Dogs. What are they? Where did they come from? How did they become our best friend? We may never know the answers. Why are there so many dog movies, and could they alleviate our concerns? Against our best instincts, we must make another dog movie…
We did it. After broaching the subject of canine cinema and trying to articulate our initial gut reactions to the genre, here we are. With thanks to Fenella Greenfield for her movie checklist over at Euroscript, we began to walk the walk. Could a dog movie be so easy to cobble together as the existing examples allude? Turns out, yes. In this extended, and excited, discussion, Alex and I used the prompts provided to craft our own narrative in the genre of horror. For later reference in the inevitable court trial, I would like to state neither of us are serial killers, or display any other tendencies of psychopaths. That being cleared up, let’s get started with the dog murder!
Creed really do help the creative process.
Alexander: Would this be a dog killing people, or a dog killing other dogs?¹
[¹You know someone in the writer’s room for the Air Bud franchise asked this.]
Devon: Now that is a good topic for discussion. I always found it weird how we see Cujo kill a bunch of people, but then we don’t see it die! It’s the big titular monster.
Alexander: That is weird! There’s a huge reluctance to show on screen dog death. I remember a Simpsons commentary, the writers joked that they could be mean to the cat, but any meanness towards a dog was just sad. Even a scumbag like Cujo doesn’t get a grisly death.
Devon: Then could we do a typically gory slasher with an all dog cast? Maybe it could be like Texas Chainsaw Massacre²; totally terrifying but very little on screen blood.
[²Now there’s a question that should never be posed; would the dog Leatherface wear human or dog faces?]
Alexander: We could, it’d be avant-garde³ and boundary pushing. That could work, you don’t have to see a dog sliced by a chainsaw, you just sense it.
[³From French, “Let’s do this before Hollywood figures out how to”.]
Devon: If we see the hook, then the dog, but never stuck together, then that’s fine!
Alexander: Maybe the dog is attached to the hook by its collar, then he’d be fine! Just danglin’ around.
Devon: Then we can go the complete opposite in tone and be adorable. There’s a text prologue, Texas style, though that does stress all of these dogs die off screen.
Alexander: Yeah, that’s a tricky one. Maybe just go with the classic ‘no animals were harmed during the making of this film about dogs being repeatedly harmed’.
Devon: We’re getting into wrestling territory now, the WWE has to stress to kids that professionals are doing all of these ‘entertainment’ stunts, but that Kane dude is totally dragging people into Hell through the mat.
Alexander: It’s difficult to say, “none of these animals are hurt but they sort of really are?” Also? The Texas Chain-paw Massacre… just throwing out title ideas now.
Devon: We’re going to be tried in court like the makers of Cannibal Holocaust.¹
[¹A gross, gross movie I would never consider rebooting in dog form, that means you, Eli Roth!]
Alexander: Oh, didn’t some turtles get killed in that one? Nobody ever seems to care about turtles.
Devon: Well, that scene is undeniably horrific. But, people thought the cast themselves were legit murdered. They had to bring in the actors and SFX people to show how they did the impalement and stuff. It was super awkward because most of the cast absolutely hated shooting it, so they were really reluctant to actually show up and prove they were alive. Let’s hope our doggies don’t get lost in the park right before we’re arrested!
Alexander: We’ll need them to back us up and prove we’re not the monsters we appear to be. Would we be tried in people court or dog court?
Devon: Which one has a theme closest to Night Court?²
Alexander: Dog court for sure.
Devon: I feel Who Let The Dogs Out would be pretty applicable for them.
Alexander: Who locked those dogs up! Who! Who Who Who!
Devon: Wow, so we immediately got off track just covering our asses.
Alexander: In record time!
Devon: Let’s try, for the sake of it, an all dog cast horror.
Alexander: That makes sense, a dog would be more likely to be scared of a dog than a person would.
Devon: We’re on the basics. We have to nail that quick simple one sentence summary³. Even if it changes, just a vague plot to work off.
A quick log-line format contains four crucial elements that spell out your concept. Flawed Hero and Sidekick Helper must overcome a Second Act Obstacle to beat a Threat/Conflict.
