Nov 19,2009

Local dog becomes movie star, meets “Darth Vader

Posted by admin with 3 Comments

Whether or not you agree with the tax-credit program that sparked it, the burgeoning movie industry is creating all kinds of quirky and interesting situations we otherwise wouldn’t be seeing around here.
Bunny
Here’s one: Mary Dixon, who runs the local company Mup Mups Animal Actors, has a tale of a Saline poodle’s brush with the big time.

On the evening of November 8th, Bunny found her self on a darkened street, in Darth Vader’s arms…

In October and early November, my Ann Arbor company, Mup Mups Animal Actors, was hired to work on the film “The Vanishing on 7th Street” in Detroit.

“Vanishing” is directed by Brad Anderson (of the TV show “Fringe”) and stars Hayden Christensen (the young Darth Vader in the recent “Star Wars” sagas), John Leguizamo (Henri-Toulouse Latrec in “Moulin Rouge”) and Thandie Newton (Makemba “Kem” Likasu in the TV show “ER”) as survivors in a world where shadowy figures appear and human beings disappear.

The plot is so hush-hush, even I was not given a script (which we usually have so that we can break down the animal action as required). We had to train on-set for both animals, which can be a real challenge, no matter how simple the action seems (to the director or crew) or how good a trainer you are!

For the October days, I hired a real police horse, whose owner, a sergeant, came as his primary handler. Which was good, since we were shooting in a not-so-nice area of Detroit! The production company closed down I-75 for 8 hours for one of the police horse shoots, which I believe is the biggest stunt a film company has pulled off since the Michigan Film Incentive (MFI) was started in April 2008.

The other animal I was asked to find for the film was a white standard poodle.

I’ve been involved in the dog show scene for 15 years as an obedience and conformation exhibitor and as a vendor of my handmade porcelain dog breed jewelry. So I knew it would be difficult at this time of year to find the extreme show-groomed poodles, with the balls and flourishes. They are all on the road, being shown for those last-minute 2009 AKC standings, most with professional dog handlers.

But, luckily for us, Bunny and a few other young ones were available. Of those, he picked Bunny.

Bunny is a young white standard poodle bred and owned by longtime show exhibitor and Southeast Michigan Poodle Club president Patricia Jason of Saline. She was cast as a fancy dog wandering alone to fend for herself on the streets of the deserted city. We shot on a back street between the Compuware building and Greektown, just under the People Mover.

The script called for her to walk around from one mark to another, seemingly easy stuff. But when I, Pat and her daughter Danielle Sugai got there, we were asked to add a few other behaviors to make the scene more realistic.

This happens nearly every time I get to set with one of my animal actors! So I am always ready with my cooked garlic chicken (which I raise myself on my little farm next to the Pittsfield Preserve in Pittsfield Township).

So…on the one hand, Bunny is only 1.5 years old and prone to bouts of random silliness. On the other hand, poodles are one of the smartest breeds.

We were pretty sure she could do it.

Bunny had other ideas…

When the prop guys finished readying the set, we were allowed to work with her right there, where she would be (rummaging through broken-open grocery bags with cans and boxes spilled out on the ground and shoes and clothing scattered around- because the people had vanished).

Bunny seemed to be channeling Marilyn Monroe, who had a penchant for doing things her own way, much to the consternation of her directors.

Despite our efforts and the yummy bait, she went around, saying “Hi” to the crew, sniffing the props, eating some of the chicken and generally being a goofball.

At one point, a crew member, wearing a hoodie over his head and a variety of unusual-looking flashlight devices on the front of his clothing, came over to meet her and ask her name.

He knelt down, hugged and pet her for quite a while.

“Why all the lights?” Pat asked.

He smiled and said, “Oh, I just like flashlights.”

I said, “You look like a Star Wars character!”

A few minutes later, in better lighting, I took a good look at Bunny’s biggest fan, who was still doting on her.

“Are you Hayden?” I asked him.

“Yes, I am!” he said.

” Well,” I said, “I was kind of just kidding before but I guess you really were, like, the coolest Star Wars character- ever! ” (besides Han Solo).

It was nearly impossible to recognize him with his hoodie and makeup, which I’d say is true for most actors I’ve worked with, including Hllary Swank.

The cameras were set up. “ROLLING!” Brad yelled.

Pat released Bunny from stage right (the left side of the frame). Dragging her leash, Bunny went all the way into the set, to the bags, rummaged.

Showed her good side.

Did it right.

For a whole minute that seemed to last forever. I silently counted the seconds from the sidelines.

Danielle, standing next to me, at stage left (the right side of the frame) and I were cued via Walkie Talkie to call the dog.

We yelled, “BUNNY!”

Up shot her head. Exactly what they wanted.

Bunny looked around. Exactly what they wanted!

What was going on?! She was perfect!

Then we called “Bunny…baby, come!” and she sauntered off in our direction. Hayden runs into the scene, rummaging through the bags himself. Perfection.

Another take. Perfect again. No mistakes.

“CUT!” Brad yelled. “Moving on!” which meant, basically, that the dog was “wrapped!”

Ah, yes, the Force was strong in Bunny that night. I felt something, or someone was helping us.

It really was amazing that Bunny did the job so perfectly after all of those silly rehearsals. Pat and I had said Bunny’s performance could be in honor of Pat’s mother, who had sadly passed away just two days before.

Later, I was talking with the Humane Association representative and she said she’d ‘felt a presence’ on set helping us. I told her I did, too.

So, later, I thanked grandma, on the way home, for helping us with Bunny!
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This entry was posted on Thursday, November 19th, 2009 at 7:12 pm and is filed under Articles, Mention, Vanishing on 7th Street. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.



3 Responses to “Local dog becomes movie star, meets “Darth Vader”

  1. Comment by tav in November 20, 2021 @ 9:10 am

    After all these years, I still get a chill and a good dose of envy when I read these personal encounters. *sigh* I guess I’ll have to drive into a ditch in front of his house one day just to get him to hold me in his arms and “rescue” me. Instant encounter. “I must be dreaming….is that you? Hold me tighter, I feel faint.” :p

  2. Comment by anne in November 20, 2021 @ 11:04 am

    Hi, What a great story/article! Well Done.

  3. Comment by Lyndsay Barrett in November 20, 2021 @ 2:19 pm

    Fantastic story! It would be so fantastic to meet Hayden, the coolest guy on the planet!