By Mr. Will Wong
Channing Tatum tries his hand at directing in DOG, which is inspired in part by his own dog Lulu. While Lulu had passed away a few years ago, her spirit will live on this Film, which is set in the world of Army Rangers. Tatum plays Briggs, whom much to his chagrin, is tasked with taking military dog Lulu to the funeral of her handler, who had fallen. While the two don’t quite hit it off, DOG takes us on a journey of growth between man and dog and in their story we witness a special bond form between Briggs and Lulu.
We had the opportunity to sit-in on the Press Junket for DOG, which is co-directed by Tatum and Reid Carolin. The two had partnered as Producers of 2017 HBO Documentary WAR DOG: A SOLDIER’S BEST FRIEND and continue their relationship further which came along after Tatum had lost Lulu.
Tatum talks about the buddy dynamic between his character Briggs and the on-screen Lulu in DOG.
Tatum: “Our dynamic is pretty simple in the beginning. This is not Briggs‘ dog and he’s a little put-out that he has to do this to get the recommendation that he feels he overly-qualifies for with all the experience he’s put in, as far as his career goes. Be he has to do it, it’s his only real option and like any good guy going on a road trip, wants it to be fun. And he is trying to have as much fun as possible. To his chagrin, Lulu is becoming an issue at every stop of the way.”.
We learned that three dogs were cast to play Lulu. Tatum tells us all about the breed of dog and his experience working with them.
Tatum: “Belgian Malinois and Dutch Shepherds, which basically are the same dog, but they’re just different colours – they are primarily the work dogs in these high-level, multi-purpose canine spots – the Navy Seals, Rangers, Special Forces – on any of these teams, these are the ultimate tool. If you’ve not been around them, they are different animals. They are not your normal dog. Their minds work so fast. I liken it to when a cat sorta sleeps all day and then does something so fast that you can’t even quite understand how they just did it so fast, you’re like, ‘What just happened?’… These dogs are like that 100% of the time. They’re switched-on, they love working, they want to constantly be doing something. They’re like almost like a shark pacing, ‘What are we doing, what are we doing, what are we doing?’… I own a Dutch Shepherd now and she’s very much the same. You can’t go to the bathroom without her being like, ‘I’m coming with you. This is what we’re doing.’. And so I would never want to do a movie ever without doing it with one of these dogs. If I get offered later in my life a part that has a dog, I’m probably gonna say no. These dogs very specifically are set-up to want to do this job. They never got tired, they never didn’t want to do a stunt. They were just ready to rock the whole time. Horses generally are amazing to work with, but dogs and cats? Nah, these are the only dogs I want to work with.”.
“We used three dogs. Lana 5 was our smallest. Britta which was our middle and Zuza which was the biggest dog. Britta kinda was our hero dog. She did a lot of the acting. Zuza does a lot of the wild stuff. We taught her some of the bucking, crazy pulling on the leash and wild things. Lana was really the only one who would lay on her side and lay down. These dogs generally don’t wanna lay down and do these kind of things. So they all were really specific to how we use them and I bonded the most with Britta because I had the most really close acting with her.”.
Tatum recalls his relationship with his dog Lulu.
Tatum: “I’ve had dogs my whole life and the inspiration for this Movie came from my experience with my first dog. Lulu was my dog I raised from six weeks old, she was just a tiny ball of fur. And grew into a big strong Catahoula Pit Bull mix. She lived eleven years, got sick and I took her on a road trip in some of her last days, and made some really profound lessons in those last days with her of just surrendering and acceptance. And came back and told my buddy about the trip. We started talking about the story. We played around with that aspect of the Bucket List trip for the dog and their owner/buddy. It was just a little too sad. It wasn’t emblematic of me and my Lulu‘s life together. Our life together was an adventure. And it was joyful, funny, hilarious and crazy at times. And that’s the kind of story we wanted to tell.”.
On wearing many caps on this Film, Tatum tells us which aspects he enjoyed most and found fulfilling.
Tatum: “When you’re in the throws of making a movie, it’s chaos. You don’t know if you’re doing anything right. Just being an Actor, you never leave a scene going ‘Nailed that one!’. You never, ever have that feeling. I don’t care what scene it is. That’s part of it. The directing I really enjoyed the setting it up more than the actual experience of directing. I think I was directing the dog more and Reed was directing me. We didn’t have enough time on the Movie. Enjoyment is a tough word, but fulfilling? I can definitely say I scratched that itch. I tried to direct a movie and if I ever direct again, I definitely won’t be in the movie. Editing I did not like. There’s no enjoyment in Editing. I should never edit myself, which I found out. That was mentally an unhealthy thing for me.”.
DOG also touches upon themes of PTSD in the military. Both Tatum and Co-Director/Writer Carolin share what this means to them.
Carolin: “Really the intention was to be honest. To portray the experience of the characters who really inspired us to make the Movie. And to look at that culture and put a lens on it without much of a filter. For us not all PTSD is created equal. It’s an umbrella term to describe a lot of different things and experiences of a lot of different people. And I don’t feel like we have any opinions on what PTSD is, or that we’re experts on it or have the authority to comment on it. What we saw is that when a lot of these guys who gave us access to their lives, when they came home from war and transitioned out of the military… to this new life being a civilian where you have a completely different set of rules, a way different meaning. In some respects you might not have a meaning at all. You might not have a family or a job and you have to rebuild something. Their dogs were essential elements to helping them make that transition, helping them heal, feel like they had meaning, community and love. We wanted to show that aspect of a character’s journey… and how you integrate that into a new life.”.
Tatum: “Briggs was more dealing with a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and that’s what washed him out of the military. But what we learned was that almost everyone – whether you’re a Ranger, whatever you are – everyone’s working hurt. Everyone has an issue. It’s just that his was bad enough and on-paper that it went up into the ranks they knew about it.”.
Carolin tells us what he hopes the audience will take away from the Film.
Carolin: “I hope they have a great time at the movie theatre. I hope people laugh a lot. I hope people stay engaged with the Film. They’re gonna take from it what they’re gonna take from it. But I hope they get a window into a world of people and animals that we rarely ever get to see. This community of special operations, soldiers, canine handlers specifically and their dogs really gifted us incredible access to their culture. They gifting that to us in a Documentary we did with HBO called War Dog a handful of years ago. And our friendships with them continued. Those guys were with us for a lot of the Movie. They’re with us now doing press. Dogs are always around. And I hope people get to see how extraordinary they are and how incredible the bonds between these soldiers and these animals are. And really how thin the line is between animal and human.”.
Carolin talks about the Film changing the lens from which we look at animals.
Carolin: “I hope by the end of this story, both Briggs and our audience feel the same way about Lulu and it’s why we called the movie DOG. I think people look at the title and think it must’ve tested well at a Marketing meeting. In truth, it’s quite the opposite. It’s about the way we clinically look at these animals. We label them just as animals. And over time, the more extraordinary they become to us, the deeper we see them. They more they become just like us.”.
Elevation Pictures release DOG February 18, 2022.
(Photo/video credit: United Artists Releasing/Elevation Pictures)
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