calls for hope and change, one can only expect the arts to catch up and start mirroring the seeds of recovery and renewal that are now being sown. With any luck, we’ll start to see heroes again rather than monsters and villains. As we work through these long nights, trying to keep our animals warm and ready to perform, I keep reminding myself that it’s always darkest before the dawn.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Golden Retarded

When I received a call from Invisible Fence about a big photo shoot on April 17, we were particularly excited because that was the same day a movie we had worked on called "That Evening Sun" was premiering in Knoxville, close to the location of the photo shoot. It was a perfect coincidence and we were really looking forward to a full day of dog work and then some entertainment.

With over 10 dogs, several cats and a bunch of kids, we started the day with some fantastic performances by our cats Trip and Blue Tooth along with Monarch the Papillon, Skeeter the Blue Merle Aussie cross and a host of other fine animals. Both Carol and our daughter Devon were chosen as models for the shoot and the day was going almost flawlessly. Since there was so much to do, everything was scheduled down to the minute and we were supposed to be done by 5 PM which would give us just enough time to get to the theater for the premier. the old saying goes, "Man plans and the gods laugh."

The big joke was on us and came in the form of a Golden Retriever. I had a choice of several dogs but decided to call on a woman, who will remain nameless, that I had hired in the past because of her beautiful dogs which are of Westminster quality. I explained the job, sent out our pre-shoot instructions of what was required and received a confirmation from everyone who was going to attend the shoot. I was confident we had a winning team of dogs and handlers.

Shortly after lunch, we got to the scene with the Golden. At the time, I was busy putting a dog back in the trailer and Carol began the wrangling for that particular set-up. When I returned, Carol gave me an exasperated look. The Golden was not holding still. Evidently, he had no training other than what was required for the breed ring (which is next to nothing). Carol and the owner had tried a stand stay, a sit stay and a down stay and the dog wasn't having any of it. The owner wasn't helping the issue by continually calling the dog's name and tossing food on the ground in front of him. We quickly put an end to the owner's participation but the damage was done and, at this point, the Golden couldn't hold still for more than 1/2 a second.

Now this wasn't our first rodeo and we had run into this issue before. Since there wasn't time to train this dog on the spot, we resorted to what we call a "crab trap." A crab trap is a light piece of coated wire with a small snap on either end which we attach to the collar and then stake to the ground in such a way that you can't see it and holds the dog in the proper position. We prefer to have a trained dog that will hold a stay of its own accord, but this device has worked on numerous occasions and has facilitated what could have been near-impossible. I ran to the trailer to fetch the gear we needed.

Without wasting a minute, we rigged the crab trap. I don't know why but the owner got all excited again and began her baiting and calling his name. I think her intentions were good but her timing and her technique were just bad enough to motivate the dog to break no less than two crab traps in the short period of time we had left for this set-up. Having broken free, the Golden was now sure that the crab traps were flawed and could be overcome. In the end, they got the shot they needed but none of us felt that we had gotten the best out of the dog.

We went back to work and plowed through the rest of the day without fault. We had a great Yorkie, a fantastic Great Dane, a stunning Weimeraner and a nice French Bulldog. They all performed like pros. Then came the final shot of the day and wouldn't you know it, it was with the Golden again.

I have to admit to being somewhat complicit in this debacle because I had really wanted to use this woman's dogs. I could have chosen several others we have at our disposal but these guys have great heads and beautiful confirmation. I pumped this woman up about the job and I guess she really didn't listen to me when I had described what behaviors we needed nor did she read the pre-shoot email we sent out which spelled it all out. Maybe she did read it but thought her dogs were exempt because of their beauty. Isn't that always how it works? I am seriously tempted to tell a blond joke at this point but I will refrain because I have too many sharp blond friends.

At any rate, we went straight to the crab traps again. We only needed him to hold still for 2 seconds. This, unfortunately, was two seconds too long and, as a result, this set-up ended up being the longest shot of the day. So long, in fact, that we ended very late and missed the premier of "That Evening Sun."

Now don't get me wrong, I love dogs, all dogs...even the seemingly dumb ones. This poor dog had no clue and it was obvious he had never been challenged to learn anything his entire life. I heard the owner say that she had ten dogs at home. For her, I'm fairly certain that meant she had ten dogs in the kennel and that they were being kept for show and breeding, taught to be groomed, walk on a lead and stack in the show ring for examination by a judge. Being under control off lead and holding still at his handlers bidding was not in his vocabulary and I believe the owner knew this but ignored the details thinking the dog's beauty would make up for the lack of performance. This dog wasn't dumb, he just didn't know any better. But the owner did know better and that earned her the title of Golden Retarded.

