Fresh off the set late last week, line producer Alex Riegelmann explained that the Voice for Lil Olive team had just completed three hours of filming over two days. Asked how much of that footage would make it into the final film, Riegelmann replied, “Maybe five minutes, tops.”
A lot of work on a film project goes unseen by the viewing public. And most of that work is done far from the bright lights and rolling cameras.
For one thing, there’s script-writing. Even though a documentary may try to capture real life in all its messiness, good storytelling is a very deliberate practice, says producer/writer Kirsten Akens. Of her work, she says, “I’m writing narrations and segments that we might do animated, and segments that might be live-action or interviews, and trying to ensure that there’s a thread all the way through.”
At this stage, a big part of her work is research. Akens has been combing through hundreds of statistics, trying to find the most compelling, germane and well-sourced facts related to puppy mills today. She’s read books such as The Humane Economy, the recent release by Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States. She’s also been viewing dozens of films — which is not as enjoyable a job as you might think.
“So many of the animal-welfare documentaries out there are just so hard to watch …” she says. “It’s sort of the hit-you-over-the-head-with-the-horribleness-of-what’s going-on. And we’re really, really trying not to do that with ours.”
She adds, “We’re going to have happy moments and sad moments and angry moments, but we’re not putting out 90 minutes of dogs in horrible conditions or being pulled out of cages. There’s a history to be told and we’ll do it justice, but the focus is really on the positive side, and how people can make a change.”
That in mind, it makes sense that Akens recently attended the 2016 Best Friends National Conference in Salt Lake City. For 15 years, the Kenab, Utah-based Best Friends nonprofit has held gatherings where thousands of passionate professionals exchange ideas and best practices related to saving animals’ lives. This year’s three-day event included presentations from various “titans of animal welfare” and no fewer than seven educational tracks.
“There was a workshop specifically on puppy mills,” Akens says. “There were workshops related to what we’re talking about [in A Voice for Lil Olive] in some ways, such as how to take care of yourself while caring for an animal that potentially has a lot of emotional needs because it’s coming out of a shelter, or a puppy mill.”
Simply connecting with animal advocates has been a priority, too, both at Best Friends and at last month’s BlogPaws conference in Phoenix (where The Voice for Lil Olive team was nominated for a BlogPaws Nose-to-Nose Award.) In these conversations, team members like Akens have continued to cultivate supporters and possible resources for the film, some of which they could tap as soon as next month, when they’ll be shooting in L.A.
Yet another piece of behind-the-scenes work is one that’s virtually never done — fundraising. Early 2016’s successful Indiegogo campaign helped get Lil Olive to where it is today, and continues to attract InDemand donations. But to deliver a finished film by late 2016 or early 2017, people like Akens, director Pete Schuermann and executive producer Tom Young know they need other injections of significant funding.
“The fact of the matter is that if we don’t raise money, we’ll have to stop everything in a few months, maybe for a couple months,” says Young. “But if we can raise more money, we’ll [keep] this thing going. And I think we will.”
Copyright 2016 Shelter Island Films
A Voice for Lil Olive is a new documentary from award-winning filmmaker Pete Schuermann. The film explores the special bond between pets and their families, and how rescued dogs change lives. The film's mission is to make people aware of and to change attitudes about rescued pets through the telling of Lil Olive’s tale. In this way, she becomes the voice for so many dogs and animals in need.