This past February, Travis, the dogs, and I were part of a television show: Extreme I Do’s for TLC. It wasn’t our first television gig, nor do I anticipate it to be our last. To date we’ve worked with the Travel Channel for their show Alaska Starts Here, with TLC for Extreme I Do’s and with a South Korean production company to make a few different commercials: one helping to promote the state of Alaska to South Korean travelers and another for a new winter product line of jackets and gear. We are vert experienced at working with our sled dogs in television.
Working with sled dogs in the entertainment industry is certainly one of the more interesting things that we do as a kennel. For one, most in the film and television industry have little to no experience with sled dogs. Working with sled dogs — whether for tv or film — can be a quite a challenge but at this point we’ve really fine tuned our process.
When working with film or television we first have to identify the purpose and type of content that is trying to be produced. Are the dogs the central focus of the show or are they a small piece? We’ve now had experience with both.
When we are the central element, as we were with Alaska Starts Here, we were given the freedom of developing our own shots and having the camera men work around us. We told them the different things the dogs were capable of and what type of camera angles we thought would be most appropriate to capture the best scenery and dog training — and the camera crew was more than happy to rely on our expertise. This, of course, is easy.
It becomes more challenging when the dogs are no longer the focal point of what is going on. When our dogs are more of a “periphery” element, we generally have little to no say in what goes on. Instead, we must decipher what it is the director wants and then figure out the best way to acheive what they want with our dogs. To do this not only requires an obedient dog team but it also requires having great lead dogs that allow us to do just about anything: whether we have one take to get it right or we have multiple takes. Reality television generally involves one and, on the rare occasion, two takes. Every other style is more flexible — generally camera men are particular about getting just the right angle or the perfect sound byte and sometimes this can mean running the dogs over and over again until people or their “characters” get their lines right. Inbetween takes, we have to work with our team to keep them quiet so that directions can be given to the cast and crew.
On Extreme I Do’s the dogs were not a central element to the overall story arc of the show. The dog team was simply an interesting way to add a truly Alaskan twist to a fun and unique destination wedding. Because of this, the dogs became more of a background element. The main goal of our filming that day was to capture quality dialogue amongst passengers as they rode the sled — expressing their excitement about the dogs, the wedding, and being in Alaska.
Additional considerations also have to be taken when filming such as getting the right permits and, if we are working on public trails, making every effort to keep those trails accessible to all. During the filming of Extreme I Do’s, Alaska was actually going through a “snow drought” and most of South Central Alaska did not have snow. Because of this, we were very limited on the trails we could use. In the end, the Girdwood Nordic Skiclub allowed us temporary use of their trails. They kindly asked us not to use all their trails, so we had to make a pretty sharp turn around for our dogs. This was made interesting by the somewhat icy trail and the fancy dresses everyone is in: crashing the sled certainly was never an option!
Having an obedient dog team is mandatory for doing film work. Great lead dogs and an experienced dog team are also a plus. Good leaders make doing challenging shots much easier and, because they are often very intelligent, are often able to pick up on what we, as mushers, are trying to accomplish.
Extreme I Do’s was aired by TLC. Look for reruns in the coming weeks. Alaska Starts Here was a production of the Travel Channel and has had reruns periodicaly throughout the year.
Ask us your questions about working with sled dogs on television on our facebook page: www.Facebook.com/TurningHeadsKennel