[Note to the reader: the photo accompanying this blog is not of the Corgi. It is of my dog, Lucie, a veritable Einstein among hounds, as you can see. She got wind of my post extolling the virtues of other dogs and felt sorely put upon, so I put her photo up to mollify her. It, along with a milkbone, appears to have done the job. Now, onward to the post. . .]
How did it happen? How did the “book Fatback”, a swaybacked ancient black Labrador, become a corpulent Corgi in the film? To explain this, we need a bit of backstory.
First off, I LOVE dogs. I don’t like dogs; I don’t tolerate dogs; I LOVE dogs. Dogs are central to my life; dogs are central to my writing. Fatback, to me, was central to Neither Wolf nor Dog. She was my consolation and my chorus. As Grover said, she was my girlfriend on the Rez.
Steven, the director, does not love dogs. I’m not even sure he likes them. He certainly doesn’t hold them up there with Albert Schweitzer, Martin Luther King, and Mother Teresa, as I do. I don’t know that I ever even saw him stop to pet a dog, which, for me, is a mandatory act at all places and all times.
So, when we were doing some preliminary sketching out of what would go and what would stay in the translation from page to screen, Steven was indifferent but tolerant. “Okay,” he said, “Check out dogs.” Well, I started researching animal actors and dog wranglers. What a surprise: thousands of dollars for the dog, thousands of dollars for the transport, thousands of dollars for thousands of things, very little of which went to the dog, I’m sure. Steven, working on a shoestring, was unimpressed. “I can hardy even pay actors,” he said. “We’re not springing thousands for a dog.”
Unwilling to accept the expunging of Fatback, I manufactured a compromise: once filming became a reality, we would somehow find a dog. “But it has to pee on command!” I said. “It’s in the book! It can’t be just any dog!”
Again, Steven was phlegmatic. “I’m the director, I’m the editor. I’ll make it work.”
Enter Chris Sweeney, the man who plays my role in the film. He LOVES dogs. Steven, by this time, had acquiesced to the need for a Fatback, though he was not envisioning her in co-starring role.
When Chris and Steven rattletrapped their way onto Pine Ridge in their semi-functional vehicles, they stopped at Wounded Knee to pay their respects. As they got up to the arch, a black Labrador mix came bounding over and jumped into Chris’s arms. “It’s an act of God or the Great Spirit or the cinematic fates,” they said, only half joking. They felt that Wounded Knee had delivered them their Fatback.
However … this Fatback was far from fat, far from old, and far from female. She — I mean, “he” — was young, male, mange and flea ridden, and spinal. Kind of the anti-Fatback. But, no matter, Chris said this dog was sent to him and he was taking him/her home.
As I was driving out for the first few days of filming, Steven and Chris told me breathlessly on the phone what had transpired. Not having been there and present to its semi-spiritual significance, I was more concerned with superficialities — this dog did not sound like a Fatback.
Nonetheless, this is Steven’s film, not mine, so I bit my lip and continued my journey, hoping against hope that this little dog would be better than described, and that Steven could keep his camera angles such that the Fatback’s gender would not become apparent.
I sighed wearily. Much is lost from a book so that a film can come alive. I was accustomed to these losses, but the transformation of my girlfriend from a swaybacked geriatric matron into a mangy male pup was almost more than I could stand.
I drove into the ranch that was serving as the base for the shoot. As I pulled up the driveway, a smiling, corpulent and, to my mind, incredibly soulful and photogenic Corgi came waddling up. Steven and, I believe Chris, was there as I stepped out. My first words were, “That dog has a really fat back.”
Steven looked incredulous. “Do you think . . .?” he said.
“Yes,” I stated. “I do think. That dog has an incredibly fat back.”
The little Corgi looked up with love in her eyes, and the rest is history.
Here’s where to go to help get this film made: www.kickstarter.com/projects/126766071/neither-wolf-nor-dog-movie