Robert Vince is the man behind the wildly popular “buddies” movies including the latest, The Search For Santa Paws. They feature adorable dogs and heartwarming stories, just right for family movie night. I spoke to him about the challenges of directing animals and children, what makes a great holiday movie, and why Christmas is his favorite time of year.
I wanted to make a Christmas movie and our lofty goal was to make one that had timeless values, a classic, a perennial that parents could pull out for their children each year.
You have some great voice talent — tell me about casting.
Nine tenths of the job is finding talented people who are great at what they do and then they make me look great.
The voice talent people have to have a distinctive voice that comes out of that character rather than being placed into it. They have an ability to project; it’s more like being a theater actor in some ways than a film actor that can use their physicality.
Actors often say that you should never work with children or animals, but that seems to be your specialty! How do you make that work?
We’re making family films because we love them and we’ve been doing it for a long time. Family films and children and animals go “hand in paws,” as I like to say. Children are not acting in a lot of ways; they’re being who they are. That’s where casting is important. You have to choose children for a role that is based on who they are because they really can’t be something else very well or believably. So Madison Pettis really was the big sister figure to all the other girls on the set. And Kaitlyn Maher really is the cutest little thing on the planet is really a sweet little soul with a beautiful voice. I’d like to say it’s great directing but it’s really who they are.
And with the animals, it’s the trainers — they really know how to create characters with the animals. It’s a special talent. I tell them what I want and then with a look or the training, with their connection with the animals, they make it work.
Is it important to you to work with Blu-Ray and the other technological advances?
Yes, it makes it possible for the audience at home to see our movie as it was intended to be seen in a theater. It’s such a fantastic technology and really brings the movie to life in the home. With the CGI and digital effects we can create any environment we want to. Anything I can think of, we can do. The film-maker is not limited by the resources available, only by imagination.
The sky’s the limit — literally. You’ve taken the buddies to outer space!
I always laugh when people ask how we got the moon shots. I say, “Well, we didn’t go to the moon!”
What makes a classic holiday movie?
It has to appeal to the most important part of that time of year, the selflessness. This is the one time of year where we suspend our own interests in a selfless manner and take care of others. It has to connect with the heart and music is a big part of that. We have a beautiful song that really connects. You have to have a sense of faith and belief and the importance of the family bond.
To me, the spirit of Christmas is embodied in the hearts of children untouched by the fears, doubts, and disappointments of the adult world. That’s the line that means the most to me in the movie. Before I write a movie I try to write the theme in one sentence and that was it for me in this movie. That one line really says it all for me. As adults we get confused and have disappointments and the like but for a child, in the morning when they get up, their hearts filled with joy, giving to each other, that’s what the spirit of Christmas is all about.
And don’t forget the Santa Paws giveaway!