Most dog trainers enter canine sports venues to showcase or to test their training skills. I make movies.
I have always been fascinated by animal actors. Dogs in particular. Over the years I have enjoyed watching some brilliantly trained movie and TV dog actors. Many movie makers today use computer digital enhancement programs to manipulate animal's faces and movements. Done subtly, this is barely noticeable -- a slight smile, a lift of the eyebrow. Done overtly, it gives animals cartoon-like human expressions and movements which I personally find distracting -- and somewhat disturbing. However, I always thoroughly enjoy watching any well-trained animal actor in an engaging story.
When it comes to creating movies, different film makers have different styles. Here is how I go about writing my script and shooting a movie.
First, I decide what the overall theme will be -- comedy, mystery, fantasy, etc. Then I decide on a title. Once I have the title, I write a one or two line 'mission statement' explaining the gist of the movie. Jyah's registered name is "Mydramagic Wizard of Ahhs" and I knew that for his first movie I wanted a semi-fantasy theme. My statement for "The Wizard" reads: "It was the young Wizard's mission to help his person learn the art of joyful living, but between the bungling of his Advisor Dragon and the interference of his sister, Sydney, Jyah's task was not going to be easy." The title and that sentence formed the basis for everything I subsequently wrote in the script.
took the dogs with me while I ran several errands. (The Errands Scene worked well for using several trained movements that I wanted to incorporate into the movie.) I trained Sydney to scent retrieve one pair of glasses out of several lying on a low table -- knowing that there was a similar table at my optician's clinic. (My optician allows dogs in his clinic and I always take the dogs with me when I go there.) In this sequence, I ask Sydney to pick out a pair of frames that she thinks will look good on me from several pairs of glasses on a table.
After I've thought of ways to use the actions/behaviors that I want to incorporate into the movie, I then lay all the cards out on a table and begin fitting them into a pattern that flows towards a logical climax. This give me an outline for how and where each action/behavior will be used and I can then begin filling in the story.
In the first few minutes of the movie, I want to give the audience a sense of the place, the mood, and the theme of the story. In the opening scene of "The Wizard," Jyah is asleep on my bed with his front leg thrown over a toy dragon. A dream sequence of dragon images follows. This establishes that Jyah is a main character in this story and that he has an affinity for dragons (which tells the viewer that this story is probably not totally realistic). Next, I introduce the other main players. Sydney and I intrude on Jyah's sleep and this sets up that I'm a very busy, no-time-for-fun person. This is the catalyst of the story -- that Jyah wants to help the person he loves learn to enjoy the important things in life. The audience now knows what the story will be about.
Every scene that follows asks the question, "Will Jyah be able to help his person learn to relax and enjoy life the way dogs do?" Once that question is raised, everything that happens in the story relates to that question. I also know how I want the movie to end and this helps me direct every scene towards that conclusion.
Most movies and plays are in three acts. In the first act the audience learns about the characters. In Act Two we see what is motivating the character and find out about the conflict he faces. (There must always be some kind of conflict to make a good story.) The climax usually happens near the end of the movie, followed by a short resolution of loose ends.
Each scene in the movie has a cause-effect relationship with the next scene in order to advance the action. But, some scenes might simply be there to tell more about a character. In one previous scene I have just told Jyah that I can't take him and Sydney to the park because I have to run some papers to town and when I get home I also have to clean the house. In the scene that follows, Jyah decides that he and Sydney should clean the house while I'm gone. This scene shows Jyah's caring nature and his desire to make my life easier. This scene also shows his kid sister, Sydney's, somewhat frivolous nature.
Once I've written the script, I then break each scene down into how I will visually present it on-screen. Each individual scene also has its own three acts -- a clear beginning, a middle, and an end. In an early scene of the movie, I'm briskly urging the dogs to run an obstacle course. In the beginning of the scene, I'm encouraging the dogs to go over, under
To do this, I visualize each scene from start to finish and think about the mood I want to create. In one of my completed movie segments, on average, there will be around sixteen different shots per each minute of screen time. Among others, these shots might include a close-up (face or just eyes), a cut-away (to something else in the scene that relates to the plot), a wide shot (that includes the characters and where they are), and camera shots from several different angles, heights and distances, etc. I learn a lot about camera techniques by studying the way cameramen shoot different shots in movies.
