How old is Sally and what kind of dog is she?
Sally , or so we’ve been told, is a border collie lab mix … there are times her scenting ability suggests she must have some hound in there somewhere. We didn’t get to meet her parents or even see pictures so we really have no idea. She was born in June of 2006 making her 6 years old through the filming of Saving Dinah.
Sally has only had two media interviews to date in her role of Spokesdog for Spay/Neuter for Project Jessie -her rescue group. That said, much of her life has prepared her for her role. She has been well socialized since she came into rescue. Her first foster family did a great job loving her and letting her grow up, her adoptive home (even tho it didn’t last long) loved her to bits and since she’s come into our lives she’s been exposed to many new things and had lots of chances to keep her brain active and engaged!
A dear friend Shelly, also Sally’s first foster home, was speaking to the executive producer about trying to fill Dinah’s paws. The script was originally written with a border collie in mind but the director was apparently open to ideas. Shelly thought of Sally and I was asked to speak to the director. We had a nice chat and I cobbled together a little video of Sally being Sally so he could see her before he met her. I have a little bit of experience animal wrangling … for a stage production of Annie, and two different TV shows;Sally is a bright, talented, hard working soul. The rest, as they say, is history!
I think the the number one thing was getting such steady work. She has an amazing, and enviable, work ethic. Sally is full of joy and nothing makes her happier than working. She loves learning new things so every day in every scene she had to learn the way the director wanted something done. She gave it full attention and focus. She also totally enjoyed her fans within the cast and crew and got to the point where she was pretty excited pulling into work!
The hardest day physically for her by far was the beach day. The red ants were biting (me mostly – not her as I was brushing them off her), it was hot and because of continuity she couldn’t swim til we were done. (Imagine a hot dog working her heart out on a beach when they love swimming? That’s what Sally gave us.)
The toughest for her to do was probably one that would usually have been quite easy. She had to listen to a sonnet. Easy enough right? Well, somehow our timing got a little out of sync and Sally became sure there was much much more to it than just listening!
Saving Dinah is a very real movie. It’s a full length feature film that will be opening in LA and various cities in Canada in the fall of 2012.
HAHA – good one – nope! She is spayed and very happy hanging out with her doggy friends and helping take care of the foster baby animals that come through our house!
Not long at all. Once I figure out what I want it to look like and how to “capture” it it’s usually a matter of three or four repetitions before it can go on a cue. Sally has been wholly positively trained and the vast majority of what she has learned has been through shaping. She learned how to weave through my legs in less than a week. One day on set I realized she wouldn’t be able to see the hand signal for down (usually my hand goes behind my back) so I had to teach her a new one (I just put my hand on my head). It took one verbal cue linked to the hand on head for her to ‘get’ it. Have I mentioned she’s a smart girl?
I’m on leave from my job for the next year so we will do agility and learn some new things together and hopefully have fun promoting the film.
As I mentioned above I had the chance to work on 2 TV shows with a wide variety of animals (dogs, cats, bottle fed tiger and calves come to mind!) and a stage production at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto with my senior dog, Brody.
What was the experience like for Sally, do you think she enjoyed it, and
if so, in what way?
I know she enjoyed it. She was always happy on locations and she showed it by happily relaxing with us and by working hard when given the chance. If she hadn't been happy we would have been getting a lackluster performance from her. She snuggled with everybody she could and was always bouncing when she arrived at a shoot.
I imagine that being on the set could be stressful for Sally. Did you do anything to help Sally cope?
Sally is one of the happiest souls I have had the pleasure of knowing. Our relationship is built on fun and trust she rarely gets stressed, that said I had lots of ways to help her enjoy the experience. I realized quite quickly that she liked to say hi to the cast and crew when we arrived so made sure to give her time to do that before she was asked to work. Red Ball came with us quite often and when there was space we'd have a session of fetch, if there was no room for that we'd play a game we call Tug and Release. She had yak cheese chews and sweet potato chews to keep her energy up. I kept the Rollover for the cast who needed her attention in a scene and that worked well. I am very grateful to the cast and crew who heeded my warnings about not feeding Sally without asking as we made it through the five weeks without any flare up of her allergies! Sally and I enjoyed hanging out together. I considered my sole job keeping her comfortable and happy (and the other animals when they were present too), sometimes that meant being uncomfortable myself (amazing how small a space I could squish into) but Sally's love of the game of life and filming made it worth it.
