CS Interview: Think Like a Dog Director Gil Junger
Think Like a Dog is a fun, cute, simple family comedy about a young boy who is able to hear his dog’s thoughts. To celebrate the film’s release, we reached out to the film’s director, Gil Junger, to discuss the process of making the film.
Think Like A Dog is a whimsical family comedy about a boy and his dog, and a science project that will change all of their lives forever. It follows 12-year-old Oliver, a tech prodigy whose middle-school science fair experiment goes awry, creating a telepathic connection between him and his furry friend, Henry. The bond brings Oliver and Henry even closer as they join forces to comically overcome complications at school, and help Oliver’s parents rekindle their marriage along the way.
The film stars Gabriel Bateman (Lights Out, Child’s Play), Josh Duhamel (Transformers films, Love Simon), Megan Fox (Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, Transformers, Jennifer’s Body), Janet Montgomery (Black Swan, The Space Between Us), Julia Jones (Twilight films, Westworld), Kunal Nayyar (The Big Bang Theory) and Bryan Callen (Ride Along, Joker).
Think Like A Dog is written and directed by Gil Junger, who is best known for his directorial debut film 10 Things I Hate About You which starred Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The film is produced by Cory Chen, Andrew Lazar, and Linshu Zhang.
Think Like a Dog is available to stream now on Amazon and you can order your copy here!
ComingSoon.net: How did you get involved with Think Like a Dog?
CS: That’s interesting.
Junger: And I’ve always been mesmerized by how dogs are always happy, you know? They’re just always happy. And I kind of wanted to use that simplistic, loving gratitude-filled perspective on life to show my boys how it can be done and how, in my opinion as an older man now, how it should be done. Focus on what matters, period.
CS: That’s what I liked about the movie. Even though it is an outlandish comedy, you treat the drama in straightforward fashion.
Junger: Oh yeah.
CS: Was that something that evolved as you were crafting the screenplay?
Junger: Yeah, well, I didn’t want to make a goofy film. I wanted to make a film – well, I wanted to make a film that I wanted to go see. And for me, of course, there’s funny and yes, there’s a huge idea, a high concept, as they call it, but the emotional core of the movie is very real. I mean, I definitely put a lot of myself and my pain and my drifting apart from my wife into the film. I wanted the film to appeal to both kids, because there’s the fun of the element and the big high concept, which is cool, but I didn’t want to be making one of those films where the parents are sitting there going, oh my god, 90 more minutes until this stupid movie’s over. I wanted the parents to go, wow, that was really a beautiful message. I really appreciated it. And I think I succeeded.
CS: Oh yeah, and see I was going to say that. It reminded me of those old 90’s films that I grew up with like Beethoven.
Junger: Oh good.
CS: One of the best aspects of the film is the dog’s voice as voiced by Todd Stashwick. How did you land him for that particular role?
Junger: That is such a good question. Okay. So when we did originally the reading of the script, you know, before you start shooting, I called my friend Bryan Callen, who is in the movie, he’s a comedian. And I said, “Hey Bryan.” I said, “I need someone at this reading to read the dog, but have a real character to his voice, really invest just for the reading. We’re probably going to go with X big star for the real voice, but if you know of anyone who is like, improv and really can create a character off the top of his head?” And he said, “My good friend Todd Stashwick is crazy at improv and really smart.” I said, “All right.” It was literally that simple. So I never met the guy. I called the guy. He said, “Ah, I’d love to do it.” But no money or anything, they’re just like, doing me a favor because Bryan was a mutual friend. And I am telling you, dude, at the reading I was like, uh, that’s the guy. You know, I’d like to think I’m pretty good at casting, and I turned to Andrew Lazar, the producer and I said, “You know what? Why don’t we save $2 million and not pay whoever to be the typical, ‘Oh let’s get Kevin Hart’,” because that would’ve been a slam-dunk choice for a studio. But I have to tell you the truth, I really fought for Todd because he did such a good job and it was so honest and he touched everyone in the reading. So I’m like, why would I just replace him just so I could have another name on the marquee, you know what I mean? And Andrew Lazar, my producer and my friend trusted me and said, “You know what? Go with it. He did a phenomenal job. Let’s use Todd.” And I’m so glad we did.
CS: If you had a celebrity in there, like a big-time celebrity, you’re almost distracted by the fact that it’s Kevin Hart talking, right?
Junger: Exactly. Yeah, no, that’s exactly the reasoning behind the choice I made. And it was also the reasoning behind the way I casted 10 Things I Hate About You. I did not want any recognizable faces in that movie and because I wanted it to feel real. And it’s exactly what I did with Todd. So I’m glad you recognized that because that makes me feel good.
CS: So, how much of what he did was improvised because there’s some great observational humor — all from a dog’s perspective, obviously.
