Saturday, July 14, 2012

Super Sta' ... learning from film

Sally  is a Super Sta' in so many ways. Cracks me up when other people call her that tho. This Wild Child, Whole Lot of Dog, Always has Something to Say girl was well cast in the film Saving Dinah there seems to be no doubt of that. Her work ethic alone makes her a treat to work with. 

The training conversations are often quite interesting. A fair few of the cast and crew for Saving Dinah like animals but aren't particularly comfortable or used to them, especially working dogs. So they have lots of questions; some of which they articulate!  Sally has been wholly positively, force free, without compulsion, whatever you want to call it, trained. My assumption is for many of the people on a shoot this is quite new. In movie land there are times  an adversive might be helpful ie a strong  "no" might get evoke a look we want but figuring out a positive way to get the behaviour/look/mood is fun too!

Working on the movie is driving home some critical key concepts I value when interacting with Sally.
I suspect she might value them too.

Timing ... timing is everything .. and lord timing is hard to teach to humans! The cast is just amazing about listening to ways to help Sally block correctly but silly things get in the way sometimes, a cord gets moved at the last minute or a  pillow gets put where Sally was supposed to jump or whatever... we don't rehearse much with Sally at all as sometimes the first shot is the best but there are times we simply have to let her figure out her blocking (usually shots that involve her running into the shot and then doing one or more behaviours.)

Acknowledgement of work well done's tough to watch Sally nail something, hear the "cut" and everybody congratulates one another for a great job but Sally has to return to me (or I try to zip in to her to tell her what a super sta' she is). There have been scenes where I can literally see Sally staring at somebody wondering if she did her job right.  In the scenes where she is supposed to be a family dog I try to lay very low as I don't want her working to me at all. In scenes where she can run off scene it's easier - she does her thing then boots it either to me or to her kennel and we have a party there!

Consideration for the hard work Sally is doing. All the time in dog land I see disengagement after a hard job is done, I've talked about it before but it bears mention in film land context too. People look at me sideways sometimes when I bring out Red Ball to toss before or after a take; somebody asked me if Sally was going to get too full with "all" the treats she gets (her food pay is usually 5-6 treats the size of my my finger nail bed and often it is only used to help her understand who her relationship in a given scene is supposed to be with); one day we had a ton of fun with stick in the water ...  for Sally all of these things provide with a stress free way to wind down and take a break and know she's doing the right thing. Hearing the word "Cut" does not let her turn off her amazing work ethic. (Although she is a quick study - she is now looking for me when she hears "cut".)

Recognizing her as a living sentient being. I always am aware of where she is and what she's doing. Crew are learning that too but sometimes we work in very tight spaces. Stepping over her, blocking her line to her marker, nearly stepping on her tail happens every day on set. She could care less about any of it and loves to have a chance to do her somersaults into people's laps for loving. Not sure most people realize just how unique she is working through all that. People seem surprised I bring her collapsing crate, her own water, towels to soak for her, a fan, meals, toys - I know if I was working half as hard as her I'd want to be pampered in the down moments.

Understanding that errors are my errors not her errors. If she is asked to do something not in her repertoire  I have to work with the director to figure out how to make it happen. People on set ask cute questions about her training, through them I have realized that to Joe Public Sally is 'missing' some classic tricks. She doesn't play dead, she doesn't shake a paw. Imagine? I truly laughed out loud when I realized that. What kind of trainer doesn't think of training those tricks? (Perhaps proving my stated point I am not a trainer) If Sally misunderstood a cue and went to the wrong place that would be my error. It hasn't happened yet her but it would entirely be me to blame. The director has been very patient with Sally to date. He has a very biting dry sense of humour so is a little intimidating to some, luckily I think he's hilarious. Sally has no clue how important he is so she is always pleased to get a scratch from him.

Advocating for the animals is my number one job. Advocating for and protecting Sally, and all her four legged cast mates has been accentuated through the filming of Saving Dinah,  I spent hours on the beach day being bitten by red ants as I kept them off Sally. I chose to do the film. Sally didn't. Advocacy is something I have striven to do well for many years; the film has made me recognize how active a job that is at times.  

Great links with more good stuff to read about training in a positive way

Life as a Human

Biscuits not Rolls (even tho I don't use markers much!)

Reactive Champions Thoughts

1 comment:

Sara said...

Sounds like a lot of lessons going on throughout this experience ~ for everyone!

I went to the saving dinah website, and see that the lead role is Sally! Glad to see her at the top of the list.