Pick of the Litter
by directors Dana Nachman and Don Hardy
It goes without saying that we are dog lovers! In the time that we have been filmmaking partners we have had five dogs, and we both have enjoyed all the love, companionship, drama and fun that comes with our furry friends. In our former lives as journalists for NBC, we had done several stories about an amazing organization called Guide Dogs for the Blind. Through these stories, we saw vividly how the amazing human/canine connection, that we knew personally, could be taken to a whole other level: these dogs could open up the world for people and even save lives.
Once we became filmmakers, with five films under our belts, we were looking for our next film. We returned to those emotionally charged stories we did back at NBC. We have always been fans of competition documentaries (Hoop Dreams, Spellbound and Mad Hot Ballroom are among our favorites.) We love the inherent narrative arcs and structure of these films. And the idea of following one litter from birth to see if they made the cut to become guide dogs seemed like a perfect competition film. Who would make it? Who would get booted? What fun! We knew we would want to watch that competition and thought audiences would too. The thought of having our main characters be dogs really excited us as well (yes, we are a little nuts). We loved the challenge of not only the mechanics of how to shoot the dogs, but also how to tease out their personalities.
We underestimated how difficult it would be to shoot our main characters from the day they were born throughout their 20 months of training. At the beginning it was hard to tell them apart and then once they became older and we knew who was who, we didn’t realize how fast the dogs walk when they are training. We had to practically run to keep up with them. We wanted the film to be largely shot from a “dog’s eye” view so that audiences really felt like they were on the journey with the dogs. In order to do this we had to create a new camera rig. We put a small camera on a small gimbal and then on a monopod. This allowed us to run alongside the dogs as they trained, capturing all the footage we could ever dream for.
One of our main goals was that we wanted the audience to experience the roller coaster ride that we felt like we were on every day with these dogs. We were on pins and needles most of the time we were shooting this. Would any of the dogs make it? Would all of them make it? Both answers would probably lead to a pretty boring or disappointing film. We got lucky, there was a lot of drama to go around with many triumphs big and small to celebrate throughout the journey.
Our dogs are our main characters, that’s for sure, but there were dozens of supporting characters in this film—the humans that help the dogs shine. We are forever grateful to them for allowing us into their worlds. Their mission is a great one, to help get these dogs to a place where they can make a huge impact in this world!