Director Allison Anders Talks Bulldogs and Indie Movies
Acclaimed director Allison Anders is known for channelling her passions -– music and the issues surrounding women's lives -– into her films. But she also has an abiding passion for a certain lady in her life: her adorable English Bulldog, Tootsie.
After a tough and itinerant upbringing, Allison came to prominence with her punk-rock-driven, low-budget masterpiece Border Radio. After hits with Gas Food Lodging, Mi Vida Loca, and Grace of My Heart, she has returned to her indie roots with the Kickstarter-funded Strutter. She is also responsible for the annual Don’t Knock the Rock film festival, showcasing the world's best films about music. And though one has yet to play a major part in one of her movies, animals and Tootsie in particular obviously play a huge part in her life.
Dogster: Tell us about your dog.
Allison: Tootsie is an adorable soulful English Bulldog who was used to breed at a puppy mill in Texas. We don’t know how many litters she had, but we think at least three. She also had one blind eye where she ran into a barbed-wire fence.
My boyfriend Terry saw her advertised for sale for a small fee from these breeders who were getting out of the business. He went and got her, and he told her on the drive back to L.A., "You’re on Easy Street now. You get to relax and enjoy the rest of your life.” She’s the sweetest, easiest coolest addition to our lives. She comforts us, delights us, makes us laugh and smile, she inspires us, she stands watch over us if we’re sick -- she’s such a touching creature! She’s not real good with other dogs, but she absolutely loves people, especially us.
How important is it to have an animal in your life?
Sometimes I think I’d rather not be attached to a pet, 'cause it’s hard to have that attachment, and the inevitable grief and loss when they pass. With bulldogs you know the lifespan is not long, so you’re constantly aware of this, although in her case she is superhealthy so I can’t imagine her not being around for a good while.
I love interacting with nonhuman creatures, and when it’s your own pet, they become part of your life, part of your family — except they will never owe you money or rip you off for a drug problem or give you unsolicited advice on your relationship or create psychodrama during the holidays! And yet they will defend you from attack and pull you from a burning building without thinking twice. So yeah, they’re the best part of what family is.
What was your background with animals before that?
Since I really didn’t have pets growing up, I spent my adult years making terrible mistakes as a pet owner. It’s a really big responsibility to take on, and you should really be educated.
Terry had bulldogs before and has had dogs all his life, so he really knows how to care for them. Especially bulldogs, who have their own unique qualities and challenges. But having said that — oh my god, the dogs and cats I have loved in my life. There was Buddy, the unruly Golden Retriever who got so jealous of the new kitten that he brought me my running shoes in his mouth so I would put down the kitten and we could go have quality time on the track by the beach together.
There was Rascal, the cat who loved music and singing so much it would throw him into ecstasy. He was also a people lover and the most connected I had ever seen. I dreamt one night I was in the hospital and he was my doctor -- in a medical coat, stethoscope, and chart, smiling at me when he came to check on me, the patient. He introduced himself as Dr. Bernard Pascual. It became a family joke, and I now always name every doctor in my work that name. He was killed by a hit-and-run driver and I grieved like I had never done before. I vowed to never have another pet, but then came our Tootsie. It was worth loving again for sure.
I know I will be reunited with my pets one day ... when I die I will walk through the tunnel toward the bright light and before I can embrace my friends and relatives on the other side, Buddy will be running to meet me with my bra in his mouth, humping my leg. “No, Buddy, get down! Yes, I’m happy to see you too.”
Would you ever take your dog onto a set?
Oh of course — but only as an actress, 'cause she snores too much otherwise! She is in my new movie Strutter, and I write her into every script now. She could totally give Uggie, the dog in The Artist, a run for his money at scene stealing.
What one piece of advice would you give to prospective pet owners?
Know your pet and respect them as the animal they are, know their personality and treat them in accordance with that. And don’t assume everyone loves pets -- and don’t take it personally.
I was really afraid of dogs for years, and it was always hard for me when people brought dogs around without being sensitive to my anxiety. And some people don’t like cats rubbing on them. So, love your pet, and love it when people love your pet, but be respectful that not everyone likes animals. (Their loss!)
Have you ever considered making a dog-related project, or does the old adage about not working with children and animals apply?
I would LOVE to do that. I was recalling recently some movie I saw as a kid, probably something like a Lassie movie -- I saw it on the screen, an old man and his dog -- it was so emotional and tore me up! I’d like to do a movie like that, where a dog is not animated and talking hip-hop and listening to Rick James, but is a real dog.
I thought Uggie was incredibly adorable and winning in The Artist -- kinda brilliant, too. Yes, I must make that film.
Has being a director provided you with any insight or skills in coping with your dog?
No, I am such a terribly hopeless disciplinarian with my kids and on the set, so I think this holds true with Tootsie, too.
Tell us about Don’t Knock the Rock.
It’s a film and music festival in L.A. every summer at the Silent Movie Theater that I founded with my daughter to bring music-centered films to L.A., especially ones which have a specific audience of diehard fans but that maybe are not known to most people.
Are there any films you'd love to get for it?
Yes, every year! We sometimes don’t get films because they are waiting for a bigger festival which requires a world premiere (we don’t). Or maybe the film has already done the festival circuit and the distributors don’t want it out there anymore before its release.
And sometimes it’s just bad timing. Last year we couldn’t get Scott Walker: 30 Century Man -- we just kept missing the date on it. But we ended up doing the DVD release party and put together an amazing night — a Scott Walker tribute show, which was so inspiring to me that it inspired a screenplay!
What is the most extravagant thing you’ve done for your dog?
We don’t give her goofy clothes or anything, but we cook for her and make her sweet potatoes and organic buffalo and we also buy nice-quality raw food. It’s weird to me that people think that’s spoiling your dog. She has a bunch of fluffy blankets and beds, but she doesn’t play with toys and she doesn’t chew, unfortunately, so bones are nothing to her.
What advice would you give to fledgling filmmakers?
What I would say is this: Yes, you have your Canon 5d to shoot your movie, and laptop to edit your movie, and crowd funding to help you with all your costs. But you still need to have a story to tell, so work on your storytelling skills, whether it's with writing or editing or camerawork.
And take risks, not just creatively but in your life, so there is reason for us to care about the story. Fall madly in love, get your heart broken, put yourself out there to be told no, go through all that -- and then your work will have a heartbeat.
And be ready with the second script by the time your first film premieres!
Photo credits: All pictures courtesy Allison Anders