They are our loyal companions, they can bring us to tears of both joy and despair and unwittingly become the epicentre of our lives. The domestication of dogs can be traced back 11,000 years and in the global pandemic and ensuing lockdowns, they hastily found themselves in higher demand than ever. Whilst it could be argued that the majority of the film and TV projects featuring man’s best friend tend to skew towards over-sentimentality, every now and then a gem comes your way which makes you smile at just being able to really appreciate dogs for what they are. DN alum Matt Cascella, who previously treated audiences to the intimate life journey of a mattress in Beds, now presents us with Talking Dog – a witty short providing an insight into the lives of some of Maine’s loveable canines. He joins DN for the premiere of his four-legged friend documentary and discusses mixing guerrilla street footage with studio setups, clarifying narrative intention with voiceover and why he feels more comfortable taking a free-form approach when directing and planning his own projects.
Where did the inspiration for focusing on our beloved furry friends come from?
Talking Dog started off as a set of interviews for an entirely different project. I was doing research for a feature, talking to folks about their dogs of course, and I was quite entertained and moved by some of their responses. There was something spontaneous and genuine about the banter, and I realized it could make a fun short film. At the same time, a group of Maine filmmakers (of which I was a part) were tasked with making a short documentary over the pandemic winter, the goal being to keep our creative minds from going batshit. So that also galvanized the project quite a bit, because it threw a looming date on the calendar!
What had happened to the feature you were initially researching?
The feature is still barrelling forth. I’ve been working on a narrative screenplay with my wife, who’s an incredible writer, and we’re in the initial pre-production stages. I don’t want to spill too many beans, because it could all backfire, but we’re excited and pushing the ball forward.
What were your next steps after you decided to commit to the project?
After stencilling out the structure with the audio, I rallied with a friend and wildly talented cinematographer, Nathan Golon, to figure out a sort of dog mosaic approach. Whether it was scrappy footage from an iPhone or pristine imagery from the Alexa Mini, it was all useful for Talking Dog. We also wanted to contrast the guerrilla approach on the street with the more controlled studio setting (the studio being Nathan’s living room), which also involved convincing/begging my wife to be in the video with our dog, Ollie. In the end, I really love their segments of the piece.
We wanted to contrast the guerrilla approach on the street with the more controlled studio setting
The interviews were conducted in a couple of months over this past winter. The edit happened in the off hours of my daytime work during the same winter window. It’s important for me not to over-labor a piece. You need to go through multiple drafts of course, but I don’t care about reaching perfection (I don’t even know where that is).
Did all of the footage come from you and if not where else did you pull it from?
All of the footage came from us, except the nifty iPhone footage, which was graciously given to us by Alex Morrow, one of the interviewees and organizer of the Maine film project this was a part of. Kali, her dog, is so photogenic and hilarious. We lucked out.
How did you decide on your interview subjects and what sort of brief did you give them?
I’m new to the great state of Maine, so a few of the interviewees were folks who just happened to be in my small orbit, and who happened to be gaga over dogs. I also reached out to an editor at a local paper I enjoy, who was super helpful at tipping me off to a couple dog lovers in Portland. The lowdown I gave them was pretty much, “Hey, I’d love to talk to you for thirty minutes about your dog(s)”, keep it casual. I curated questions specifically for the interviewee but also asked reoccurring thematic questions.
Did you always plan to feature your own dulcet tones for the voiceover?
My voiceover was definitely not in the early iterations. It came about after a couple folks who viewed a rough draft of the piece were trying to pinpoint the purpose of it, why I made it. In typical fashion, I bristled, then hyperventilated, then puked. I’m joking, but only sort of. In truth, I thought they had really valid points, but at the same time I was trying to make something a little more free-floating and lighthearted. I work most my days as an editor on hyper serious, usually pointed documentaries. This type of storytelling is absolutely necessary, but so is the other stuff. So the voiceover was made as a response but also acts as these narrative pillars throughout.
The “free-floating” tone of this feels so apt for the subject matter.
Good to hear that worked out! Maybe part of that is not having a rigid structure from the outset. We had goals and a stylistic approach, but I like the moments we capture to dictate how the story will shake out in post. On a lot of the TV projects I edit, we’re shoehorning footage to fit a predetermined story. The line seems to be getting more and more blurred with narrative filmmaking, which can be problematic. With my own projects, I don’t try to squeeze things out of people. Which isn’t novel at all, but whereas it was once the rule, it now seems to be the exception.
We had goals and a stylistic approach, but I like the moments we capture to dictate how the story will shake out in post.
What are you working on now?
I’m editing on a documentary series at the moment while chipping away at my first feature film.