Gavin Polone, one of the producers of “A Dog’s Purpose,” wrote a candid and compelling response to the controversy over some leaked footage showing a dog named Hercules apparently being forced into the water by his trainer. I strongly encourage anyone who has any concerns about Hercules or the way the animals were treated in the film to read it carefully.
Like you, I’m sure, I was appalled when I saw the video, shot on the set of A Dog’s Purpose in Winnipeg in October 2015, of a dog trainer trying to coerce a frightened German Shepard into a pool. Unlike you, the terrible feeling engendered by that video was heightened for me because I am the producer of that film and because much of my identity is fused with the belief that I am a lover and defender of animals and their welfare.
I have participated in, helped pay for and written in this publication about animal welfare causes. My will is set up so that all I have shall be donated to charities benefiting animals when I die. I am a vegan who has fewer close friends than most and no relatives with whom I speak regularly. The most consistent and closest relationships I’ve had throughout my life have been with animals.
Love of animals defines my existence, and that love is what drove me to struggle for years to get Bruce Cameron’s brilliant and widely cherished novel about the bond between a person and a dog made into a movie. In part, my feelings about animals were formed as a child by films like Sounder and Born Free and TV shows like Lassie. I wanted to promote the feelings I developed for animals by making a meaningful movie about the same. So now, the idea that I’m connected to an accusation of the abuse of a dog is, to understate it, painful.
He explains what the leaked footage got right and how it was edited to mislead. He also explains what changes he thinks are necessary to ensure that all animals are better protected in the future.
Before the first real take, the handlers were asked to change the start point of the dog from the left side, where he had rehearsed, to the right side. That, evidentially, is what caused him to be spooked. When the dog didn’t want to do the scene from the new position, they cut, though not soon enough, and then went back to the original position. The dog was comfortable and went in on his own and they shot the scene. The TMZ video only shows the unfinished take of when the dog was on the right side. What is clear from viewing all the footage was that the dog was NEVER forced into the water.
From a front angle, when they shot the scene, you can see that there is a calmer path in the artificial water turbulence for the dog to move through. This is not visible in the TMZ video. You can also see, at the end of the scene, the dog going underwater for four seconds, which never should have happened, and then the diver and handlers lifting the dog out of the pool. The dog then shook off and trotted around the pool, unharmed and unfazed. They only did one take of the full scene and then ended for the day. TMZ’s edited version gives the impression that the dog was thrown in and eventually drowned, since the two parts seem to be connected. You never see him pulled out and OK. This is highly misleading.
Further, I saw video shot last Thursday morning of the dog and I’m happy to say that Hercules is obviously quite well.
I believe anyone who reads this will be reassured and will not believe that a boycott is called for. If you disagree, I’d be glad to hear from you in the comments or by email at email@example.com.
The movie is based on the best-seller by the same name and I spoke to its author, W. Bruce Cameron, who also wrote the similarly endearing 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter: And other tips from a beleaguered father [not that any of them work].
We agreed that it is a challenge to find the right name for a dog. He said “you have to wait for the personality to assert itself. Of course that means that you call the dog ‘Hey, puppy!’ and the dog thinks its name is Puppy. My dog Tucker came with the name already stuck on him and it was a perfect name for him. I can’t imagine calling him anything else. As long as you fall in love with the dog, the name is going to be fine.” Tucker was a rescue dog. He was abandoned as a newborn in a box outside of the animal shelter. “My daughter, who runs an animal rescue was called because this was a death row case. Three newborn puppies would have overwhelmed the resources of the shelter. So, they asked her if she could help out, and she happened to have a lactating German shepherd whose puppies had weaned the day before. So she brought in these three puppies that were still slick from being born and said, ‘Hey, remember that wild weekend at the Sigma Chi house?’ and presented her with the puppies. I took him over when he was seven or eight weeks old. She was in Denver and we were in LA so I told her we were not going to come get the dog and she said, ‘I’ll be there on Wednesday.’ Her goal in life is that if you don’t have a dog, she will make sure you get one, and if you have one, she will persuade you to get another one. And if you’re allergic to dogs, she will get you a cat.”
He had dogs when he was growing up, starting at age 8, the same age as the boy in the book. “None of the kids in the neighborhood had dogs. My dad walked in that labrador and we started running together and rolling around together like we found each other after years apart. And then suddenly some of the other people in the neighborhood started getting dogs, too. Pretty soon we were overrun with them. So I always had dogs and our friends had dogs, and our dog needed a friend so we got Gypsy and she needed a friend. So most of my teenage years we had three dogs.”