It was extremely hot during much of the shoot, was there anything you did
to help her handle the heat?
The heat was probably my single biggest concern overall for Sally. We traveled with her collapsing crate (aka her tent), a solar and a battery fan, gallons of water, lots of towels and a reflective cover. We don't have ac in the truck and we don't use it at home so she is quite well acclimated to the heat but dogs suffer heat exhaustion much more easily than humans. I was a total shade hog when I needed to be (sorry crew!) and kept cool water nearby at all times. Sally didn't have any compunction about leaving a scene to grab a drink if she needed it. I covered her in wet towels between takes if it was really awful.
One day we had a black lab in the sun for a shoot and one of our amazing cameramen, Micheal, grabbed a white board to fan Tristan to keep him comfy. We were all aware of the heat and worked together to make sure all the animals were comfortable at all times.
What was it like for you being on set with Sally?
It was really interesting, I thought my regular work in TV land would prepare me for the experience but I was wrong. This director was quite willing to have many many takes from a wide variety of perspectives for his editing process. Spending five weeks to get 90 minutes of finished film turns out to be much more painstaking than 1 or 2 days for an episode of TV. Having Sally with me was a nice icebreaker for lots of people. Until we knew each other we could always talk about her!
How do you think Sally perceived what was going on?
I really think she thought of the movie shoot as one great game. What were we going to ask her to do next? Her face when I asked her to open the crate door for one scene was hilarious. "You cannot really mean that? Turn your back and I'll do it!" Some things that people presumed she might not like (loud cheering, being moved in a crate, the smoke machine, the automatic clapboard, being handled by strangers) all meant good things to her so she was happy to give it her all. She knew that at the end of many takes there would be a walk, a snuggle, a tug, a ball and/or a treat for her.
What is it about her that made her able to be Dinah, take direction, let others handle her?
Sally has a great sense of fun. As long as people were willing to embrace her sense of fun she was happy to play with them. I suspect her agility work helped a fair bit too as we have always worked on on what is known as distance skills. Once I realized she was more confident working away from me with some motion I would send her to work ... that seemed to help her realize that whatever was her job and I'd be there as soon as I could. I communicated with her throughout the process; asking her to participate rather than demanding she do anything. Of course it didn't take her long to know Dinah's family on set - in fact in one scene I removed her from the set as she was not happy about the way Caroline was being treated (great human acting obviously!). Sometimes I'm sure I took a little longer than people wanted to create the feeling the director seemed to want but I hope in the long run it paid off. I was a bit of a fuss pot about making sure the animals were safe and comfortable even as they were in "horrible"conditions - I hope all the humans involved understand that I was never trying to be difficult - just protective!
Did you have any reservations about allowing Sally to play Dinah in the film?
Great question. When I signed up I thought it might be four half days of work. Whoops! My biggest reservation going into it was Sally's allergies. I was very clear about my concerns and was thrilled that she never had a flare up. In hindsight, knowing how much work it was I would have had more concerns about the sheer volume of work (I now see why so many purebred dogs get used for films - easier to have doubles or triples!) but Sally was more than up for it. I have a great deal of respect for one of the major film sponsors and knew they would understand if I insisted on a break for Sally. Luckily I only had to call for a 15 minute break once for her. I didn't know the director well so had a few reservations about that at first but quickly realized that he understood the best way to get the shots he wanted was to work with us.
Was this a good experience for Sally?
It was a great experience for Sally. She loves being with me - and on set she often had me all to herself. It built even more strength into an already solid relationship we have based on trust and mutual respect. I'm not sure that many people on the film realized how amazing the work she gave the film was ... she ignored water on a hot day, worked with confidence and relaxation around a smoke machine, ignored joggers, loose dogs, squirrels, bikes, and all sorts of other distractions while on and off leash often 30 feet or more away from me. She lay still, she moved quickly, she barked and was quiet (mostly!) when needed and she gave darn good loving when required. The director could have asked much more of her than he did and she would have given him more. There was no need though. She was, and always will be, a Super Star.