What drew you to this project?
Some projects are just a bit more special.
Behind this campaign lies a stunning statistic: pets who live with smokers are twice as likely to develop cancer. A dog owner myself, and with strong anti-tobacco views, this was a project I completely believed in.
The creatives and I talked about the life of a pet. What if you lived your whole life in a foreign language movie. Without subtitles. Only a handful of words are familiar. You spend your life observing and deciphering clues. You rely on your owner to lead you. To care for you and guide you.
But when your leader is a smoker, the story may not end well.
What was your response to the script?
“Follow you until I die” contains the two elements that drove my approach. First, each shot needed to reinforce the idea of following.
Auckland agency YoungShand had written a beautiful and emotive script. But it was the title that resonated with me first. I love a good project title. A good title is a guiding light through all the creative decisions.
All our shots would follow our owner. Look to our owner. Follow him through the good and the mundane. The fun times. The hilarious times. And ultimately we follow our owner as he leads us into illness.
Secondly, the title contains the pronoun “I”. Our story unfolds through the eyes of the dog.
Tell us about the challenges you and your team faced.
The first technical challenge was to develop our "canine cam" - a way of creating shots from behind the dogs head. Our script called for all the action to be from (or near) the dogs point of view. Every shot (apart from the opening and closing frames) are either over the dogs shoulder, or are a true POV.
Lightweight cameras allow filmmakers to get cameras almost anywhere. Go Pro's, DSLR’s, Osmo’s. But I wanted to use a full production cinema package. This commercial called for beauty. It needed to be cinematic, to resonate, and communicate. I wanted to tug at the heart strings.
This would not happen with budget footage that looked like it was shot on a phone. Also, our
Director of Photography must stay in control of the shotmaking - not the dog. So, I discounted any ideas of cameras that mounted onto the dogs back. Somehow, we needed great quality lenses to sit behind the dog head, and give our DOP control over the shot. It also needed to be quick and easy to rig.
Enter DOP Aaron Morton (Black Mirror, Mulan, Orphan Black). Aaron began with testing some camera packages at Auckland camera rental house Imagezone. The Sony Venice 6K Motion Picture Camera provided the answer. In “tethered sensor” mode, the camera body detaches from the lens and sensor. The broken down unit is not much larger than a DSLR - the camera body can trail behind attached via a cable.
This was the perfect solution. A full cinematic package. But small and agile enough to sit behind the dogs head. We connected the camera to a body harness on the dog so we could drive the dog, and not allow him to be in control of our shot making.
And the joy of working with dogs?
We wondered if the dogs would allow the camera so close. Long time collaborator on animal training is Karen Sadler from A Grade animals. We've been in the trenches together on some memorable commercials. And she has the broken ribs to prove her commitment, the result of jostling a cow sideways for me on an Air New Zealand shoot.
Karen began training 16 week puppy Meg, and 6 year old Punch. Matching mongrel dogs of exactly the look and feel we wanted. They each learnt to be comfortable with a body harness, and having a lens held behind their heads. They learnt to resist the temptation to pivot and snap at the camera.
On the shoot day the puppy was the more difficult dog to work with. High energy and an inquisitive nature tested our patience. Thankfully we had limited the number of shots with her.
The shot I was most concerned about was when Punch, the adult dog, needed to lie on the table at the vet clinic. It goes against the nature of a dog to be in this collapsed position. I was so impressed with the command that Karen held over him. It was a completely convincing moment.
Every shoot is a logistical exercise. How did you prepare for this one?
There were a lot of stakeholders in this project. Not just the agency creatives and clients. Health groups, a government department, as well as the SPCA. How would the cigarettes appear on screen? How much smoke? Would we use real tobacco or fake? Would the dog appear well treated?
I have become addicted to the process of drawing my own storyboards. I continued tweaking and changing these boards right up to the shoot day. This is an important way to ensure that we capture all the ideas in preproduction. And flush out a lot of client issues before we get on set.
Planning the shots to this degree allowed everyone to have their say. It allowed us to discuss where to add the right level of humour. The right amount of tobacco and smoke. How long we spend as a puppy. How to show the passage of time. How many POV shots versus the Over-theshoulder shots.
We had a very ambitious shot list. We could not afford to waste resources on the shoot day. And this approach helped make us efficient.
We also scored a very flexible location. Relocating across town during our shoot day was out of the question. We found a West Auckland property that provided a huge range of options. A pine forest, a tropical bush walk, a building site, a home, and easy access to the beach. There was also a vet clinic nearby.
At one point on the day I turned to look at the client monitor. There was a bigger crowd there than our entire crew. It goes to show how invested people were in the success of this project.
Any behind the scenes stories you’d like to share from this shoot?
As the saying goes, casting is storytelling. There was fantastic rapport between our lead actor Julian Harris and the two dogs. I always knew it was important to portray him as a caring, loving owner. But I was not prepared for just how connected they would appear on screen. Jules gave everything to the performance. Tenderness. Fun. Surprise. Sadness. The natural affection between this man and his dog only adds to the tragedy.
The other person who gave his all was our DOP Aaron. After spending the day bending over at dog level his back was in need of medication. That reminds me - I owe him a drink!
Crafting this fact into a hard-hitting film was a great challenge. Telling such an important story was a pleasure. My hope is for this message to spread far and wide. And for a further decline in smoking. Especially around pets.
Agency – YoungShand
Creative Director – Anne Boothroyd
Creative Director – Scott Maddox
Copywriter – Erin Mattingly
Art Director – Jack Wadham
Group Account Director – Ben Hopkinson
Strategy Director – Jesse Kelly
Agency Film Producer – Esther Watkins
Designer – Ryan Overeem, Elliot Oxborough
Media Account Director – Kathleen Gunther
Media Planner – John Waltmann
Client - Homecare Medical
Robyn Bern - Director of Communications & Community Engagement
Jorin Sievers - Digital Strategist & Social Media Manager
Calvin Cochran - Communications Manager
Zoe Parlevliet - Marketing & Communications Coordinator
Film Company – Film Construction
Director – Perry Bradley
Executive Producer — Belinda Bradley
Producer – Jozsef Fityus
DP – Aaron Morton
Art Director - Nicky Verdon
Casting - Mike Dwyer
Editor – Nathan Pickles
Post Production – Toybox
Sound Studio – Liquid Studios
Composer – Peter Van der Fluit
Photographer – Belinda Bradley
Animal Wrangler — Karen Sadler