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Lights, Camera, Dachshund
(Reproduced From This original article)
 
4/2/2007
 
Lights, Camera, Dachshund

A lot of people have ambitious spare-time projects that can take years to come to fruition. One person will build an elaborate boat in a bottle; another will build a real boat, board by board and bolt by bolt. Others will make a movie. A movie that involves boats and the water. Such people are Carter Lord, Teza Lord and the late Dennis Jaseau. Carter was the Orson Welles of the project, cowriting it, financing it, directing it and playing the lead. He and the rest of the crew-of-three finished shooting in the summer of 1999, then embarked on an arduous multi-year process of cutting, scoring, recutting, rescoring and marketing until finally, with theatrical release outside of film festivals not a real possibility, they are selling their movie, Lithium Springs, on DVD through their Web site, www.lithiumsprings.com.

Now this might or might not be of interest to you, but we have to tell you one key fact: the key role of sidekick-to-the-hero is taken by Fred, and Fred is a dachshund. Not only a dachshund, but a fine and expressive actor. And if one thing comes through clearly as you watch the DVD, it's that the rapport of Evinrude Jones (the film's hero) and Fred is not faked. They clearly amigos as only a man and his dachshund can be.

The film itself? It's purposely, joyfully, over the top, and the fun that its makers and actors had doing it is evident. If you can take a slightly demented hero in search of Ponce DeLeon's treasure and the Fountain of Youth, stir in a wood nymph, a water spirit, evil developers and lawyers, rich bikers and assorted others and cram them all into a narrative under two hours, you've accomplished something. Kids in the house? No problem. There's nothing here you will object to them seeing.

Carter, who has a real day job when he's not promoting his film in his spare time, was kind enough to take time to share some reminiscences of working with Fred. We thank him, and we offer his words below. If you want to know a lot more about the making of the film, see a trailer (featuring Fred!) and order your own copy, go to www.lithiumsprings.com.

WORKING WITH FRED

We got Fred from a breeder in Tampa after he was already a year old. He had lived in a cage almost his entire life and had hardly ever been touched by humans. He had been well taken care of but it was a busy place and he just hadn't had any real physical contact with anyone. He was shy, needy, a little scared and insecure. He was definitely in need of love. We poured it to him.

Between us, our teenage kids, their friends, and the kids in the neighborhood, Fred suddenly was smothered with physical contact hugging, laughing, joking, running, and chasing around playing games.

He also suddenly had unlimited exercise as we live at the end of a dead end road next to a 30 acre home and cow pasture that belongs to my father. This allowed Fred to run, explore, roam and lay around unfettered to his heart's content.

It wasn't long before Fred came out of his shell and matured into the kind, friendly, relaxed, inquisitive, intuitive and tough character we were hopefully able to capture in his debut role in our independent feature film Lithium Springs, a performance that Fred himself told me he thinks is "the greatest performance by a dachshund in the history of American cinema."

In the spring of 1999, after two years preparation, we began principal photography on Lithium Springs, our independent Florida comedy adventure film that I am happy to say has become highly acclaimed around the United States and has just become available to the general public for the first time at www.lithiumsprings.com. Using the latest mini-DV computer technology available at that time, we filmed over a 9-month period, mostly on weekends but always with only a 3 man crew an unheard of reality that taxed us to our ultimate limits. Fred accompanied us every step of the way.

Fred the Great (as he came to be called on the set) is one of, if not the main character in the movie, and as such is somewhere in almost every scene. That meant he had to always be with us and he had to be more or less ready to go.

At the beginning of the filming, he seemed a little scared of the camera. When we would go in for his close-ups, and had to point the camera directly at him, he would shrink back and look scared. He would go flat. Once he became used to the camera, however, he became very camera friendly. Generally our technique was to talk with him while we were filming and laugh about what we were doing. It didn't take long until he seemed to get right into the flow of things and we were able to capture his essence fully in a very relaxed and spontaneous manner.

In film, there are always physical limits within which you shoot a scene. As much as possible, you try to work out the moves of everyone in rehearsals so the cameraman can follow the action and you can repeat the same action over and over until the scene is "covered". Everything is planned in advance as much as possible

This is hard enough for humans, communicating in a language we all more or less agree we understand. This reality of repeating the same action over and over again but with freshness, newness and spontaneity every time is one of the hardest parts of filmmaking. It takes a long time and a lot of energy and expense to set up the situation and get everybody ready to go. Then the actors have to come in and deliver their performances with spontaneity and strength but also efficiently and in a timely manner. It seems easy but it isn't and it is one of the reasons that famous actors get paid all that money. If they fool around and can't get the job done, having to shoot the scene over and over again, it costs a fortune and can bankrupt the movie. When you bring animals into the mix, it is even harder.

