Ti West (BFA Film) worked with Oscar nominees Ethan Hawke and John Travolta on his latest film, but it’s Jumpy The Dog who steals the film.
One thing that particularly stands out about the making of In a Valley of Violence was working with Jumpy The Dog. It doesn’t seem overly unusual to write a movie in which an animal is a main character, but then there comes a strange day when it is time to actually approach psychically making that movie…
Suddenly you find yourself concerned about how you will photograph a character that you can’t communicate with (and really nobody else can either). You wonder if the animal will pull off the tricks the trainer assures you he can. You wonder if the animal will just get bored of the process (as children tend to) and wander off set in the middle of takes. All of these bizarre challenges, and concerns suddenly occupy so much of your time, and you feel a little crazy worrying about them.
I still think one of the more surreal moments was setting up an “over the shoulder” shot, but where the shoulder belonged to a dog. It’s a rather simple scenario, but not one that many people have any prior history with. You definitely feel a little out to sea during these moments.
In my case I was very fortunate because Jumpy is the most insanely talented dog ever, and his trainer Omar Von Muller is absolutely brilliant. I learned a lot about what dogs are actually capable of while making that film. I remember being amazed at how easy it was to include Jumpy in a scene simply by putting down a mark (as you would with any actor) and watching take after take Jumpy just make his way over to the mark and stop with his paws perfectly in the center.
Another strange memory was doing a three minute take where Ethan Hawke’s character is speaking to Jumpy in an emotional scene, and after you finish Ethan’s coverage you know you are going to turn the camera around on a dog. You find yourself shooting the animal’s close up as it just sits there and listens – which may sound not all that bizarre until you actually find yourself doing it, and realize you are rolling film on the panting face of a dog for three minutes while a crew of sixty stand and watch.
It was an experience I will never forget, and surely one of the more memorable moments of my career.