The Heidi Chronicles, Chapter 44: A dog "in development"
This is Heidi. Last year, she was "discovered" in the park by a pet talent agency; since then, she has embarked on a one-dog quest to break into the business. This is her Hollywood story as chronicled by Diane Haithman. And this is her "head shot": That longing look was achieved by placing a biscuit just out of reach.
Since signing up with Central Casting in early June -- seeking extra roles that include a talented German Shepherd -- Heidi and I have gotten no nibbles whatsoever from Hollywood.
But our East Coast colleague Lorraine Goodman, who writes a column on animals and show biz for Examiner.com, tipped us off to an open casting call being held in Burbank for a TV reality show involving dogs. (By the way, congrats to Lorraine's terrier mix, Tiger, who has landed a gig on a shoe commercial. Read her column here).
As is the case with many open casting calls for projects in development, no details were provided; dogs and unemployed actors don't ask questions; they come when called. The audition was not geographically desirable for Tiger, but Lorraine thought we might be intrigued. I applaud the professional courtesy I am observing in the working dog community.
Whether Heidi can act is still an open question -- but no one could argue with the fact that she is real dog. Plus, the producers were particularly interested in rescue dogs like Heidi. We responded to the e-mail with photos and a recounting of the heart-tugging story of Heidi's rescue from a Texas storm drain. Almost immediately, we got an e-mail asking us to set up an audition appointment.
Last week, we showed up for our appointment at the Glassman Media offices in a modern structure on Barham Boulevard; company credits include "The Ex-Wives Club," "National Bingo Night" and the NBC hit "Average Joe in Hawaii." Heidi, an average dog from Studio City, loved riding the building's elevator.
In response to "The Heidi Chronicles," the dog had received a sample of a new product, Pepper & Tanky Eau de Parfum for Dogs. Heidi's sample scent was Peaches n' Cream. I gave her a spritz for her audition. She smelled like dessert.
As we waited in the Glassman lobby for producers Beverley Self and Mike Aho, we met another audition hopeful, a woman with big hair, a leopard jumpsuit, high-heeled mules and two small, skinny, hairless dogs of a breed I did not recognize, one wearing a little overcoat. The woman smiled and held one dog in each hand to pose for photos. Heidi was wearing a red bandanna, and I was wearing blue jeans; we hardly fit such a glamorous profile. Plus, there was no way I could pick up Heidi.
Self ushered us into a small room where we would be videotaped; in order to get us into both into the shot, we had Heidi jump into a black leather swivel chair so she could sit beside me. Getting a 68-pound dog to sit in a swivel chair poses an interesting challenge, but Heidi was up to the job.
Then, I was asked to tell the camera the story of Heidi and why she should be a star -- all the while trying to keep Heidi from climbing out of the chair. I knew crazy, "The Price Is Right" enthusiasm was called for here, but I'm a writer, not a game show contestant. Bouncing, screaming and pleading are not part of my usual program.
I figured I'd let Heidi -- who often bounces -- do some of the talking; she has a very good, deep, loud, large-breed "speak." I gave the command as she sat in her swivel chair, and she spoke -- but it was a high-pitched, whining "Yip," not her usual formidable bark. I grinned foolishly and apologized, and tried again, several times, but all I could get out of her was "Yip, yip, yip!" She might as well have been one of those two little hairless space aliens being toted by the mom in the leopard jumpsuit.
Afterward,Self, Aho and I sat in the lobby and talked about the show. Although the producers didn't want to give too many details on the project because it's in development, they did reveal that the idea is to focus on the relationship of people and their dogs -- especially rescues -- and to show a rescue dog's worth by leading some of those dogs to careers in Hollywood. They also hope such a show will encourage more people to adopt rescues. Whether the dogs make it to the show or not, for some owners, Aho said, "it's almost satisfying just to do casting, because I guess there's not a lot of places where people can talk about their dogs."
I asked the producers to be honest about Heidi's chances; they said that, just as is the case for human actor hopefuls, you never know what the casting director is looking for. "I've seen the whole range this week, from Great Danes to Yorkies," Self said. "Although I would say that, right now, little dogs do seem to be the thing, the whole 'Beverly Hills Chihuahua' phenomenon...."
Well, Heidi may not be a Chihuahua, but apparently all you have to do is put her in a swivel chair in front of a video camera and suddenly she barks like one. It's just one of those things you learn in development.
-- Diane Haithman
Photo: Heidi waiting for her audition at Glassman Media. Credit: Diane Haithman / Los Angeles Times