If you keep up to date with the Dachshund Delights Facebook page – and if you don't, you really ought to – you no doubt saw our announcement that Dachshund Delights is the official harness and canine costume provider for the upcoming movie "Wiener Dog Nationals"! Our Hug-A-Dog Harnesses, Snap-A-Dannas, Doxy Racing Team patches, hats, a harness dress, and a costume we designed will be in the movie! The movie was filmed in Los Angeles, and we are located near Cleveland, and that could have made for some near-impossible logistics. Luckily for us, our erstwhile employee and longtime friend, Shirley, agreed to be our on-set representative. This was a big commitment of time and effort for her, for which we are very grateful, but not so grateful that we didn't also importune her into writing an account of her days on the movie's set. And here it is.
It all started years and years ago, when I found an ad in Dog Fancy, advertising a dachshund catalog for $1. I sent in my buck and received the catalog that opened the strange world of dachshund obsession to me. Dachshund Delights had harnesses that prevented my very strong Sunnie from further injuring her trachea with a collar. Dachshunds Prissy and Gracie would be fitted out as well, and there were wonderful things for my dachshund collection. In 2002, when I was about to be laid off from my corporate job and DD was seeking to increase its staff, the wieners and I moved from California to Ohio. In 2011, we returned to my native state.
The 'movie situation' started out kind of weirdly, an e-mail from April briefly describing Hug-A-Dog Harnesses being furnished for product credit and did I want to be a 'wiener wrangler?' Being 60 and single, dozens of double entendres flew into my mind and I agreed. Then, everything was immediately urgent. Filming was scheduled to start on July 10, with numerous dachshunds as stars, stand-ins, and extras. Hug-A-Dogs are made to measure in order to fit properly. E-mails and phone calls to the trainers resulted in measurements for the primary racing dogs and an appointment to measure the stars and stand-ins on July 5. At the trainer's house, I was in wiener dog heaven. Five smooth reds and one smooth black & tan. I haven't seen so many thin – OK, proper weight – dachshunds in quite a while. Measurements done, I got on the phone to DD. People worked late and made magic, and 30 harnesses shipped the next day, arriving at my house in Orange on Saturday.
On the tenth, I jumped onto the Southern California freeways, making the trip from Orange to Van Nuys in one hour – some kind of record, I'm sure. I was there right at the cast 'call time,' when everyone is expected to arrive. The wardrobe lady, to whom I was supposed to deliver the harnesses, was not there. After she arrived a few minutes later, her first-day-of-shooting day dissolved into a chaos of too-much-to-do-right-now, with non-delivered equipment and misplaced notes. I was to wait. No problem. Oh, yeah – and 'don't walk on the neighbors' lawn' I was instructed by an assistant director, 'we don't have a license for that property.' (The film production company's trailers were parked so that one was forced to trespass on the lawn in order to enter or exit. Fortunately, the neighbors seemed to be absent.) While waiting, I wandered over to the set, leaving my box of harnesses stashed under the wardrobe lady's trailer stairs. The owner of the house was just leaving, zooming her car backward down the driveway. Crew members immediately descended upon the garage to change its insides into a set.
Watching the shooting was fascinating. The main character is played by a boy of eight, who was coached by several crew members, starting with the director. Take after take was done, evaluated, and eventually deemed successful. I went in search of the dogs. All the dogs I had measured the week before were on the opposite side of the house from the cameras, in their crates. A couple of doggie parents were to visit, having not seen their dog since training started, just over two weeks previously. The dogs were selected by the trainer from those brought to audition by their people. All dogs would stay with the trainer until completion of shooting, an estimated five weeks. I couldn't imagine being separated for so long from my dogs!
It was San Fernando Valley summer day hot, pushing the upper 90s. I went off to mooch water, since the trainer admonished me to not disturb the dogs, who needed to focus. (Hard for them not to – all were in covered crates. They all had water, but it must have been hot inside.) One dog did most of the scenes early on, then another one was used. Both were smooth reds, and each had been trained for a particular set of actions and/or tricks. Everyone was working hard when I left to revisit the wardrobe lady and actually deliver the harnesses.
The following week, my longhair black & tan silver dapple boy, Dieter, and I were called to be extras. Location was now Balboa Lake Park in Van Nuys, about a mile from the house used last week. Filming was much as I expected, a lot of 'hurry up and wait' and different from just watching. For each take, we needed to return to our original location and position and then do the same actions exactly as before. Fortunately for me, we were way out in far background much of the time. This is good, for during one take, I bent over to give water to some of the dogs in our little group, because again, it was close to 100 degrees. Not being petite, my rear end, in light gray pants, probably blotted out the other extras. One clip more for the cutting room floor. Thursday was much the same, go here, walk this way. Dieter was a trooper and went wherever I asked him. Between takes and when we were not being used, I put ice inside his harness to cool him down, and even rubbed ice cubes on his tummy. Then, we are finally in a real scene! Still in the background, but this time possibly recognizable as human and dog, walking behind the principals! Cool!
