Later this month PUP STAR: BETTER 2GETHER is being released to Digital HD and Download. The sequel to Pup Star brings back our favorite singing dog competition and of course Tiny. The family friendly film takes our the canine competition to another level and introduces new characters, new conflict and a lot of fun. While on the set of Pup Star: Better 2gether, I was able to sit down and talk to Anna McRoberts, producer and co-writer of the film to find out more about the sequel and what we can expect from the new movie.
How is it different for you working with dogs instead of humans?
We were laughing last night because David Deluise came up and said “Someone came up to me and said the humans can take a five minute break”. So we call them humans.
You know I’ve never made a movie that doesn’t have dogs, or animals of some sort. So I don’t really what it would be like to really not work with animals. So it’s sort of the opposite of most people. People say they don’t work with kids and animals. I couldn’t imagine a set without kids and animals. To me it would be very strange. We have so much fun on our sets, I think it would be odd without them.
I think with just humans, it’d probably be a lot easier, it’d move a lost faster. But it probably wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.
You said you’ve always done kid and animal movies. What drew you to this type of movie and family friendly titles?
It was sort of instinctual, and as we kept doing it the movies we realized how few of these movies there are out there. We found that it’s predominately animation for our demographic. Which I’d say is 3-11, but really 4-8 and some niche zone. There really isn’t a lot of live action movies for this age group, that have values we support in them. So it’s really important to us.
Moms are a huge part of our fan base, and moms know our movies are safe. They’re going to put their kids in front of our movies. There’s nothing bad, nothing negative and they only have good positive family values. As we started doing that instinctively we kept doing it, because there isn’t really anything out there.
The first movie received the Dove Foundation seal of approval – is that always your goal, or is it an added bonus?
It’s a very nice honor to get the Dove Foundation stamp of approval. But it’s because of the type of movies we want to put into the world that we get that honor for the film. We’re very honored to have it, but it’s almost part and parcel because that’s how much we care about putting good content out there. When they endorse the movies we’re thrilled, because it means they recognize what we’re trying to do. It’s almost like the stamp of approval that we did what we set out to do. We really just want to put positive messages out there.
Overall the messages throughout the movies are family and friend focused, not super religious, just supportive of values that everyone has.
I think at the end of the day, religious groups do support our films, because it’s about good values. It’s about being honest, kind and working as a team. They’re about families, and how families come in all shapes and sizes. You know anybody who is doing good in the world supports those values.
What is the casting process for an animal? Do they have to audition?
That’s a good question especially since we’re doing Pup Star! So sometimes we joke that it’s like Pup Star. We’re actually shooting something for our YouTube channel with our amazing team called “The Canine Factor”. It’s like a little dog walks on stage, the judge has them turn and says “Bravo!” That’s not how we audition, but I kind of wish it was.
We start the casting of the dogs during the script stage. So we write the script and we sort of write to our blue sky version of what breeds it would be, what the story would be. When we go to the production stage we talk to our animal trainers would are really the brains behind our operation and they either have that breed available, or if they don’t they make a suggestion of another breed.
If we were making a really big budget movie, we would get the breed we want. Spend six months finding that dog, training that dog. But to make our movies more affordable and efficient, we work with the dogs that are available and part of the animal team already. It usually works out perfectly, it’s this sort of magical thing. It may not be a dog we originally chose, but we’re presented with a dog and it’s perfect.
Like the Akita that plays Bark in the movie. Bark is this singer and a bad guy. I don’t think we would have wrote an Akita for that part, I forget what it was suppose to be originally, but it wasn’t an Akita. When he was presented we all thought “This dog is beautiful!” And with his beauty is this sort of attitude.
Then the voice casting becomes the next step. How are you going to make it pop when you need it to? That’s the sort of thing that happens when you’re open to what will come.
The trainers are very talented trainers, but they’re also very talented at reading a script and telling us what dog would be good for what role. They knew the Akita was a good dog for this.
How long does it take you to develop one of the scripts?
It takes us about six months. This is our 19th movie together. Robert Vince is the Director, I’m the Producer and we co-write. We know the stories, especially on the sequel. Especially on the Air Buddies, when we got to movie five or six, we knew what the dogs were going to say even before they said it. Same with Pup Star 2 – we knew what was coming. Pup Star 1 we actually wrote 7 years ago, it took us a while to make it. But in the sequel we already knew what the characters would say in a situation. You put them in a situation and you know how the characters will react.