Finally -- we're ready to begin shooting the movie. This is where all my preplanning keeps me from wasting time, effort, videotape and the player's nerves. In one of the Errands Scene sequences, the dogs and I are delivering a large birthday box to a friend. The trick I wanted to showcase in this one-minute segment was Jyah getting my keys out of the ignition of the van, shutting the van door, and carrying the keys. These are the sixteen shots that went into this sequence and my husband (my cameraman) simply followed my shot list.
1 thru 3. Three different shots (different angles) of our van arriving at the house.
Movie making is time consuming and challenging -- but extremely rewarding. Making dog movies gives me the opportunity to put many of my dogs trained behaviors (and those of my friend's dogs) into an engaging story. It also gives me a document of my dogs' lives that I will enjoy and treasure long after they are gone. Hopefully other people will find these movies enjoyable and rewarding to watch as well.
Now, wouldn't you like to give movie making a try? And, when you've finished, let me know. I'd love to see your movie!
Each of the above sixteen shots that I used in the final edit was selected from approximately 40+ video clips since each of the sixteen shots was shot two or three different ways so I would have choices when I edited the sequence. (We aways do this if possible.) Having each shot taken from different angles and/or frame sizes gave me choices so I could seamlessly fit the shots together when editing. In the end product, I wanted the audience to be unaware of all the different shots that went into this one-minute sequence. On a side note, this shoot was particularly 'difficult' because there were two feral cats (that my friend had been feeding) who refused to budge from the steps where they seemed to be particularly enjoying the 'entertainment.'
Another problematic time was when we were shooting clips at a narrow old single-lane bridge that spanned a river. In the movie, the 'dark force' had taken Jyah's newest toy dragon and had hung it by a rope twelve feet down from the middle of the bridge. Again, we wanted to get three different angles of Jyah saving his dragon. (He did each shot so spectacularly that I ended up using all three.) Our problem was that although this is not normally a well-traveled bridge we had to keep gathering up Jyah and the equipment and dashing off the long bridge each time a car came across.
Next, I listed all of the behaviors I wanted to showcase in the movie. I wrote each on a 3" x 5" card and began thinking of ways I could use each one in my story -- always keeping in mind the type of story I want to tell -- and making sure every action fell under the umbrella of my title and my mission statement. Then I began imagining ways each "trick" might be used. For instance, in one scene I wanted to show Sydney doing a scent retrieve. I wrote a scene where I
and through obstacles and I'm grading them on each one completed. The tension builds faster and faster in the middle of the scene until Jyah inadvertently knocks me out when I'm standing too close to the end of the seesaw. At the end of the scene, Jyah and Sydney find a way of resolving the problem of reviving me.
I also try to make sure each scene is a contrast to the ones on either side of it. I do this by making each scene different in some way. One scene might be at night, the next in daylight, one scene inside, the next outside, one scene where the dogs are happy, one where they are scared, etc. Also, I'll have some long sequences and some short ones to help the pace of the movie.
The last thing I do before we start shooting the movie is to break each scene down and list all the camera shots.
11. A high shot of all three of us coming up the stairs (Jyah still carrying keys).
Notice that there are 'three acts' in this short one-minute sequence -- a beginning (we arrive at house -- sets up what's to come), a middle (the action in the scene) and an end (we leave).
After we've shot all the video needed for a scene or a sequence from a scene, I log the footage I want to use and import each logged clip into my computer. I put my first clip (the first one for that scene) into my timeline. If I'm not using the sound on that clip, I delete it: if I'm using the sound, I leave sound/visual intact but turn off the sound. Having no sound forces me to concentrate strictly on the visual. Without the distraction of sound, it's easier to tell if what I'm seeing makes sense.