How many times have you seen an animal in a movie or a television commercial and thought, “My dog can do that. He would be a natural in front of the camera.”
What is a pipe dream for most pet owners became a reality for Janice Norden and her 9-year-old mixed-breed dog, Skeeter.
The once abused and abandoned puppy is now a full-fledged celebrity, after landing a starring role in “Walk-Ins Welcome,” an independent movie recently filmed in Colorado.
For several years, Norden, who is retired and living in Lakewood, Colo., advertised Skeeter’s talents on a website for aspiring animal actors. “He’s just so smart, I thought he would do well in commercials if given a chance,” Norden says. Skeeter finally got his big break when local producers Pam Nelson and Kim Ricotta logged onto the website. They were looking to cast a dog in their romantic comedy about a man with amnesia who finds a body in his backyard. Even though Skeeter had no acting experience, once they saw his audition, both producers knew he would be perfect for the part.
They gave Norden a copy of the script and briefed her on what they expected the dog to do in each scene. Then Norden went home and worked with Skeeter on each trick. When the cameras were rolling, Skeeter did amazingly well. But, like most novice performers, he did have his moments. “There was a scene where Skeeter and the main character were sitting at the dinner table and both had a pastry sitting in front of them,” Norden says. “He was supposed to wait for my signal to eat the treat. But Skeeter is very food-oriented. He’d not only gobble up his treat, but the actor’s treat, too.”
If all goes according to plan, “Walk-Ins Welcome” will be featured in a number of film festivals and just might be coming to a theater near you next year. Will Skeeter attend the grand opening? “Let’s put it this way,” says Ricotta, “Lassie got to eat at Tavern on the Green with June Lockhart. So I think we can get Skeeter ready to go to his own premiere.”
Just keep him away from the pastries.
Movies are Going to the Dogs
In terms of ticket sales, here are the Top 10 dog movies of all time. Combined, they generated more than $1billion at the box office.
Source: Box Office Mojo
- Marley and Me
- 101 Dalmatians (1996)
- Beverly Hills Chihuahua
- Cats & Dogs
- Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed
- Eight Below
- Snow Dogs
- Hotel for Dogs
- Turner & Hooch
Think Twice Before Heading for Hollywood
Despite Skeeter’s “overnight success,” long-time producer Jeff Peters says you should think twice about packing up your talented dog and moving to Hollywood. “The big studios that use dogs will go to an established animal talent agency,” he says. “They know the animal they hire will perform on cue what is asked of it in an environment of a hundred people, with lights, cameras and tons of equipment in constant motion. The dog will also be with a person or persons trained to work with animals in film and knowledgeable of how a film set or location works.”
Peters also says the American Humane Association monitors all movies filmed with animals to make sure the animals are cared for properly and not abused in any way. This includes a maximum 5-hour work day for the animal.
“That’s another reason producers prefer specially trained animals. In the movie business, time is money—lots of money. They don’t have all day for a cast and large crew to sit around waiting for Fluffy or Fido to walk from the mark at point A to the mark at point B or to jump, sit, stay or look sad in an environment that most dogs are not used to.
“Often, lookalike dogs are used because one may be trained to run, jump, lick, bark, or whatever on cue while its lookalike may be trained to chase, tackle and maul—without really hurting, of course—the bad guy, run through explosions, leap out windows or whatever else the script calls for.”
Like people actors, breaking into show business is not the easiest thing for an animal, Peters says. “But if you think your dog is the next Lassie or Rin Tin Tin, send a photo of your dog along with a 1- to 2-minute video of all the amazing things he can do on cue. Your dog may just be the exact picture of what the director asked for when he or she contacted the animal talent agency.”