Do you sit around and have conversations about what you’re going to name the dogs? Like Lady Paw-Paw? Or do you just play with the popular names?
Sometimes they come to you, like Taylor Snift. But Lady Paw-Paw took a while to get to. At first she had a different name, but she was a Diva. In this movie we’re actually doing a spoof on Carpool Karaoke – Car Drool Karaoke. And we have Lady Paw-Paw in the gold jumpsuit like Lady Gaga had in the show.
Do the Stars you name the dogs after actually comment on it?
We actually tweet them out to the stars. It’s fun to see a dog version of yourself. And the songs they sing are amazing. In Pup Star 2, the judges even get their own introduction on the stage.
I love the outfits the dogs are in – who is the designer?
He’s the most amazing designer – Ken Shapkin. He actually brought us a photo of Beyonce in a dress and showed it to us. He actually make the exact dog version of that dress for Tiny. All of the outfits are inspired by real celebrity red carpet outfits. He brought them to us to choose from and they’re all awesome.
Is there a division of work between you and the Director Robert, or are there certain animals you relate to better?
This script, Robert wrote a lot of this story. He had the main idea behind the story and the new character. He spent so much time with the first movie shooting and editing it. I originally spent a lot of time with Tiny because she is the girl character, I always want our girl characters to be very girl power.
It’s usually a collaborative effort. But even on the Buddies movies, I always made sure that Rosebud wasn’t too girl. It was ok to be girly, but she had to be empowered.
What do you think the role of film has in the lives of girls and women?
As a female film maker, I’ve read a lot about the research that comes out of the Gina Davis Institute. Studying how the roles that women have in society a lot is coming from how women are portrayed in film. So her example is “If you’re casting a tow truck driver, why is that never a woman?” She actually goes around to studios and asks them to change 4 roles to women. The doctor, just change it to a woman. It helps breaks down the stereotypes and biases.
There aren’t a lot of women producers out there – is there a reason for that?
There definitely are a lot more women in the industry now, but I remember the beginning of my career and there were 10 men and me. I was like “yes, we’ve got to do this!” I did a program at the American Film Institute for the Directing Workshop for Women. There is a big collective of women in LA called the Film Fatales, we all stick together and really cultivate each other’s careers. We support each other. It’s sort of an old boys club and they don’t hire women a lot, that’s just a fact. So it’s important to keep doing what we can and it’s changing a lot. More and more women are directing, more and more women and producing. It’s definitely the anomaly, not the norm – yet.
Why do you think it’s important to show girls in different roles?
We have a TV show in development too called Puppy Pre-school. The girl is the computer nerd. There has been research to show that in a few years they wont be enough people to fill the need in the technology world. Girls don’t see it as an option. Google is spending a lot of money to create a bunch of content to get girls into the industry.
We want to create content that is entertaining and has good values. But we also want to try to do what we can for little kids minds. It’s a great responsibility to make little kids content. We are getting in those little brains.
We like that there isn’t anything scary that might be traumatic for kids in these movies. Is that always a goal?
I remember watching Escape to Witch Mountain, and it was always ok to be a little scared – but not in a threatening way. It’s very fine line.
It’s also a reaction to society, when I was younger there was nothing else. There wasn’t social media, the world is a lot scarier now and there is a lot of it coming at you. Now you almost have to react to what is going on in the world.
Why do you film in Canada for your movies?
We’ve always filmed here, normal we’re in Vancouver. Victoria is new to us, this is our third movie here. The Canadian Government provides a very great tax credit. They’ve really got it right, and have cultivated a really good industry here. We’re LA based, we’ve encouraged the California government to do it too. California has a tax credit but it’s a lottery.
There was a record high number of productions here last year, we actually had problems getting a crew for this film. They’ve done a really good job, and it’s beautiful.
Victoria is great, it’s all filmed downtown. We can transform it into any place. Vancouver is harder to do that all in.
Do you have a preference of which animal you like working with?
We’ve worked with all animals, from tigers, to horses, to goats to cats. Tiger, monkeys, chimpanzees. We’ve the MVP movies with the chimpanzees. We’ve had a ferret that was in one of the movies.