Alexander: The summary is always very hard but we could give it a go. “They expected to go to a dog summer camp… then this guy showed up to take them to the pound”.¹
[¹Not to put a good friend on blast, this is a common mistake between a tag line and a log line. Though in this case, the witty threat was read quite literally by myself as the actual setting. So two wrongs did make a right.]
Devon: Okay, there’s two possible settings; dog pound, which is the haunted asylum of the dog world, and dog summer camp.
Alexander: I do picture it as a summer camp for dogs, but maybe, there’s an abandoned pound that it was built on. They could uncover it midway through their stay.
Devon: Poltergeist style. If there is ghost dogs² then, darn, that’s a whole other kettle of fish to deal with.
[²Bonus points if you can secure Forest Whitaker for voice acting.]
Alexander: There could be just one who acts as a guide. We don’t find out, for sure, if they’re a ghost. They just turn up occasionally and have lightly magical properties.
Devon: There we go, that’s solid. He has to be old and kinda crazy too.
Alexander: Oh, for sure. He has a rain mac on and maybe a fisherman’s hat.
Devon: Aww, back to adorable. As long as we have images like that, I think we can keep audiences involved.
Alexander: I think so too. There should be a level of, “this is cute because they’re dogs, after all!”
Devon: A dog with a fire-axe in it’s mouth is equally cute and scary.
Alexander: I love that! I hadn’t really thought about how it’d handle weapons but that’s good.
Devon: A group of teenage pups about to be dogs, gotta get that demographic, are at a summer camp when a killer dog, perhaps from the abandoned pound, gets revenge for building over his home.
Reworking log lines repeatedly is a useful exercise; not only can you whittle down sentences and figure which words are key elements of your idea, but even stringing them together as a sentence opens new ideas. In concisely mentioning the killer dog and pound, we end up connecting them, which is extremely helpful for a tight screenplay.
Alexander: That’s pretty perfect, I think! Plus, that gives the killer some real motivation.
Devon: Right, I think a good arc for the protagonist would be he, or she, is a wild pupper who doesn’t want to be house trained, but then this experience not only matures them but makes them more happy to have a home.
Alexander: Oh, I like that too. Like the protagonist is unwieldy on walks and likes drinking heavily from toilets, but this makes them reevaluate everything.
Devon: Gives us plenty of room for the dog movie cliches, but there’s actual character growth like we’ve discussed. This could be up your alley now; we’ve got name, expertise, and intriguing relationship to tackle.
Alexander: I’m thinking, in keeping with tradition, that the protagonist is female and they always have absurd named like Clear Rivers or Heaven Waters.
Devon: Already perfectly on track. They sound like a mineral water. May I suggest a typically masculine middle name that she likes to go by, like Casey? That seemed to be a real trend in the ’80’s and ’90’s for horrors.¹
[¹Some examples; Sydney, Casey, and Tatum in Scream, Chris in Friday Part III, and, um, Trash in Return of the Living Dead. Fun fact: I didn’t notice at the time that Alexander had referenced an actual character from Final Destination, then again, I also subconsciously lifted Casey from Scream.]
Alexander: Perfect. In fact, Casey might actually be a better first name. I’m also thinking, as per tradition, she has a family problem. Her mum or dad were hit by a car when she was young, and that set her on the wild path. “He was a good dog and look what happened to him!”
Devon: I might have it. Her parents left the home one day and she’s always out there hoping them to come back. But, as they investigate what’s left of the abandoned pound, she finds her parents went there instead to be put down! Solid second act low point.
I reference acts and plot points without ever properly explaining them. For those out there not academically taught *ahem*, almost all stories follow a basic three act structure. Many scholars including an important plot point connecting each act. Every writer from Syd Field to Robert McKee will articulate them in their own words but it’s a very common structure to look up and figure out.
Alexander: That’s a good hook. She finds their collars in there, “they didn’t leave me… they were taken”.
Devon: Like Freddy’s glove; their collars are in a real old furnace.
Alexander: Maybe, killer dog is especially angry because his parents were sent there too.
Devon: Ooh! Villain backstory; the dog was so evil, that not only did it escape from the pound, but took it over. Keeping both the dogs and people in there until it burned down in a mystery accident.
Alexander: Oh, that’s good!!! It was the caretaker of the pound.
Devon: Now, even by dog standards, this one is like Nazi level because it’s totally willing to kill other dogs.
