Film: Call of the Wild: 3D
Off the Page and Off the Screen:
Richard Gabai’s Call of the Wild: 3D
By Madelyn Ritrosky and Jared Winslow
On DVD: December 22, 2009
Photo: Christopher Lloyd (left) and Jared Winslow (right). Photo By Steve Shelton
Beautiful dog... Christopher Lloyd as Grandpa... Jack London’s Call of the Wild... And in 3D.
I don’t think you can go wrong in a family film with that combination. And director Richard Gabai (American Black Beauty) doesn’t.
When Jared and I saw Call of the Wild: 3D in the schedule for the 2009 Santa Barbara International Film Festival, we marked it with a star our must-see list. When we heard that the director would be there, garnering an interview went on our must-do list.
A 3D film that revisits Call of the Wild with a new slant obviously has appeal, for the large Arlington Theatre was absolutely full. In fact, the screening, which was the U.S. premiere, set attendance records.
Films that the SBIFF has shown as part of its Apple Box Family Films series have typically generated audiences of 500-600 or less. Call of the Wild: 3D pulled in 1,730 moviegoers!
Not only was this a record for an Apple Box Family Film, it set a record for the Arlington Theatre. Even though the Modern Master Award event for Clint Eastwood shattered the theatre record again just five days later, that kind of attendance for a non-studio, non-mega-star family film is tremendous. And Richard Gabai is justifiably excited.
Jared was especially excited to see the film for two reasons: a dog is one of the main characters, and Christopher Lloyd plays the grandfather and a normal grandfather at that.
When we unexpectedly met Lloyd at the festival a few days later, Jared was thrilled. To a 9-year-old, Lloyd is best known as Doc in the Back to the Future movies. He also knows him from the 1999 film version of the ‘60s TV series My Favorite Martian.
Jared had no trouble coming up with interview questions for Richard Gabai...
Photo: Richard Gabai (l) and Jared Winslow (r). Photo By Madelyn Ritrosky
Is Buck a dog or part wolf? How about the actor dog?
Richard informed us that Jack London actually based his character Buck on a real dog. And Buck in the new movie is supposed to be a descendant of that dog. Bubba is the actor dog who did most of the acting and he is a Siberian Husky. But to get just the right look, that suggests he might have a little wolf in him, they used doggy make-up.
How did Richard get Christopher Lloyd for the movie?
Richard remembers first seeing Christopher Lloyd in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) when he was “way too young,” he noted. He made an impression on him even then. When he sent the script to Lloyd’s agent, Lloyd said yes because he was interested in playing someone who was not bizarre or kooky. He got to be an average grandfather.
Richard described him as “a terrific guy.” We concur based on our brief encounter with Lloyd on the red carpet at the American Riviera Award event for Mickey Rourke. When Lloyd noticed Jared, he talked to him, wrote out a nice autograph, and patiently posed for several pictures.
Other familiar faces in the cast include Wes Studi (Seraphim Falls), who Richard specifically wanted for the role of Hatcher, and Timothy Bottoms (The Last Picture Show) and Veronica Cartwright (Kinsey), who expressed interest as soon as they read the script.
Photo Left: Ryann (Ariel Gade) and Buck (Bubba) get instructions from Grandpa (Christopher Lloyd).
Did more than one dog play Buck?
Two dogs played Buck. The dog who did most of the acting, such as close-ups or the scenes with Ryann (Ariel Gade) in the barn, was Bubba. But another dog, Merlin, was in effect the stunt dog who did much of the running and pulling of the sled.
How did Richard come up with his doggy cast?
Most of the dogs appearing in the film are from an organization that trains all kinds of animal actors called Paws for Effect. And two of their trainers suggested the various dogs. While Bubba was suggested for the lead role, he is actually with another trainer.
And then, Madelyn’s questions...
Photo left: Richard Gabai (left) and Christopher Lloyd
How did Richard come to make Call of the Wild: 3D?
He describes himself as a “blue collar filmmaker,” making independent, low budget films for over 20 years. He said, “I have to be practical I have to eat.” But he yearned for something more. He decided some kind of name recognition or ‘branded’ entertainment might draw interest, and when he researched some ideas, he found that Call of the Wild is now in the public domain. That meant he could feel free to make a film about that story in some way without any upfront costs for the rights.
Richard really liked the idea of a film based on a piece of “great literature as a way to introduce kids to classic stories.” He elaborated: “The themes are universal and timeless. And I think Americans are hungry for Americana.” He added that he has three small children and is always interested in films like this that have appeal for both the kids and the parents where parents feel the film is a worthwhile experience and kids are entertained.
He took his idea to screenwriter Leland Douglas (Miracle Dogs Too), who wrote the screenplay. The story is not a straight adaptation of London’s book, but rather incorporates the book and the story into a contemporary tale about a girl who finds a dog while visiting her grandfather.
Richard knew this was no big-budget blockbuster far from it actually. He said, “We shot on a shoestring a shockingly low budget.” And he knew he had to be careful. “I didn’t want to insult Jack London fans. I didn’t want to ruin the book.”
Where and when was Call of the Wild shot?
The film was shot in Lincoln, Montana, where there is a 300-mile dog sledding race held these days strictly for fun. They did the shoot exactly one year ago, in February 2008. He came close to doing it a year earlier but with bad weather and a financing snag, it didn’t happen.
Richard was pleased to inform us that post-production was completed in record time, in just eight months and that includes doing it in 3D.
What about the film being in 3D?
Call of the Wild: 3D is the first independent live-action digital 3D movie. Richard pointed out that there are no CGI or visual or special effects used in the film only the 3D technology that enhances the ‘presence’ of the scenes.
He came up with 3D when brainstorming ways to separate his film from the pack, so to speak.
“I didn’t want another kid-and-dog movie that would go straight to DVD,” he explained.
After some research, he found 21st Century 3D in New York City. With Christopher Lloyd on board and with the 3D company lined up, financing was settled and they were ready to go.
Interestingly, Call of the Wild: 3D had its world premiere at a new 3D film festival. The 3DX: International 3D Film Fest kicked off in Singapore in November 2008, where Call of the Wild: 3D screened alongside Bolt.
What’s up next for director Richard Gabai?
He is working on a more or less straight adaptation of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer. It wasn’t surprising from the director who found Jack London’s Call of the Wild to his liking as an independent filmmaker.
Photo: Ryann (Ariel Gade) is consoled by her Grandpa Bill Hale (Christopher Lloyd)
Who said reading is a lost art? Jared has not read Call of the Wild, but this movie sparked his interest. Jack London’s most famous novel is now on Jared’s reading list.
And we can thank Richard Gabai
“It Came from the 3rd Demension" 3D Film Festival, Salmon Arm, BC, Canada (March 13-26, 2009)
MethodFest, Calabasas, CA (March 26-April 2, 2009), March 29, 2009 screening