He loves hearing from people about their dogs. “The Dog’s Purpose premise has gotten me so many emails and comments from people who say that their dog is so much like one they had when they were young or years before that it seems like the truth. The idea that you would come across an old friend later in life.” But he does not have any tips for training a dog. “Tucker is Exhibit A for showing that I don’t know how to train a dog. He’ll agree to some things. He’s the only dog I’ve ever owned who is willing to stay. On the other hand, if I throw a ball and tell him to bring it back, he will run after it and sniff it and look at me as if to say, ‘Why are you throwing this perfectly good ball away?’ I think I’m good at training dogs, but none of my dogs agree with me on that.”
The search for purpose for a dog he says, “is just the search for the right person. That’s their ultimate purpose. But they have another purpose, too. They are so joyous and so happy to be with you. If you want to go for a walk, they’re happy to go wherever you want to go, they’re happy to come back from the walk. With the exception of a bath, they’re happy to do whatever you want to do. If you come back from taking out the trash, they’re happy to see you. And they’re with us such a short period of time and don’t seem depressed about that. The lesson of that is that we should live like the dogs. We should have every day be joyous. My advice to anybody including myself is if you’re going through a bad period and you just can’t see the world’s on your shoulders and no day is a good day, you’re missing the whole point of the experience. And that’s something dogs know from the moment they come bounding up to you as a puppy.”
“A Dog’s Purpose,” based on the book by W. Bruce Cameron, looks like a love letter to dogs and the people who are lucky enough to be loved by them. But the movie, which will be in theaters this week, is suddenly controversial due to leaked footage which appears to show one of the dogs in the film being abused to get him to perform.
Here is the response from the film’s producers.
Statement from A Dog’s Purpose Producer Amblin Entertainment and distributor Universal Pictures
Los Angeles, CA (January 18, 2017) – A DOG’S PURPOSE, produced by Amblin Entertainment and distributed by Universal Pictures, is a celebration of the special connection between humans and their dogs. And in the spirit of this relationship, the Amblin production team followed rigorous protocols to foster an ethical and safe environment for the animals.
While we continue to review the circumstances shown in the edited footage, Amblin is confident that great care and concern was shown for the German Shepherd Hercules, as well as for all of the other dogs featured throughout the production of the film. There were several days of rehearsal of the water scenes to ensure Hercules was comfortable with all of the stunts. On the day of the shoot, ?Hercules did not want to perform the stunt portrayed on the tape so the Amblin production team did not proceed with filming that shot.
Hercules is happy and healthy.
I will continue to follow this issue and publish updates when I receive them.
The breakout star of the movie “Lion” is Sunny Pawar, just six years old when he played the young Saroo Brierley, who was separated from his family in India as a child, adopted in Australia, and then, as an adult (played by Dev Patel) searching for his original home on Google Earth. Sunny visited Washington D.C., where he was delighted to meet President Obama, who said, “Well done, my boy,” and gave him the traditional Indian greeting, “Namaste.”
Firstly, we were aware of the pitfalls of casting in India. We weren’t going to be able to search everywhere, because we knew that we needed to find a child who had papers, basically, because we knew we’d have to get him a visa to shoot in Australia….Sunny just has this soulfulness that you could just see. He has an ability to be still on camera, to be himself on camera, which a lot of kids, when they start acting, don’t have. A lot of kids can be natural on camera because they don’t have a preconceived idea of what acting is, but sometimes once they do, depending on what they’ve been watching as well, they can get an idea of what acting is and it becomes a bit more like playing pretendsies. We were really looking for naturalism.”
I saw that in Sunny when I got a chance to chat with him, with the help of an interpreter. We exchanged “Namastes,” and he told me that since he did not speak English, director Garth Davis would tell him what to do by putting his hand on his heart. “I wasn’t conscious of the cameras at all. It was always about having fun and I think I’m blessed to get this little gift of acting naturally so I wasn’t conscious but the emotional bits, since I was only about 5 1/2 when we shot the film. There was a sign language that Garth and I developed so he could say, ‘Sunny, feel it from here. Any unanswered question, ask your heart.'” His father, who was with him throughout the filming, said the same thing: “Don’t worry son, just be calm and listen to your heart. It will automatically come”.
Sunny’s character has some very scary adventures, but Sunny was not afraid, except in one scene. “All scenes were actually great fun — the train sequences, the running sequences — but there was one particular sequence I wasn’t scared but a little just nervous, it was the scene where a bike comes and hits me.”
Sunny appeared with Dev Patel at the Golden Globes. They play the same character at different ages so had no scenes together but they became good friends. “It was great fun working with Dev and you know he has this habit of tossing me in the air which I really love. He did it at the Globes as well and he’s like an elder brother to me now.” He does not watch American movies or television so did not recognize any of the celebrities, but he is a big fan of WWE wrestling, so his heroes are The Rock, Undertaker, John Cena, Kalisto, Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns. His drea would be do make a movie with The Rock.
He has enjoyed his time in America, especially meeting President Obama and going to Disney World, where he rode the Tower of Terror — twice!