We met at 9 AM behind the Kimmel studio. All of us - the producer, the writer, the director, the sound guy, the special effects guy, the production assistant, and the union driver, as well as some guy in a strange costume - piled into a van and drove out to Pomona, on the east side of the LA metro area. We were going to Bully Expo 2004, a pit bull dog show.
Now, when I'd heard about this, I was a bit concerned. The American Kennel Club doesn't recognize pit bulls as a breed, but instead lists them as American Staffordshire Terriers. The breed has gotten a lot of bad press: people think of them as mean, nasty dogs that love fighting and attacking for no reason. My parents were involved in the dog world for 30 years, and when I asked them about this, I got an earful. They said that many pit bulls are abused as puppies in order to turn them into mean dogs.
Fortunately, my concerns turned out to be unfounded. Every dog I met was friendly (although a couple appeared to be scared of me, probably because of the costume), and every person I talked to was there to promote the breed and show that the stereotype was wrong. I met a lot of friendly people and a lot of friendly dogs.
We got there a little after 10, and they were still setting up the show. Some of the folks stayed behind while the producer, the special effects guy, and I went off to Target to buy some props. Well, they went in; I stayed in the van. We all agreed that it would be best to keep me under wraps until it was time to start taping.
Finally, about noon, we went into the arena and got to work. The writers had come up with about 4 pages of one-sentence ideas for bits to do. Over the next four hours, with only a break for lunch about 2, we did all of the ones that were practical. I can't begin to list them all, and I'm not going to try, but a few stand out:
The first big one was that one guy let me show his 12-week-old puppy in the ring. Vito (the dog) was a cute little guy, and eager to please. He did get a little tired while I was walking him around, but that was due, in part to his collar being on backwards, which meant that it didn't release when the leash was slackened - a definite no-no. He won second place in the puppy division, despite my somewhat inept handling.
We tried to get one dog to play tug with a Frisbee. (Not the one that's part of the costume, as rebuilding it would have taken longer than the time I have available until the next shoot. The special effects guy made one up.) That didn't work, and we eventually wound up using a chew toy instead.
We did an introduction piece with me surrounded by dogs and their owners. I screwed up one line (of several different ones) enough times that we finally gave up on it. Still, I think they got something usable.
We did a couple of ending pieces, one with Vito, and one with me and some 8-week-old puppies. After what we thought would be the last one, with me holding one of the puppies, I held him up close to my face and talked to him a little. (I'm a sucker for puppies.) The breeders got some pictures of me like that, and then the crew decided that would work for an ending shot as well, so we did that.
We finished up about 4:30. By that time, I was tired - not physically, as I hadn't done anything really strenuous (plus or minus a short run on a dog treadmill), but mentally. I was surprised to discover that staying focused on this kind of task is quite draining. I needed the relaxing ride back to the studio to get to the point where I could walk back to the hotel from there. I got back to my room, stripped off the costume, and collapsed.
I didn't know just how hard it would be to do this. I've got a lot more respect for folks who do it day in, day out, for a living now.
I'm doing another shoot early Monday morning. I'm going to make sure I get a good night's sleep, as I need to be up and running by 7 AM. I want to make sure there's enough gas in the tank to get the job done.