But Fred? Fred was a genius at hitting his marks. Fred's ability to repeat action was mind-boggling. Once he got used to the camera, he seemed to sense what we were doing. Everytime we would call to shoot the next take, Fred would jump right in there, always with an air of innocence and freshness, being himself and not needing to be told stuff all the time. It was amazing, really. He just seemed to be very relaxed and natural about the whole process.

And almost always, when it came time for his close-ups and the solo shots of him in action, he would do something, or react in some unique or unexpected way, that would leave us howling with laughter and bring him running over to the camera with that huge grin, laughing at us, himself and the whole film in general.

That doesn't mean he was always cooperative, though. For sure he would drift off when we weren't looking or get distracted by some little creature or situation that would require us to change what we were doing and film him intently involved with something we hadn't planned on. That's how we got that whole fox squirrel sequence, where he runs the squirrel up into the pine tree on the golf course. That wasn't in the script. He was supposed to be hanging around with Evinrude that whole time, standing by and watching him play golf.

But those were always fun and interesting moments, made the film a better film and helped us all to not take ourselves too seriously in what was supposed to be a comedy and adventure in the first place.

Oftentimes the reactions we got from him were not what we expected. When we first began filming him in the car with Evinrude, he kept looking out of the corner of his eye at us, as though he was suspicious of what we were doing. I had envisioned him standing up on his legs, looking out the window, enjoying the ride and watching the scenery go by. A fellow adventurer with Evinrude, off to find the gold. I was chagrined at his refusals to stand up and look out the window and kept trying to get him to react more fully and completely. I kept tell him to "get into it, Fred. You're not into it." It wasn't until I reviewed the footage that I realized that Fred was into it, more so than I had any idea as his reactions to the camera (and ultimately Evinrude's ravings) showed Evinrude to be a little crazy and off the wall, which of course is exactly what the film is about.

There is a lot of discussion about animals in film, how expensive they are and how hard they are to work with. We did not find this to be the case with Fred.

Perhaps the fact that we only had a three man crew and were shooting on a very low budget to begin with helped us. No doubt it did. First of all there were only a few us around at any one time shooting a scene and secondly it wasn't costing us a hundred thousand dollars a day either. It did, however, cost us time and energy and he did impact the story greatly as his actions so often were not what we had planned.

But I think he was actually very easy to work with. I did not find him difficult or time consuming. For sure it forced us to slow down and relax, to set a mood where Fred felt relaxed and not in a rush, where he could just do his thing calmly and with good intention not anxious that we were demanding too much from him. But that was not necessarily a bad thing.

Oftentimes a movie set gets crazy, really crazy. There is so much going on, so many intense personalities, so much money being thrown around, so many minute by minute crises, that a set can become this big, out-of-control ogre that takes over the film and impacts it in a negative way. So negative oftentimes that it just ruins the movie.

This did not happen to us and I think a big part of the reason is because we had Fred. Having Fred around kept us sane. Whenever it got crazy or there was some over-the-top nerve-wracking situation going on, there was Fred, cornering a lizard, playing with a toad, lazing around in the sun relaxing and taking it easy. It would bring us back to the real world, and remind us why we were there in the first place and what we were working for.

We had a great time making Lithium Springs. I think it is obvious to anyone who sees the film that we enjoyed the whole process, even though it took us 8 years and we are still counting now as we are getting it out to the public.

I have been on a lot of movie sets in my life and I can say for sure that I never had even close to as much fun on any other set than I did on our Lithium Springs set.

Having Fred in the mix and actually working in the scenes, having to deal with him as an actor and watching him do his thing was a privilege I think we all appreciated and enjoyed. I hope you all do, too.

We hesitantly asked whether Fred is still around, and we got the sad answer we expected.

You were right that our great pal Fred has gone on down the line. He developed an adrenal gland problem that led to complications that took him at 9 years old. But he never felt sorry for himself. He accepted what was happening to him and still enjoyed the day with his normal good nature and arrogance. He never felt belittled by it.

He had a great, happy and joyful life. He was tough and never complained, though he became completely blind and way overweight. He was laughing and enjoying the day right to the end.

We thought maybe we should get another "son of Fred" to take with us as we go around promoting the movie but every time we start to get it together, we just cant bring ourselves to do it.

Though we still mourn Fred, we are not crying about it. We had a lot of great laughs and great times. He was a monster in the woods and he lived large. I know you know what that is and I'm sure you and everyone else will understand where we are coming from. We just figured we would wait for a while before we let his memory go. I figure he is still around.



 
By Jerry Stemnock
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