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BEST IN SHOW

On Location

Best In Show was shot entirely on location in Vancouver, Canada and Los Angeles. The filmmakers assembled a cast of nearly 100 actors, including 20 principal roles and almost as many dogs, their owners and handlers, dog show coordinators, animal trainers and a professional film crew of 140.

For some of the principal actors, filming days were interspersed with dog show training sessions. Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch and Michael Hitchcock all had classes with their movie dogs and the film's Technical Advisor, Earlene Luke. Luke, a veteran all-breed professional handler, continues to give handling classes and is very well known in the dog show world.

Initially, Luke thought the idea of putting on a professional dog show with inexperienced actors was "some kind of unrealistic Hollywood fantasy." In her 30 years of experience in the American dog show industry she had never heard of such a thing being attempted. "I had grave doubts that they were going to be able to pull this off," she says.

"You just don't walk into a ring and run around it with your dog. There is a performance aspect to the whole thing which includes leash work, understanding rhythms, movement and much more...all of this with actors who have never had their hands on a show dog."

Compressing her normal eight-week course into five intensive days, Luke taught them the ins and outs of dog handling, from the ability to "stack" (arranging the dog in proper posture) to working with the coats of such breeds as Shih Tzus and Standard Poodles, which requires considerable manual finesse.

Among other things, the actors learned that different breeds have different walking rhythms, something Luke illustrates by using music. "All dogs have rhythm," says Luke, "and I figure out the music based on seeing them move. Some are waltz music, some are cha cha or rock and roll. It's fascinating to watch dogs when their music comes on because they know its time to start moving. Their handlers or owners just have to keep up."

In the final analysis, Luke was impressed with the actors' ability to capture the handling techniques. "They all did a very good job," says Luke, "especially given the time constraints. They also were very good about picking up things by watching other handlers and are excellent mimics. Their biggest challenge was to learn that they were the ones in control, not the dogs."

Working without a script naturally means that nobody really knows what the actors are going to say when the cameras roll. As John Michael Higgins points out, when the actors' dialogue is completely improvisational, the camera can never be turned off. "Sometimes, the first time you say something gives you the most realistic take," says Higgins. "And that's the one you want."

Eugene Levy feels the improvisational tone set by the filmmakers gives the actors an extraordinary sense of creative freedom. "In a normal film, when you do the whole wide coverage of a scene, you're doing the lines and repeating them the same way when you go in to do the tighter shots, the two shots, and the singles and so on," he says.

"Everything you're doing is supposed to be the same so they can cut it together. In this format, nothing has to be the same. You do not have to repeat any information unless you want to repeat it or unless the director says, 'I like that joke - don't forget to say that.' Other than that, every time they change an angle you can come up whatever you want to come up with. It's an exhilarating way to work, and it doesn't happen that often in a career."

Levy's screen wife, Catherine

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