The racing dogs had been called to arrive at 7:30 AM as well. Then, their call time was changed to 8:20. One they had arrived, the coach was told that the racing scenes would be shot at 10:00, then shortly after that, the time changed to 3:00. The people whose dogs would be in the racing sequences were simply amazing to watch. Everyone had lots of water, cold towels, and snacks for their dogs. The humans were allowed to join the cast and crew for lunch, and Dieter was not the only canine to get people food treats. They patiently waited and waited, moving chairs and tents and dogs as necessary to keep as cool as possible. Rumors flew as to the reason for the delay, but no one really seemed to know. The humans in the film had air-conditioned dressing rooms, but all of the dogs stayed outside all day. Dieter being a very handsome dog with a beautiful long coat, told me that he was done about 4:30 in the afternoon. We were both too hot to stay any longer. Off we went to fight traffic for the 2½ hours it took to get home and enjoy the wonderfully efficient air conditioner in the car. It turned out that the racing sequences were filmed starting around 6:30 PM, 11 hours after the original call time. An e-mail from the coach that I received late that night praised one and all, human, and canine, for their enthusiasm and performances. Each race sequence only required a couple of takes and the actions of the dogs had the cast and crew in stitches. Apparently, none of them had ever seen a dachshund race before and now they had just an inkling of the craziness.
Friday morning, I was scheduled to be on set, but hadn't received any communication for time or place. Dieter still wanted to go, so we showed up and found the set was re-located to another park location. We arrived too late to be included in the shot, so waited for the next one – only there wasn't to be a next one that day that we could be in. We waited with the other extras and their dogs, following the shade to try to cheat the continuing heat. The racing coach had asked me to help with that afternoon's racing sequence. I wouldn't be in any shots, but one of the racing dogs needed a starter/holder. The racing sequences were ones of barely controlled hysteria on the part of the dogs, and general amusement of everyone else. You know how they are when they get ultra-excited. Lots of screaming and keening, topped with squeaky toy sounds from the finish. The dogs did great, running several times, even after waiting all day in the heat, and each ran the several takes necessary with undiluted enthusiasm. They all thought this was the real thing. And, for those moments, it was.
Filming continued without Dieter or me for a week. I heard later that dachshund Penny Lane was dressed up in the luchador costume and carried into a Wienerschnitzel restaurant by a man also in a wrestling costume. The restaurant was closed at the time of the shoot, which I thought was regrettable. Imagine the patrons' faces when confronted with that combo! Other publicity shots were made and there was always at least one dachshund star in each of them. An appearance is scheduled soon on a Los Angeles television station morning show. The film is on Facebook under "Wiener Dog Nationals." ("Like" it to keep up to date.)
On Monday, July 30, the final racing scenes were shot at Los Alamitos Racetrack, where the actual Wienernationals takes place each year. Twenty-two doggies showed up and were divided into two groups, based upon appearance, by the racing coach. Again, though, there would be a long wait before the races actually began, and we were all pleased to be able to wait in the racetrack's air-conditioned clubhouse. First, a number of specialty shots were made, again involving re-take after re-take. Each of you who have one know that it's not easy working with dachshunds, even trained ones!! One dog needed to limp up to the finish line, but not cross it. Another needed to push a third over the finish line. The trainers and their shadows needed to 'stay out of the frame.' Much practice had taken place on the day before, but one dog refused to remember anything he had done so successfully during 'prep.' Eventually, all was completed. The dog doing the limping scene had to be switched out after getting tired, and the substitute, having never been trained for this action, did the stunt impressively after only a couple of repetitions. It is good, though, that there was no sound recorded for these scenes. A frustrated trainer is not a quiet one, especially after working so long in the sun.
Finally, it was time to race! I had not brought Dieter with me, since he was not one of the racing dogs, so was available to help whoever needed me. I was pressed into service to be the starter/holder for Tootsie, the smallest red smooth in the group. Do not think for a second that Tootsie, being small, is slow. Not at all!! She's a racing veteran and has a number of wins to her credit. Even with a starter unfamiliar with her pre-race moves, which included a great deal of squirming and rhythmic bursts of whining, she was up in the front of the group in each heat, which was run the entire 50-yard length of the Wienernationals race. During the very first heat, the big camera being used to film the sequence fell forward off its tracks as it was being pulled from a position at the starting gate to a position a short way down the course. Dog number 8, closest to where the camera fell, was badly frightened, and refused to come to anyone, even his Mom. After a few minutes, she had him in a big hug, but his racing adventures were over for the day. He was taken back up to the clubhouse to be cuddled and kissed and hugged, and his replacement – remember that there were two groups of dogs – was called to appear. The heats continued and the accumulation of shots provided enough footage to make up a complete race. There were a lot of guffaws coming from where the scenes were reviewed, so there must be some memorable moments captured on film. We were then released to take the dogs back up into the a/c to cool off. Then, we could go out front to have lunch, courtesy of the Wienerschnitzel truck parked there.
|Gracie (as Shelly)|
Although this was the last of the actual filming, much work remains. Editing will combine the segments into a finished whole and a musical score will enhance the presentation. I can hardly wait to see it!!!