Alexander: He doesn’t care for his own at all. In the pockets of humans. He’s a really bad dude.
Devon: He really is, yikes… We got the setting, then, what’s a good opening hook for us? I was thinking flashback à la Friday Part 1. But, maybe there’s a way we could possibly hide the fact it’s a killer dog, for at least a bit?
A solid opening hook is what sets your story apart from others. There are many slasher movies and so you definitely want to distinguish yours right at the start. Friday the 13th builds on camp fire tales, Nightmare on Elm St. reveals our villain haunts our dreams, and Cube establishes the deadly foreign setting we’re going to be trapped in.
Alexander: I was thinking it’d be a reveal that it’s a dog. It’d be a lot of POV shots at first, and the breathing/panting.
Devon: POV, of course! How could I reference Friday and then forget that’s exactly what they did.
Alexander: I like the idea of a flashback, too. It could be a neat way of establishing menace by killing someone unrelated to the story.
Deovn: So we’ve got flashback; 1984, or whenever, we can fun with the period while we’re there. Someone is stalking the pound and killing the workers? Scaring the doggos? It may have to end with the big fire or accident that gets it shut down.
Alexander: We could even subvert expectations; have a gang of dogs in the flashback that appear to be the protagonists, but we only see their last moments in the pound. The ‘hero’ we’re introduced to in this flashback only lasts two minutes.
Devon: There we go, I like that. Like the campfire introductions we get in Friday, but in the pound, and they all die immediately.
Alexander: Maybe in the flashback, we can get a glimpse of the possible ghost dog when he was still alive.
Devon: There’s the prologue done. Then the first act; flash forward, on-screen text ‘Modern Day’. Casey is escaping from her house once again. Creed’s What’s This Life For fills the theatre.¹
[¹Creed is yet another unintentional Scream reference, despite our mutual love of terrible butt rock, Creed have multiple songs and even on-screen posters in Scream 3.]
Alexander: That’s perfect. On her wall, she has band posters; a dog U2 with ‘Bone-o’ on it. She takes off her boring collar and puts on a spiked one.
Devon: Amazing! This typical first act stuff is completely refreshing now it’s dogs. It’s got to be a comically big dog house too on the lawn, and it has one of those ‘GAMERS ONLY’ posters on the front door.
Alexander: Oh yes, for sure! She has a younger brother who’s the gamer, he comes out, “where you going, sis?” She’s like, “don’t tell mom and dad, you little doofus”. “But you promised you’d take me to play fetch tomorrow!” She’s struggling because their age difference means they’re growing apart.
Devon: This is suddenly so absurdly imaginable, and I’m legitimately listening to Creed to help envision this.
Alexander: Creed really do help the creative process.
Devon: We will want to get right into the main scene with act one; what’s the inciting incident, the act of rebellion that gets her sent to summer camp?
While an opening hook may establish tone and expectations, the inciting incident is far more narrative based. It’s the divider of backstory and story. Basically, it’s the event that disturbs your everyday way of life and offers up a problem to fix. Doesn’t actually have to be, but it does make the character think to do something different. Maybe our inciting incident might make us stop listening to Creed.
Alexander: Often you’ll get a rebel with a heart. So even though she’s wild, she still cares. She breaks into a pound and helps dogs escape, or, she smashed up an obedience school and spray paints “we are not your good dogs” on the wall.
Devon: I love that! That sets up what she might be like in the summer camp then, and also, that she won’t just run away when the other dogs start getting murdered.
Alexander: She’s faithful to other dogs and is empathetic to a fault. She just doesn’t like being bossed around and having commands barked at her.
Devon: I can really tell how hard you’re trying to slip these puns in, that’s true effort to the cause.
Alexander: That one came very naturally for once, but I really relished typing it out.
Devon: I imagine you as one of those writers with a cigar, just laughing as you smack away on the typewriter for the screenplay.
Alexander: That’s exactly how I work. Sweat dripping from my forehead and shirt sleeves rolled up.
We’ve introduced our protagonist and set up events to come! But what horrors will this care-free teen pooch have to face? You’ll have to find out next time as we feverishly wrap up this concept with yet more Scream references and sequel opportunities.
To Be Continued…