We have some kangaroo movies in development but they’ve never been made. Sometimes we come up with an idea and pick up the phone and ask our trainers “is this doable”. You always think they’re going to say no, but they say “yes, we have two kangaroos”.
We even have a cat movie, but there are a lot of cats in this movie. They’re a lot harder to work with.
One of the reasons we like doing animal movies is kids really relate to them. They see them the same as humans, and they emotionally connect with them.
How many pets do you have?
I don’t actually have any, I travel too much. I’m waiting to have a baby and a dog at home at the same time. Our director who has a family at home, he had a golden from one of the Air Bud movies. A lot of people who worked on our movies have the goldens.
There’s a story that Disney gave so many goldens out. For the Air Buddies movies we used Golden puppies, and every two weeks we needed new puppies. We really wanted to make sure they went to good homes, so we interviewed who they were going to and the trainers took it very seriously. So many people took home puppies. Apparently there is a day at Disney with a day of Buddies and everyone brings their dogs. So there are like 100 grown up Goldens.
There were 9 Buddies movies and Santa Paws, and that was Pyrenees puppies. So there were about 35 buddies per puppies. Some would already have homes and would go back after filming for a few weeks.
Most of the dogs are LA based, except the extras. Is it hard getting them over the border for filming?
Our last movie the whole cast got stuck at customs – all 33 dogs. We use a broker and the paperwork has to be pretty buttoned up. And they’re clearly coming for a long time, it’s a process. It’s always been really smooth. I think it was just a small detail that needed fixed.
Watch the Pup Star: Better 2Gether Trailer:
About Pup Star: Better 2Gether
Air Bud Entertainment, the proud creators of beloved family entertainment for more than 20 years, including ‘Air Bud’ and ‘Disney Air Buddies,’ announces an all-new adventure in the PUP STAR franchise — PUP STAR: BETTER 2GETHER. A pup-tastic adventure for the whole family, the exciting new canine film, featuring a soundtrack of paw-tapping new songs, debuts on Digital and VOD, August 29, 2017. The action-packed new season of the franchise continues with the story of Tiny, an adorable Yorkie pup who, after winning the ‘Pup Star’ TV singing competition, is suddenly launched into an adventure when she’s replaced by a street Yorkie, Scrappy, and the two swap lives in a dog-filled, fish-out-of-water tale that ultimately demonstrates life truly is ‘better together.’
The launch of PUP STAR: BETTER 2GETHERfollows the overwhelming popularity of the first film in the franchise (debut 2016). That film, ‘Pup Star,’ is currently available on Netflix, and recently had its broadcast premiere on Disney Channel.
“We’re ecstatic by the overwhelming response we’ve received to the original ‘Pup Star’ film and excited to return with another great story in a franchise that has become one of our company’s most popular,” said Writer, Director and CEO Robert Vince. “ With ‘Pup Star: Better 2Gether’ we continue the franchise with an exciting edge-of-your-seat dog adventure, succeeding in our company’s ongoing goal of providing families with quality entertainment they can all enjoy, together!” said Anna McRoberts, Producer and President of Air bud Entertainment.
PUP STAR: BETTER 2GETHER happily reunites many in the original film’s live-action cast including Makenzie Moss (Steve Jobs) as Tiny’s owner, Lou; David Deluise (The Wizards of Waverly Place) as her father, and Jed Rees (Deadpool). Denisse Ojeda joins the cast as the family’s loyal nanny ‘Ida.’
A bevy of blue ribbon voice talent lead the film including the return of top music icon Ziggy Marley (as ‘Dog Gnarly’) and 12-year old singing sensation Kaitlyn Maher (America’s Got Talent) as the voice of Tiny AND the voice of a street pup named Scrappy. John Ratzenberger also returns to the franchise, voicing ‘Salty.’ Rising YouTube sensation Mackenzie Sol (The X-Factor) joins the cast, as ‘P.U.P’ and teen talent Lil’ P-Nut (Nick’s ‘Haunted Hathaways) takes a bite out of the voice of wrapping pup ‘MC BITE.’
PUP STAR: BETTER 2GETHER is produced by Air Bud Entertainment, the creative force behind the #1 live-action, direct-to-home movies in the family category. The film is directed by “Air Bud” and “Disney Air Buddies” veteran Robert Vince, produced by Anna McRoberts and written by Vince and McRoberts.