I wanted to share our start in filmmaking and what we faced when we told people we were making a feature-length documentary about German Shepherds. I honestly never thought it was a bad idea, but I was terribly biased because, after all, I was the target audience. But the impending question was, were there others out there like me? And did they want to watch a film about German Shepherds and their owners? Friends and family were not backward in saying we were nuts and I think my partner in crime was thinking the same thing but he was willing to indulge the crazy hair-brained idea and cop the reactions on the chin if it meant we could make a film together.
So we pooled together our existing equipment, quit our full-time jobs and lived on a modest budget to produce a completely independent Australian film that hopefully the world or at least German Shepherd owners would love. Black and Gold Documentary was what we would call it and we started to work on a plan, which was no plan at all. We hadn’t a clue what we were doing, but we had enough passion to jump in and we’d figure it out.
We were committed to producing the best documentary celebrating an emotional connection with owners and their Shepherds and we reached out to as many people and organisations as we could afford to travel to. We contacted the state and national GSD club, rescue organisations, dog sports clubs, and big box pet franchises, but nobody seemed interested enough to get back to us. So we decided to make up some ads and left them in vets, pet stores, groomers, and dog parks. We published our first Facebook post of our movie poster which our family and friends kindly ‘liked’ and I think for the first month or two we had about 12 people.
There was an older couple and another family who agreed to let us film their puppies and follow their story from before their pups arrived home to the settling in period which was wonderful and it allowed us to get our feet wet filming dark, low moving objects. We would go back when they were a bit older for a follow-up and couldn’t wait, they were just beautiful and we loved playing with them.
Unfortunately, our phone was still very quiet. Every morning I would wake up checking my phone hoping for one message, but we were nobodies from a small town, we’d never done a film and no one had heard of us. This added to my own imposter syndrome and feelings of illegitimacy. I remember being asked what I did for a living one morning at a bridal shop in Mt Gravatt trying on wedding dresses and mumbled out what to me sounded like a big fat lie. To my surprise, the owner was a dog lover and got very excited asking me for any information. I sheepishly jotted down our Facebook page address on her business card and she’d not only checked us out but liked our stuff throughout the whole year. It was more than encouraging, but we still needed stories.
There were a few responses soon after this and things started to take an upturn but the stories turned out to be dishonest and we quickly saw the ugly side of people who presented themselves to be advocates of the breed but were far from it. It was very disheartening, but we soon realised, this was part of the filmmaking process. It was our process anyway and we needed to become savvier quickly.
Driving back from visiting one of the puppies we’d been filming, we had an idea to go and visit a training place out west in Ebeneezer. It was to a kennel I had taken my dog to when he was a puppy and it was run by a man who had been in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps. We were welcomed by Mike and Meagan at Aylward Dog School and they arranged a day for us to come and talk to Shepherd owners who were training with them to see if they would be interested. The following weekend we got up and took the drive out again and spoke to several people who we thought would be perfect for the project. We then set up filming dates and times and we were soon able to continue on!
Once we’d interviewed trainers and Shepherd owners from Aylward’s we published a couple of snippets in the style we were developing for the film. Within a week we began to see the interest pour in and the emotion resonates with German Shepherd owners from all over the world.
One person led to another who recommended someone else and soon we had more people than we thought we ever would. Our Facebook Page and website were also busy and we received requests to come and film people with their personal stories of rescue and heroism with their German Shepherds. It was more than we could have hoped for and it was looking like this could be a series and not just one documentary. But we had a modest budget and realised it was all we could do to just finish the film.
From early on and even before we started filming we’d always planned on crowdfunding. We’d looked at films that were successful in receiving considerable funding and were hopeful that we could do the same thing. I’d honestly put all of the eggs in this particular basket because we had a few things on our wish list. We wanted to include recreated scenes from some of the stories and license commercial footage of the GSD from other sources. But these were very expensive costs that we couldn’t absorb and after a bit more research and as we’d already suspected; crowdfunding was no longer a viable platform for independent filmmakers to attract genuine contributors. In the end, you weren’t getting much from contributions at all and you were doing all of the work. It was then agreed, we’d do everything off our own bat, stretch the budget further, push our wedding forward and cut out what we couldn’t afford to do.
After about 9 months into the project we attended a film festival workshop in Brisbane and heard from people in the entertainment industry from TV networks, independent filmmakers and streaming channels who shared their experiences and expertise, but one thing was perfectly obvious, we didn’t qualify for any state or national funding. I’d already found this out after sending out about a dozen emails seeking assistance from local industry bodies. We were not seasoned filmmakers and didn’t even have a solid plan to distribute our movie. We did talk about screenings throughout Australia and the rest of the world but knew it needed a budget that was out of our price range. However, it would be one of the most beneficial weekends and the greatest epiphany we had that whole year; we had a niche product with a niche audience and we could potentially make more movies on the German Shepherds on our own!
We had been thinking too small, initially, we planned to make one or two documentaries, possibly submit to several film festivals and see what happened. But we couldn’t screen the film anywhere beforehand. We also sought sponsorship to see if we could secure interest and funding to help us get our film distributed, but that didn’t eventuate either. The lightbulbs came on almost simultaneously, walking around Brisbane that afternoon in the rain and we knew what we wanted to do. We could sponsor our own film!
That same evening we sat down together overly excited and after a few hours, GSDTV was born, conceptually anyway. It would be the first German Shepherd exclusive online streaming channel available to everyone! Jason got to building it within a week and presto! We were ready to go! Except we didn’t have a movie let alone a selection of shows. We were way behind schedule as it was and this put us back even further, but we knew it was the answer for us going forward.
Now over budget, were we biting off more than we could chew? Probably. I sat down over the next week to plan out a schedule for potential shows we could shoot while Jason edited into odd hours every day. We already had a second project in the wings that would commence in early 2019 which we couldn’t wait to start, but I knew there was more. I went back and reread the emails from owners who poured out their hearts about their dogs and wanted so much to be involved in the project that I wanted to make that happen. I wanted this to include shows for the community and about the community of GSD owners and there was so much more to share!
Ideas came pouring out but I knew we’d need a pretty big budget. If our streaming model worked, we may have enough to produce what we’d be proud to share and this would be the job of a lifetime. Maybe one day we’d be able to get a dog of our own as well.