: Marley and Us: Clicker Training on the Movie Set – Part 2
With permission from the Karen Pryor Website www.clickertraining.com
NOTE: Some time ago, we had the book “Marley and me as our book of the month. This has now been made into a film and I found the story from one of the extras really fun to read. We’ll be giving you the full story over the next couple of months.
Getting ready for film day
At the conclusion of rehearsal, Nanci told us to be back on shoot day, and mentioned that taking pictures on the day of the shoot was prohibited because the stars would be on the set. She looked around, and said to those who wore flip-flops that they should wear closed-toed shoes on shoot day. But Mark overturned that instruction and gave the OK to wear flip-flops, as, he said, "It is Miami." Nanci and Phil mentioned that they teach real obedience classes in Miami and would send anyone home who showed up to class in flip-flops, but Mark’s decision stood.
Sometime around the lunch hour on rehearsal day, Nanci sent an e-mail that the shoot date might be changed due to weather concerns. Within a of couple hours the date was confirmed, and we were told to be at the park by 6:30 a.m. the next morning.
I spent the evening packing Leissl’s crate with blankets, towels to wet to keep her cool, towels to keep her comfortable, an ice chest full of frozen chicken breast pieces I’d spent the weekend preparing, sun block, dog brush, people brush, chair, dog toys, water bowl, several pairs of shorts and tops for wardrobe to chose from, and a host of other miscellaneous items that Nanci suggested we bring along. There were people in hospitality whose job it was to make sure there would be plenty of water for everyone, which was a thankful bit of news, but I brought a jug of our water, too. (I packed my camera, too, just in case they’d change their minds, but they didn’t.)
At midnight, I set the alarm for 4:00 a.m. Because I feared not hearing the alarm at such an early hour, a friend who is regularly up that early volunteered to call me. It worked. I was on my feet saying "Hello" while the sun was still hiding. I had barely slept, but Leissl had no problem getting shut-eye.
An orchestrated event
We arrived at Jose Marti Park 10 minutes early. After setting up our crates, unpacking, and eating breakfast, it was time to get on to the set, which was now full of people doing all sorts of jobs. The entire park was rented for the day and unless you were meant to be there, you weren’t allowed entry. The cost of this day had to be remarkable. The Labs’ Marley-type behaviors had to be in place and reliable by now. Reputations, and the movie’s success, depended on that.
The entire park was rented for the day and unless you were meant to be there, you weren’t allowed entry.
I walked out in blue shorts, tank top, tennis shoes, Doberman Rescue cap, and sunglasses, and was given the OK except for my sunglasses. They were too contemporary and not resistant to the stage light glare. I was fitted with a huge ’90s-style pair of sunglasses, while the other extras’ outfits were also evaluated and fixed where necessary. All of us were photographed in our outfits by the continuity department, in case we needed to return for a second day. Then it was on to the first scene.
The three stars—Kathleen Turner, Jennifer Aniston, and Owen Wilson—arrived on the grassy set. All of us stood quietly. Of those handlers I spoke to in our group, none had done movie work before, so seeing the celebrities took a few moments to absorb. There were stand-ins for each star, too. Their job was to go through the physical motions of a scene so cameras and lights could be set correctly. The three stars each had personal assistants, who were right beside them with shade umbrellas whenever the camera was not rolling. The Marleys had their crates beneath the shade trees. The extras got to go under shade trees between scenes, but between takes handlers could provide shade for their dogs by standing over them.
The first scene included the arrival of the class. A few of us were chosen to be latecomers, and Leissl and I were the latest. Gigi, the Labradoodle, was picked to walk up to Kathleen Turner, who was having a conversation with Owen Wilson. Kathleen reached into the black treat bag hanging off her hips (we saw red "scratches" which had been painted on her arms to show the effects of wrangling imaginary dogs into submission), and she threw kisses to Gigi as she fed her a treat.
John Grogan, the author of the book Marley and Me, had described the real-life trainer Kathleen Turner was portraying as a dominatrix dog trainer, and the actress was true to the role. (In real life, I’d never seen a staunch jerk-and-pull obedience instructor wear a treat bag, however. This would be too close to "cookie training," which is not a compliment. Cookie trainers and dominatrix types have opposing training theories that do not integrate, but Hollywood is known for making the impossible happen.)
Hollywood is known for making the impossible happen.
Encounter with the author
A few new members were added to our obedience group on the day of the shoot. John Grogan and his wife Jennifer were flown out from Pennsylvania to the set to join the class. Mr. Grogan was given a lovely terrier mix to handle, while his wife handled the Weimaraner who had attended rehearsal. I had brought my Marley and Me book on the chance the author would be on the set. I approached Mr. Grogan for an autograph at the end of our lunch break, and later, during a scene break, I darted across the drill circle to ask him a burning question.
"If I don’t ask you this," I said, "I’ll shoot myself."
This is why I like writing more than speaking. In writing, I could delete that "shoot myself" part and say something more like what a sane person would say, such as "I’ll be very disappointed in myself." However, I just kept barrelling along and said, "Has the obedience instructor this scene revolves around ever contacted you? I could not believe she kicked you out of class. Obviously, you and Marley needed more help than anyone."
He told me that a lot of people had recognized themselves in the book and had written to him, but she was not one of them.
"What? How could she not see herself?"
I was obviously more annoyed than he was by then, but training rescue dogs will do that to you. Marley could very well have become a statistic after being exiled from an obedience class if his dog parents weren’t John and Jennifer Grogan. Mr. Grogan decided that the trainer was just not able to see outside herself, so I accepted his conclusion and walked back to my mark.
PART ONE CAN BE FOUND ON THE TTOUCH WEBSITE IN THE OCTOBER NEWSLETTER
About the author Helen Schwarzmann began training dogs in Southern California in 1979. Eighteen years later, she moved to Florida where she clicks and treats for fun and competition. Helen maintains the Florida Doberman Pinscher Rescue Ring website for orphaned Dobies, and blogs about life with her expansive family of canines at http://www.dobermannpinscher.org/