SHooting of a Different Sort


The Club was asked if they knew of an old Italian hunting dog that would be in a film and play the part …of an old Italian hunting dog!!!  Linda kindly volunteered the services of my 10 year old brown roan Italian Spinone – Lucca.  She has looked very grey for many years (like her grandfather Trusco, in Carolyn Fry’s book) and although fairly stubborn like many an old Italian hunting dog, she is very responsive in new situations and quite obedient (!).

The film turned out to be only 10 minutes long and a bit ‘arty’ (for me anyway!).  Basically it’s the story is of an Italian family – the grandmother has just died (upstairs or in hospital??...even the writer couldn’t answer that one!!), the middle aged daughters find a newly baked cake in the oven (just cooked by grandmother).  Granddaughter feeds cake to birds in garden which are promptly shot by middle aged son and retrieved by middle aged...sorry…old Italian hunting dog!

Although done on a shoestring (we were offered expenses but still haven’t seen them) it was a proper film with all the bits like cameras on tracks, fluffy ended sticks, a temperamental professional actress …and breakfast and lunch brought in – the old Italian hunting dog and I liked this last bit!  We did not like the early starts (5 am!) or the 4 hour drive back through south London on a hot Saturday afternoon or the 10 + dog and camera in a kitchen you couldn’t swing an old Italian hunting dog in, let alone a cat! 

Lucca’s scenes were not particularly demanding for a dog actor but she’s an old Italian hunting dog - I knew that she was capable of doing them competently once, but repeat them??  I’m sure that most of you have had an old dog at some time and know that they are quite likely to put two paws up and say ‘I’ve been there, done it, got the T shirt and I am NOT going to do it again.’  I was seriously worried that the old bag…sorry, old Italian hunting dog …would get it right the first time, refuse to repeat it, and probably go off and poo in the middle of the private garden we were using as a set!

How wrong could I be!  I was completely amazed at the old bag!  The first scene involved her lying under the table asleep when the shot wakes her up and she looks alert – fine for the first run but the light was wrong, fine the second time but table leg in the way and so it went on.  I got more worried as ‘they’ never got it right and Lucca got more and more bored with shots, bangs, squeaky toys etc designed to attract her attention.  Eventually we resorted to my shout which would be dubbed out later, but it wasn’t a happy start as time ticked on, film ran on, lights got hotter and the money ran out.  Next was the old Italian hunting dog lying asleep under the table as a little girl tried to wake her up.  This worried me as my dog loves little girls – she has two of her own so why would she ignore this one?  But she did – time and time again she obeyed the command ‘lie down’ by putting her face on the floor – this isn’t really what the command means to her so why she did it so often I have no idea.  Other scenes that day involved Lucca running down fire escape steps (the ones made of metal grilling) – no problem even though most dogs don’t like that sort of steps, and running round some plants with the bird/pigeon wing in her mouth.  Here they changed their minds and wanted her jumping the plants as it looked better.  I’m not sure the owners were too happy with the state of their herb garden by the time Lucca had waded through them a few times!

On the third and final day we had to do a scene where Lucca ran through the legs of the actresses in the garden to retrieve the bird.  I knew this had to be done fast (in keeping with the old Italian hunting dog being woken from life in general by a shot and leaping off to fetch dead bird) but was really worried that she would get very bored, very quickly, and by the time they’d sorted out the lights, camera, action bit she’d be snoring in the aisles.  However my wonderful dog became a star!  In fact the first time she did it so fast the camera could not keep up with her, the second time she nearly knocked the actresses over, and after the third they asked me to slow her down!!!!  We did this time and time again and she still kept going – I was amazed.

To start with I had been a bit put out that no-one was remotely interested in my wonderful old Italian hunting dog but it turned out everyone had thought she was from a professional agency.  They could not believe that she, or we, had never done it before and quite seriously commented that she was more professional that the rest put together (there was minor tantrum and foot stamping by the senior actress!).

I am still not quite sure why my stubborn old Italian hunting dog became a star as it was quite out of character to repeat so much stuff and to be so focussed.  My only explanation is that she had my 100% attention and I had her 100% attention.  I had Lucca for nearly 6 years before I got another dog so she was very ‘me’ orientated.  She now shares me with dogs, children, pets, job etc so to be out with me on her own she was prepared to do anything I asked of her.  It made me feel quite guilty that I had really ignored that special relationship we had had, and allowed the other younger dog with more potential and working prospects to take over.  At 10 Lucca doesn’t have that many years to go and I was grateful for the filming experience to bring home to me what I had, but ignored for some time.  I now make more effort to take time with Lucca on her own, and try to value her more for our relationship…………….rather than the stubborn, moaning old food orientated bag she has become!!!!!

Alix Johnson