ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Coming to a theater near you: Four residents of northern Marion County playing the title role in a forthcoming Hollywood blockbuster!
Well, the movie may be limited to a DVD release, the production actually was of the limited-budget variety, and a good part of it was filmed just north of Kansas City.
But four actors who play puppies on “More Than Puppy Love 2: Shadows of Atticus” do live in Marion County-on the farm of Jonas and Kim Frantz near Tampa.
For Leftie, Rightie, Brownie and Horseshoe-the 8-week-year-old offsprings of their cattle-herding border collie mother named Tessie-the opportunity for movie immortality came out of the blue.
The Frantzes responded June 13 to a message left on their answering machine asking about the puppies they had advertised for sale in the newspaper.
“We called him back, and he had all kinds of questions-do you have health papers, are they vet checked, and what are the requirements for the people who buy them?” Kim said.
The Frantzes said it took them a while to figure out the caller was representing Waldo West Productions, a motion picture company with offices in Los Angeles and Kansas City, and that he was interested in hiring the puppies, not buying them.
And that the puppies were needed on location by the 11 a.m. the next day.
In an unusual plot twist, the Frantzes and the caller eventually realized they knew of each other. The caller was Bobby McGee, a 2000 graduate of Centre High School, who was hired by the company as production assistant for the movie.
“It’s a small world,” Kim said.
McGee told the Frantzes their puppies were needed for the final day of shooting, which was taking place near Westin, Mo. The puppies used earlier for the rest of the film had died of a canine disease.
For the cost of mileage and other expenses, plus a retainer of $200, the Frantzes agreed to transport the puppies to the filming location-even though they were in the middle of wheat harvest and had alfalfa waiting in windrows.
After considering various options for getting the pups there, Jonas decided to make the trip himself. Kim agreed to stay home and take care of the dairy. Joining Jonas was a friend from Clearwater, Larry Clark, who became the “assistant handler.”
“It was good he came along because they said someone has to stay with the dogs at all times,” Jonas said. “When they took some puppies for a scene, someone had to stay with the other ones.”
That was only one of the many rules and procedures the Frantzes were introduced to in regard to Hollywood’s treatment of animals in a movie production.
“They are more concerned about the animals in a movie than they are the people,” Jonas said with a chuckle.
Before departing for Westin, the Frantzes had to have proper paperwork ready, including proof of the puppies’ vaccination and birth date. They also had to have them checked over by a veterinarian.
Once on the set, Frantz and Clark were handed a “rule book” outlining the proper care of animals during production. The part pertaining to their dogs stretched more than 30 pages in small type.
In addition, an observer from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was on site the entire time.
“When we started going to different places (for filming), you had to carry (the puppies) in crates-you couldn’t carry them in your arms,” said Jonas, citing one of the requirements.
“It was a different situation than what we’re used to out here,” he added. “We told them, ‘These are just farm dogs.'”
Jonas said he and Clark broke at least one rule-intentionally.
“(The ASPCA representative) told us you’re not supposed to let anybody play with the pups, but I said, ‘How do you keep puppies and kids apart? They just naturally go together.'”
One of those kids was Vivien Cordone, who plays a lead role in the movie and was the only “star” involved in the four scenes shot that day with the Frantz puppies. Her two sisters were on the set, too.
“They played a lot with the puppies,” Kim said.
Another thing Jonas discovered about movie-making is that it involves a lot of people, and the process is often tedious and drawn out.
“They’d tell you the shot would take 20 minutes, and it might be an hour,” he said. “(McGee) told me there’d be a lot of sitting time, so bring something along to do.”
Cordone was the only star Jonas saw that day. Peter Boyle, known for his role as Frank in the “Everybody Loves Raymond” TV show, was not on the set. Peter Coyote, who has “Erin Brockovitch,” “Patch Adams” and “ET” among his film credits, was on site, but stayed in his personal trailer the entire time, Jonas said.
He and Clark, who arrived on the set around 10 a.m., were on the road home with the puppies by 7 p.m.-everyone the better for the adventure, if not much richer.
“It was a good experience for the pups,” Jonas said. “We weren’t on the road a half mile or so and they were all sleeping. They slept the whole way down there, too.”
Just because the pups are now famous actors doesn’t mean they aren’t for sale anymore.
In fact, the Frantzes hope the experience will help them find new homes for the dogs.
The ad now reads: “Registered border collie puppies. Cattle-working parents. Featured in upcoming movie ‘More than Puppy Love 2.'”