Monday, April 13, 2009

"That Evening Sun" - Upcoming Atlanta Premier

This last summer we worked on a movie called "That Evening Sun" starring Hal Holbrook, Ray McKinnon and Walt Scoggins. This movie is about an old man who gets frustrated with his sedentary life in an old folks home and decides to go back to his family farm only to find that his son has rented it out with an agreement to sell to someone the old man dislikes immensely. The story is about the clash between the two. The dog we used for the job, named Dually, was perfect and plays an intregal role in the development of the plot. This was one of our best castings yet. Dually and Hal Holbrook were both suited for their parts and we're very excited about the film. It recently received accolades at the South by Southwest Film Festival and we anticipate more awards for "That Evening Sun" in the future. The film will premier at the Atlanta Film Festival on Sunday, April 19 and also in Knoxville (where it was filmed) this Friday. We're looking forward to attending one of the showings.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

It's Hard Watching Them Grow Old

When I opened Atlanta Dogworks in 1996, we were bright-eyed and full of hope. With a lot of hard work and some luck, all of our dreams have been fulfilled. But, one of the unforeseen bits of fall-out from our abundantly successful dog boarding business is that many of the dogs who became like family to us when we first opened are now growing old and passing away. I never anticipated this but it is now a weekly, if not daily, occurrence to get a phone call with sad news. It's hard enough losing one of our own but hearing the despair and sadness in our clients voices is heartbreaking. Despite having gone through this experience with my own dogs many times now, my skin has not gotten any thicker and the dull ache of losing a loved one is no easier to bear. Our thoughts and best wishes go out to anyone who has lost a best friend, four-legged and furry or otherwise. This post is in memory of Ansley Kelly and all the other dogs that have made caring for other people's pets such a pleasure. We love them all!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Movie Madness

Last Monday was our busiest day ever as dog wranglers. Three feature film productions came together in the same 24 hour period to create the "perfect storm." We started the day on the set of Zombieland which I have described in an earlier post. We wrapped Zombieland at about 2 PM, just in time to hightail it down to Perry, Georgia about 2 hours south of the Atlanta metro area. We were handling two Belgian Malinois in a "quarantine checkpoint" scene for The Crazies, a remake of the George Romero classic. On the way to Perry we got a call from Rob Zombie's Halloween 2, which we had been working on for over a month. H2 was being filmed in Covington, Georgia, east of Atlanta. When Carol and I arrived at The Crazies, Ashley was waiting for us with three Malinois. Two of the three were narcotic interdiction dogs and wired for sound. The third was a retired police dog and much more mellow. Ashley had also brought Arko, the German Shepherd who was scheduled to play on H2 the next night. He had brought Arko on my instructions because we had a feeling his scene for H2 might get moved up. We were right, H2 needed him and we had to send Ashley and Arko along with the third Malinois back to Covington for a 2 AM call. Meanwhile, Carol and I waded through the 350 extras milling around trying to get fitted in military MOPP suits for the checkpoint scene. All the suits were filled with charcoal, which I suppose was an additional filter for biohazards, but made the suits even more uncomfortable. (The only biohazards we were going to encounter that night were easily cleaned up with a pooper scooper!) The gas masks had had the filters removed which also functioned to reduce the amount of condensation in the mask. This left us with fogged up lenses pretty much all night. It was freezing cold, miserably uncomfortable and really loud with helicopters buzzing overhead and a mob scene being orchestrated. This was not a glamorous bit of film work but I know it made a great visual. All in all, we survived the Perfect Storm!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Saved by Aunt Jemima - On the set of Zombieland

When we first got into the kitchen, the setting for our first scene of the day with Woody Harrelson, I had to get Sully, the puppy that Abigail Breslin had rescued while filming here in Georgia, accustomed to the stool she had to sit on. I started to hand feed the puppy and it appeared she would be comfortable. Before I could get too far, Woody stopped me and gave me the dead eyed Natural Born Killers stare that had made Oliver Stone's movie so successful. He asked me, "Do you have any vegan dog treats?" I cocked my head sideways, like a confused dog, wondering whether he was joking or not. Baffled, I asked him in disbelief, "Are you serious?" At which point the room full of people went silent...a very uncomfortable pause and, for me, a little scary. Evidently, he was serious and had concerns about being licked in the next scene. He had, afterall, been a vegan for 25 years and I, unprepared for this twist in the plot, had no vegan treats. Thinking quickly, I improvised by feeding Sully pieces of the prop pancakes the stylists were using for the scene. This worked until she discovered they were near-inedible at which point Ruben, the director, suggested peanut butter. (I don't know why but everyone thinks peanut butter will fix any attention issue for a dog on set. Unfortunately, it comes with a bunch of licking and smacking not to mention it gets everywhere). Trying to keep things neat, I quickly countered by offering the Aunt Jemima syrup which was already on the table. Everyone agreed, the syrup worked great and actually became part of the action. Sully loved it and I think it played well. Abbie Breslin was funny afterward and said she'd prefer her dog not to have to eat vegan treats in the future!