Wild Blue YonderPublished November 6, 2007
I recently worked on a documentary shoot that featured vintage airplanes and dogs. What’s the connection, you ask? Through photos, interviews and archival footage, this documentary tells the story of four-legged co-pilots -- from pigs to dogs -- that navigated the skies along with their owners during the early years of aviation. My role was to find dogs to star in several reenactments, and coax the canine actors to perform for the cameras. No small feat, that! My client base afforded me tons of stellar picks for the job, but the documentary required specific breeds, so the pool shrank quite a bit. Unfortunately, a hammy Boston Terrier, like my guy Zeke, wasn’t required. We needed an English Bulldog, so siblings Rosie and Lilly signed on for stardom: Who was most worthy to play the role of an air traveling German Shepherd? None other than Loki the Wonderdog: I pulled a familial favor to secure the final breed needed for the shoot and enlisted my “nephew” dog, Benson the Springer Spaniel: The first set-up of the day seemed fairly easy: just get the dogs to hold a sit-stay in front of a vintage airplane while looking off in the distance. We started with Benson, and his first performance was iffy. Apparently, Benson was sooo happy to be working that he couldn’t keep his tail from wagging his butt right out of the sit. He’d manage to hold the sit-stay for a moment, then you could almost see the grin spread across his face as his rump wiggled madly. He seemed to say, “How’s this? Is this ok? Do you like me? Am I doing a good job?” It took a while, but we finally got the shot. Benson made friends with everyone, despite his less-than-stellar performance: Rosie and Lilly were too short to be visible in the shot, so we propped them up on a crate. Once on their mark they collapsed into rock-solid down-stays, and we got their shots in one take each. And Loki? Perfect, regal, amazing. She raised the bar for her canine competition. “Do you want me to look off on the horizon? Sure, no prob. Now you want a soulful gaze into the camera? How about this?” Thankfully, Benson redeemed himself in his next set-up. We safely secured him into the cockpit of one of the planes in the seat in front of the pilot, and the pilot turned on the propeller. Would the noise freak him out? Would he run for cover? Not a chance! Benson calmly stared towards the whirling prop with his ears flapping in the wind, looking like a starlet in a convertible. It was a glorious moment, and we thought we had the shot of the day. That is, until the next scene. The director approached me with the bad news that the dog scheduled to go up for an actual flight had bitten the pilot (Thankfully, I didn’t bring the biter!). Could one of my dogs could go up instead? Gulp. Due to their size, either Lilly or Rosie were the obvious choices. I chatted with their owner, and to my surprise she loved the idea. She loved it so much that she volunteered to go up as well! (I was happy to do it if she opted out, but no such luck.) We discussed the risks, thought about worst-case scenarios (shudder), and then got the brave duo ready for the most dramatic moment of the day. Off they went, with the cameraman shadowing them in the red plane: It seemed like they were gone for ages. I’ll admit that my heart was in my throat the whole time they were up there. Fifteen minutes later they were back safely on the ground, and we celebrated a job well done. The shoot was a blast, and I think the crew managed to get some truly amazing and adorable footage. The documentary is supposed to come out in December, so I’ll keep you posted!
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