Year of the Dog: Interview with Mike White

“Year of the Dog” is a Paramount Vantage presentation of a Rip Cord /Plan B Production. Acclaimed screenwriter Mike White makes his directorial debut from his own original screenplay. Dede Gardner and Ben LeClair produce and Nan Morales is executive producer.

The story centers on Peggy (Molly Shannon) and her dog Pencil as inseparable companions. They sleep together; eat together; and even take-in Friday night movies together. Life is uncomplicated and safe, and although Pencil is a Beagle, Peggy is happily entrenched in a satisfying relationship of co-dependency with her beloved pet. But with love comes loss, and Peggys world comes crashing down when Pencil meets a mysterious demise in the neighbors (John C. Riley) yard. Left to pick-up the pieces of her shattered life, Peggy embarks on a personal journey to fill the void. Friends, family and co-workers (Laura Dern, Regina King, Josh Pais, Tom McCarthy, and Peter Saarsgard) try to distract Peggy from her misery with their own obsessive quests for happiness, but in the end, she emerges from her loss with a new found sense of her place in the world and what it takes to make her happy.

The following are comments that Mike White made when he introduced “Year of the Dog” and then held a Q&A after the screening at its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, January 20, 2007.

Obsessive Thinking

The movie is a lot about obsessive thinking, says writer-director Mike White. I dont think they are extreme characters, but theyre kind of obsessed with where they derive their happiness and where they think Peggy should derive her happiness.

White points to Robin, Peggys boss, who is obsessed with material success, her brother and sister-in-law who are consumed with their children and Layla, Peggys office worker and best friend, who only can think about the joys of getting married.

Failing as Human Beings

Producer Dede Gardner adds, Year of the Dog” is about how people dont listen to people and how they get very wrapped up in their own lives, not even in a selfish way, but in a kind of matter of fact way. Its a real comment on our failings as human beings to listen to other human beings, and suggests that pets are a legitimate source of comfort and companionship.

Casting

White, whose previous writing efforts include Orange County, The Good Girl and School of Rock, has assembled an exceptional ensemble cast, which includes Molly Shannon, John C. Reilly, Regina King, Laura Dern and Peter Saarsgard.

The role of Peggy was specifically written for Molly Shannon, notes White. I knew she could do this part, and in a way, she inspired it, says White. Theres so much to her acting. She is so skilled and specific that it was really fun to watch everyday. Shes obviously an incredibly, funny comedian, but she is also a skilled actress. Molly is known primarily for her six-year comedic stint on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ but we had actually together previously on a short-lived TV series, ‘Cracking Up.’ Right after that, I decided I am going to do a feature movie with Molly, who is so talented.”

Making Money

“I hope the movie makes a lot of money for Paramount Vantage,” says Mike White, “or that at least that they recoup their expense.”

Biggest Challenge

Directing the dogs was the toughest challenge for us, because we worked with trained dogs, which means that we had to give them strange orders in order to get the reactions we wanted. There’s nothing spontaneous about their conduct in the film. There were so many dog trainers on the set that helped us.”