Junger: It’s I’d say 20 percent or something like that. He had some very good ideas. But it’s not even the words that he improvised, it’s the attitude that he embraced the words that I wrote with, you know? He just had this zest for life, I’m not the smartest tool in the shed, I’m a little scruffy, but goddamn, every single day I wake up, I’m a happy man, you know? And that’s what he did. I even think there’s a line. He said, “Wake up happy, go to sleep happy and get up the next day happy.” You know, it’s kind of the character of that sweet, loving animal. So anyway.
CS: Did you find working with animals on set to be difficult?
Junger: I didn’t find it difficult at all. And the reason – well, I’ve worked with tons of kids. But well, first of all, Gabriel is a brilliant young actor. I think he’s one of the best young actors I’ve ever worked with in 42 years. I mean, this kid is so smart, he will challenge you. He’s wicked smart. And he just has access to so many feelings. But anyway, so he was a dream, period. And the dogs, the trainers we got were so good, and I made it very clear, I want to have a connection between the dogs and the actors. I don’t want to see the dogs looking off for the trainers on the side of the room when I’m shooting a take.
So what they did, they took that very seriously. And then, what they did, not only did they train Henry for three months, but in this specific mood, and the specific moves and the specific actions on set because the sets were already built. But another thing that they did, which I thought was really smart and worked incredibly well was the instant Gabriel showed up on set for rehearsals, which was like, two weeks, the instant Gabriel showed up, they made sure that Gabriel spent every free minute he had, and I mean literally every free minute when he was awake, to be with Henry. And what that did created a sense of confidence and comfort between the dog and the boy, and it really shows in the movie. I mean, I don’t know how you would compare it to other dog films, but I think it’s true, well, I know it’s true that the amount of time that I was able to get Henry to look right into Gabriel’s eyes was kind of extraordinary. Even the trainers were like, oh my god, you know, because they spent four weeks making sure that Gabriel was hanging out with Henry, and he loved it, by the way. He loved that dog all that time. So the dog wasn’t always looking around for trainers. The dog was looking at Gabriel. It’s kind of cool. It’s like, I think because that connection was so organic, if you will, there are periods in the film where you forget it’s a dog. It’s just two actors kind of talking. And I think it’s one of the reasons the film works as well as it does, I believe.
CS: This film features a great cast. Since it was a personal story, was there a bit more guidance on your part delivered to the actors?
Junger: Well, I’m very much an actor’s director. I take pride in that. You know, I work very closely with the actors and I have a lot of suggestions, whether they’re good or bad, I have a lot of them. And because I wrote the script, because it was such a personal story, you know, here’s my job as I see it. I think 85 percent of my job is casting, right? Because if you can get a great actor, you’re 85 percent home.
And then, what I do is I kind of nudge and steer and just try to guide them into a place where it feels honest and organic in my head. And you know, Megan and Josh were first of all, fantastic. And I knew that Megan was that good of an actor because I actually gave Megan her first job on a TV series 15 years ago. I think it was 15 years ago. I was the executive producer and director of a sitcom called Hope & Faith will Kelly Ripa. And I ended up casting Megan in that TV series, and I knew that she was very much underutilized because no one knew who she was and she was like a young kid in the TV show and blah, blah, blah. And I also believed – well, I was also excited to cast both of them because both of them really got the script, really liked the message. Both have kids. Both have had times in their married life where they had either grown apart and already gotten divorced or definitely had some of those really rough patches that every married couple has. And they responded to that so well. So I was lucky, you know? They are two big actors that weren’t just doing it for a paycheck, they were doing it because they believed in the essence of the story. And I mean, for a director, that’s it. You know?
Junger: And they’re really good actors. And it was a joy. I mean, they would do take after take and try it different ways. And they really invested in this, and I’m very grateful.
CS: Do you have a favorite scene that you shot in the film that you’re particularly proud of?
Junger: Well, I think there were two – well, there’s a number of them, but the scene where Gabriel comes downstairs and literally directly challenges the parents to ask if they’re getting divorced. That’s such a painful scene, and I thought all three of them were just incredible. And I also loved the scene on the porch, when Josh and Megan were basically saying they were recognizing that it looks like it’s going to end. And they were both so concerned about the well-being of their son and how their son would handle this pending divorce. And because I’ve been there. I’ve been exactly there, yet it was handled with so much love between the two of them, love and respect. For me, it was picture perfect. As a matter of fact, the scene in the kitchen that I just mentioned, both Josh and Megan literally for two minutes after we shot that scene, they just went off to separate corners of their own and were crying and literally were just crying on their own because the scene itself, I don’t know, they were so invested and it just really hit home for them. It was kind of beautiful.
CS: That’s great. You can really feel the emotion of the film. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, so congratulations on the film. Thanks for reaching out to us.
Junger: Well, cool! I appreciate it.