Based on a popular Jack London high adventure novel which has been filmed before, Call of The Wild is a family-friendly tale initially about a man and his dog. Every set extended and location – including snow and northern lights created digitally – look fantastic but there’s something about the use of computers to fashion animals that caused the most controversy before this movie was even released. If you look closely, there are problems that the human eye will pick up on across a 40 foot cinema screen. However as an entertaining old school yarn with one of the greats, Harrison Ford, elevating proceedings, I liked it. Director and Disney animation maestro Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch, Mulan) talked to me about the process, the cast and his main dog Buck. Yes, he’s real!
As your first live action feature as Director, was this kind of old style adventure story a favourite genre of yours?
CS – It’s one of the reasons I felt excited about doing it. Movies like Old Yeller (1957) and Pollyanna (1960) were classical influences.
I really liked Cara Gee, her presence on screen is terrific.
CS – So glad you liked her Shane. I don’t think we talk enough about her, she’s great as her character which was switched from a man to a woman. Cara was brilliant as Francoise, commanding her scenes.
Was Harrison the first one cast with others following on?
CS – It became a surprise gift for me as we discussed what actors might be up for playing the role. When driving one day, the producer called and said: Hey Chris… Harrison Ford should be John Thornton! Before I knew it, we were driving up to his house to talk about the project. By that time we spoke – he had already stopped shaving to grow that massive beard.
So Harry did not have CGI beard or hair?
CS – All his (laughs).
Did you ever own or know a dog like Buck?
CS – Every dog in our movie has a real live action counterpart as a way to shortcut creative process. After casting, scanning, the only dog we had trouble finding was Buck. It was suggested we use a Burmese mountain dog, but the dog in the book by Jack London is described as a cross between St.Bernard and Mountain Shepherd but couldn’t find one. After beginning with a BMD months into the process, it wasn’t working out well. Cut to my wife looking on Pet Finder (lost and found pet network), she found a dog breed exactly described in the book. Found wandering the streets of a Kansas town, his name was Buckley. She drove two days to pick him up, I had to stay on-set. She bought him for $25 returning home with no real intention to cast him in film. Our producer immediately said, let’s make this dog our lead.
The opening scene reminded me of Beethoven (1992). Where is Buckley now?
CS – You’re right, that’s neat. And Buck now lives with us.
Directing live action obviously a variant to animation, but that avalanche sequence was a challenging mix of everything.
CS – We planned out everything by what we call as Pre-Vis. Extensive preparation making it believable, a huge amount of fine tuning on that.
What was the process of motivating the actors opposite non-existent animals?
CS – Always had a stand-in for Buck in the form of stunt legend movement choreographer Terry Notary for eyeline contact while also getting together with Harrison off camera to discuss playing out scenes. So Buck in a sense had a real voice in Terry (laughs). He made it easy and fun.
Nominated for three Oscars, what is the feeling like when you get the call?
CS – You’re in pyjamas really early in the morning with hot chocolate hoping to hear the name of your film read out. A thrilling feeling.
What will audiences get out of Call of the Wild?
CS – Poignant, emotional drama. If you love dogs, it’s for you. Our dog survives so if people don’t know the story, no concerns necessary. Buck goes on an amazing adventure, heart-warming parallel to life itself. An unpredictable journey and Buck does not get defeated after many harsh confrontations.
Tell me something about Nicolas Cage, working on The Croods (2013).
CS – He was fun at all times, he’s interested in everything. Can talk about anything, has great curiosity and a professional joy to work with. He’s not weird, he’s just serious, whilst very smart. The first thing he said on-set was: ‘What was it about my aura that told you I could play a troglodyte’.
CALL OF THE WILD: Rated PG, 100 min.
Starring Harrison Ford, Karen Gillan, Cara Gee, Dan Stevens.
Now showing in Cinemas.
Shane A. BassettSydney Unleashed is one of Australia’s premier entertainment publications exploring the latest in lifestyle trends. From Sydney’s finest restaurants, cafes and bars to the hottest in gadgets, products, and home entertainment, Sydney Unleashed is your one-stop lifestyle platform.