In 1971 a small but rapidly growing mining town called Dampier in Western Australia greeted a newcomer who would change the lives of the people. Dampier is a typical mining community where the land is rich with minerals but also hot and dry. Good money can be made but friendships don’t come easily. That’s where an Australian Kelpie named Red Dog came into town, after hitching a ride, and changed everything.
Now, a Kelpie is the most popular working dog Down Under and some of these dogs even resemble the Dingo. Among its characteristics are: loyal family member, friendly, intelligent, and has incredible stamina. As for Red Dog, well, he shows stamina and intelligence since he manages to travel extensively through Western Australia by hitchhiking. The idea of being a loyal family member caused him to deliberate when seeking the right master. Until that was solved, he remained friendly and adopted the whole town, while, at the same time, managing to unite it. This true story was based on a book written by the British author Louis De Bernieres who saw a statue of Red Dog in Western Australia in 2002.
The film begins with the dog on his death bed. Touched by grief, the various miners weave together the many adventures that they had had with Red Dog. They even tell how Red Dog found his master, an American named John (Josh Lucas) who never stayed more than two years in one place and wasn’t interested in dogs. The strange and sudden death of John left Red Dog in a quandary so that he began his relentless traveling throughout Western Australia and thus become a legendary figure. He was seen as far as Perth and all the way up to Darwin in the ‘80s. I naturally had to see the film since my own dog seems to have extraordinary abilities and is slowly claiming his fame in our area of Hamburg.
After the movie we had a Q & A with director Kriv Stenders and editor Jill Bilcock who, with their witty sense of humor, explained how they put the project together.
Question: Just how difficult is it to work with a dog
and a cat on the set?
Stenders said that he bought four dogs and one cat. Of the dogs, Koko clearly was destined for stardom. For a quick look at Koko’s Red Dog screen test, check it out on YouTube; it is quite hilarious. They both said that it was tricky with the cat and they had to do a lot of creative filming since the cat wasn’t working well with the dogs. Surprise, surprise!! They said that the cat was actually a bad cat and lived up to his character in the film. He said he was happy about giving the cat away after the film was finished but he plans to hold on to the dogs.
Bilcock is considered one of the best editors worldwide. She is known for her work on Moulin Rouge, Elizabeth and many other films. She said that this film was easy to edit since it had upbeat 70’s music and the interweaving stories were fairly straight forward. The hardest part was editing the cat but that’s where tricks came into play.
Recently I talked with Andrea Geise, a dog trainer with a company called Happy mit Hund, about her experience with dogs in films and advertising. She said that the reason that they have different dogs to do the work is, first of all, they do have short attention spans as well as different strengths and weakness which can be used in a film. In her opinion, dogs aren’t that difficult to work with since there are many tricks which help you get through the scene. Using treats hidden under something or throwing a ball through a set so the dog chases after it are common tricks. She described two scenes where the actor had to put the dog on his lap and lie down with liverwurst smeared on the side of his face so that the dog would lick his face on film. She had to hide behind the couch, using a squeak toy, so the dog would then spring over the couch to her. My favorite story is where she said that they needed a dog to fletch his teeth. Usually they put chewing gum in their gums but her dog hates chewing gum so they had to use a tampon instead. She said the hardest part is working with impatient directors and teams where you sit there eight to 10 hours and wait for the 15 to 30 minutes of shooting. Both dog and trainers get paid per day but you need a lot of patience since you have to make that 15-minute shot work and the rest of the time just wait around. She said that she even had to train three dogs to chase after a runner for an advertisement but then had to un-train them since you don’t want dogs which habitually chase joggers. So it’s not a job for everyone but only for those who have patience.