Talking Dog with ‘Boundaries’ filmmaker Shana Feste

The writer-director discusses her dog-centric inspiration with us.
By Claudia Kawczynska, June 2018
Director-writer Shana Feste and Loretta

Director-writer Shana Feste and Loretta

“Boundaries” film cast, left to right: Vera Farmiga, Kristen Schaal, Christopher Plummer, Shana Feste (director) and Loretta.

“Boundaries” film cast, left to right: Vera Farmiga, Kristen Schaal, Christopher Plummer, Shana Feste (director) and Loretta.

Bark: Tell us about your dog Loretta.

Shana Feste: We rescued Loretta from a kill shelter here in Los Angeles. She was an “owner turn-in,” which always is heartbreaking because the animal is so confused as to how they ended up in the shelter. But I fell in love with her immediately—she was six months old and super scrappy and scared. When I first called her over to me, she did a little belly crawl that was so endearing.

We brought her home and she immediately hid in my laundry room for a week without even looking at our other rescue dog, Skipperdee. My husband and I had rescued her so we could give Skipperdee a playmate, but she wanted nothing to do with him! Turns out she was just waiting for her cone to be removed; once we took it off, she leaped into the air and played with Skipperdee for almost three hours straight.

Loretta plays one of Laura and Henry’s hero dogs—they take a few dogs on the road (the ones who need medical attention) and leave the rest with Laura’s love interest. (The main reason he becomes a love interest is because he volunteers to take all her animals!)

I was nervous that Loretta wouldn’t follow directions on set because she rarely listens to me, but she surprised everyone. She ended up being the dog we used the most because she was so content to be on someone’s lap,
or to be held. The only issue we had was when I called “Action!” Loretta would hear my voice and run to me. It was really cute but it ruined countless scenes, so we ended up having my first AD call action so she wouldn’t be tempted!

Bark: We would love to know more about the evolution of “Boundaries.” How did this storyline (especially the rescue element) come about?

Feste: I had always wanted to write a film that could shine a light on rescuing, something that is very important to me personally. I used to go into local shelters every few weeks and foster a pup until I could get it adopted, then go back and repeat the process. I’ve homed almost 40 cats and dogs in the last few years, which is a ton of work personally but barely makes a dent at the shelters. There are so many animals who need homes, and new dogs and cats arrive every day—it’s easy to feel defeated.

In the back of my mind, I was always thinking that if I used animals in a film the right way, I could have such a bigger impact. And since “Boundaries” was a very personal film about my father, it was easy to incorporate our shared love of rescues! Most of the characters that I write have had some kind of childhood trauma, and Laura is able to heal some of her pain through rescuing animals.

Bark: Is this your first film with dogs?

Feste: I had always been warned to never use dogs in films! It’s all about “making your day” in this business, and anything that slows you down is not advised. Trying to get eight dogs to all lie down on a bed together and go to sleep definitely slowed us down! We had to shut down the set; once the animals were placed on the bed, no one could move or speak until one by one, the dogs all settled down. Sometimes that could take up to 40 minutes, which is pretty nerve-wracking when making an indie film. But when we finally got the shot, it was worth it to me. I also found the dogs to be incredibly therapeutic and calming on set. Turns out when you put an adorable dog in an actor’s arms, they instantly forget about their performance and simply love on the dog. I think the dogs really helped calm the actors’ nerves.

Bark: How were the other canine cast members selected?

Feste: Typically, directors want the most beautiful dogs in their movies, but not me! I was looking for the scrappy ones most people pass up. So our incredible animal trainer, Bonnie Judd, took a totally different approach. She quickly learned that I wasn’t drawn to the purebred Golden Retriever who could do flips, but to the one-eyed Pug-mix who snored and was so fat he could barely move! Bonnie looked high and low for dogs who were missing an eye, a leg, fur, and brought them to me. All had loving owners who were on set every day, as well as a personal animal wrangler. It’s always fun to watch the movie and know that just inches outside the frame, or underneath the actors’ legs in the car, our amazing wranglers are looking after the dogs.

Bark: What were some of the chal-
lenges involved in working with dogs?

Feste: I think the hardest thing we faced with the dogs was getting them to act natural in a very unnatural environment. In some ways, I think it’s easier to teach a dog to do some crazy trick like walking on her hind legs than to look totally natural and fall asleep on a bed.

We have a very naturalistic movie, and I wanted the dogs to be part of Laura’s environment, which requires a lot of sleeping. And, just like children, dogs can only be on set for a limited period of time, which forced us to get creative. There are definitely some scenes in the movie where the dogs were sent home before the actors, so we ended up using stuffed animals and praying that no one noticed.

Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.

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