By Tony Vanderwarker
So I’m on the board of Writerhouse, a Charlottesville not-for-profit that helps writers with classes, provides them space to write and supports writing in local schools. At a recent board meeting, we were discussing how to increase awareness and knowledge of our organization.
Being a former ad guy, I thought to myself: Maybe take advantage of all the interest in stupid pet videos on YouTube by having a dog try to write a book? I pitched the idea to the board, saying: “I don’t know if this will work but what if we had a dog get in front of a computer and start to write a book? Maybe the dog will start to type a sentence to engage people and then lapse into gibberish? Could get picked up and create some interest in us. At least get people going on the internet and checking out our website.”
I was remembering a comedy routine of Bob Newhart’s where he said if someone put an infinite number of monkeys to work at an infinite number of typewriters, sooner or later they would write all the great books. After getting everything set up, Newhart explained that a monitor had to walk down the endless line of monkeys typing away checking to see if they were coming up with anything. Day after day, they came up with nothing but gibberish and he was about to give up when something caught his eye. Leaning over a monkey, he pulled the paper out of the typewriter and took a look. His eyes lit up when he read, “To be or not to be, that is the…” and then a look of dismay came across his face when he read, “…gazorninplat…”
I don’t know if the board believed I could pull it off, but they gave me the go-ahead, particularly when I told them I’d pay for it.
I have a friend with whom I’ve made a lot of videos and another friend who’s an agility dog trainer with three trained Border Collies. I figured I’d see if I could get them to make the idea work.
Both thought it was a funny concept and were willing to help. We scheduled the shoot and one morning we got together, Zach, the cameraman/filmmaker, my friend Lynne and her dog, Zeiss. We set my laptop up on our dining room table with a chair in front of it. Lynne said she’d trained Zeiss to jump up and sit in front of the computer but wasn’t sure how she was going to get him to move his paws over the keyboard as if he was typing.
“Maybe if I lean over him and take his elbows and see if I can create the impression that he’s typing, that would work.” After filming Zeiss running across the room and jumping up in front of the computer, Zach set his camera up over the laptop so he was shooting down at the keyboard. Lynne crouched down behind Zeiss and when Zack said, “Action!” began to move his paws over the keyboard. We were delighted when Zack stopped shooting, smiled and said, “That looks great.” He showed us the footage on his camera viewfinder and we agreed. By cutting back and forth between the paws on the keyboard and words being written out on the screen, we could create the impression the dog was typing.
After a couple hours of shooting, we wrapped and went back to our normal routines. All of us saying how much we looked forward to seeing the first edit.
When Zach sent it to us, we were delighted, the video was a real hoot. After a couple of fine tunes to the edit, I sent it around to the board–everyone loved it
You probably will too, go on the web and watch Zeiss write a book at this address: https://vimeo.com/366580439