It’s not the first time Hollywood favorite Channing Tatum and filmmaker Reid Carolin have teamed up on a project—past collaborations include the ever-popular ‘Magic Mike’ and Starz ‘Step Up: Highwater’ to name a few—but with their latest film, ‘Dog,’ this feature marks the first time the duo have co-directed. And it was all inspired by personal experiences.
The idea for the film, which opened in theaters on Feb. 18 and also stars Tatum, came out of a failed big-budget project ‘Gambit’ that the twosome was supposed to co-direct together, plus time spent on their documentary for HBO, ‘War Dogs: A Soldier’s Best Friend’, as well as their own experience with their furry pals.
“Both of our dogs got cancer around that time, and Channing went on a road trip to more or less say goodbye…He came back and he was really emotional. We just thought I don’t know what the movie is going to be, but we knew this [situation] was making us feel something small, real and personal. Why don’t we tell stories about this and how we loved our relationships with our dogs?”
After working on ‘War Dogs’—which tackles the unbreakable bond between multi-purpose K9s and their handlers— both Carolin and Tatum thought that chapter was closed. However, that doc is the exact bevy of influences the filmmakers turned to when mapping out characters for ‘Dog.’
“We just really made it a priority to mine those stories and to really understand those guys and that culture as much as we possibly could. And then, we wanted to make it a fun road movie and comedy,” explains Carolin. “I think it increasingly became a priority as we dealt with our own experiences with our dogs and Chan’s sadness about losing his dog… And the seriousness of the themes around our documentary and the veterans that we dealt with.”
The movie is, as Carolin says, a joyous buddy comedy. But the themes of seriousness come in from honest outlooks on men who have spent most of their lives living as warriors and now have to transition back to being peaceful civilians.
“It’s a really tough transition to make oftentimes, and their dogs really were the beings that helped them make that transition. We just wanted to be honest to their experience as much as we possibly could. Jackson Briggs, the main character, is really an amalgamation of all of their stories,” continues Carolin. “It does deal with themes of Post Traumatic Stress for lack of a better word. It certainly deals with the effects of losing your tribe and losing the meaning to your tribe and trying to find a new one. That’s what we really heard a lot from these guys: When you really mean something to a community of people, and you have great responsibility, when you lose that—that’s the most destabilizing thing of all. You desperately want that back and you can’t have that back. So who do you turn to? How do you develop meaning in the world again when all you know is being a warrior?”
It’s about the dogs as well, or more so, how we see them.
“Dog refers to just a thing, an animal. That’s not what these dogs are, and it’s not the way their soldiers see them either. The Rangers outrank their handlers, and they’re seen as brothers, sisters and soldiers. They’re really not just dogs,” explains Reid. “When you start to begin to see them as fully-fletched three-dimensional beings, you start to take emotional responsibility for them. Which is, of course, Briggs’ journey and hopefully, our journey in thinking about how we treat these animals.”
‘Dog’ follows the story of two former Army Rangers (Tatum as Jackson Briggs and three pups as the hero Lulu,) and their journey down the Pacific Coast in hopes of making it to a fellow soldier’s funeral on time. Along the way they meet a slew of characters (the pet psychic and her pot farmer husband certainly stand out) and learn a lot about each other and how to ultimately trust again.
On set, there had three dogs in rotation (“four animals on set if you count Channing,” Carolin jokes.) Lana, Zuza and Brita. Brita did about 80% and was the acting dog, while Lana was described as a docile sweetheart who did 10% and Zuza the large dog did the more aggressive bits such as bucking and running.
Working with animals brought on its own set of challenges, but the duo had somewhat of an upper hand having a strong working relationship (they have their own production company, Free Association) and friendship.
“When you know somebody that well, you can’t hide from them and you don’t have any psychological blocks in communicating with them,” Carolin explains. “The cool thing about co-directing in a medium and job that is kind of a benevolent dictatorship: When you co-direct you get surprised by your own creation. What comes out the other end is not just the vision that is in your head, it’s combination of your collective visions that you get to re-discover as you go. I find that part of it to be really rewarding. ”
‘Dog’ isn’t a Marvel movie with big-budget graphics, or a thriller with intense action. It does, however, provide a whole lot of heart, and that’s what the intention was for both Carolin and Tatum in the first place.
“Maybe it’s the time that we’re in, but there’s something nice about feeling a warm hug at the movie theaters, I hope people get some of that. But I also hope they get more out of it, I hope they get connected to a community of, in this case, men that are often misunderstood and who are increasingly disconnected from our culture at large. I think it’s important to identify with their experience,” finishes Carolin. “I hope people see Lulu as more than just a dog. More than anything the major intent of this is to make her become a human in our eyes. I think if we do that well, as we encounter social issues with this community of guys or dogs, we’ll be increasingly empathetic towards them and give support to those people where needed when they come home and make that transition from war to peace.”
‘Dog‘ is now showing in theaters.