Christopher Qualls, associate professor of theatre, is directing a family film with the majority of the scenes being shot on Auburn University’s campus and the surrounding community.
The working title of the film is “The Ugliest Dog in the World.”
Starring as the ugliest dog in the world is Little Bo Peep or “Peeps,” as the cast and crew call her, a rescued Chinese crested dog owned by Linda Bell, marketing director for the AU Department of Theatre.
The main cast includes newcomers to film Matthew Barnes, sophomore in pre-broadcast journalism, and Lawrence Nourzad, sophomore in pre-business.
The film follows two brothers, Albuquerque (Barnes) and Steve (Nourzad), who live in the backyard of their disgruntled rich uncle’s mansion in a tent where they rarely speak to him besides brief interactions when he throws them money and food. When their uncle suddenly dies it becomes known that in order to inherit his vast fortune they must care for and win a dog contest with his beloved Chinese crested dog, slowly learning that it is probably the ugliest dog in the world.
Most of the cast and crew met through the theatre classes that Qualls teaches, such as Acting I.
Barnes seems to have been particularly hit by the acting “bug” during the making of the film.
“Everyone on set has gotten really close, and there’s a really good exchange of ideas flowing from day to day,” Barnes said. “I’d like to get more acting experience and do more projects.”
Nourzad hopes to make a career out of acting and considers himself lucky for being given the opportunity to star in this film.
Felipe Talhari, senior in engineering, also has a starring role as a Portuguese dog trainer who is comically unsuccessful in preparing Peeps to compete in a dog show.
Talhari previously acted in the film, “A River Between Us,” that was shown at the Amazonas Film Festivals in Manaus, Brazil in 2009.
“After this film, I’m definitely taking another acting class and hope to continue acting in the future, maybe making a career out of it,” Talhari said. “Right now I’m majoring in engineering, but we’ll see what happens.”
Assisting as second-unit director and cinematographer is veteran Auburn filmmaker Alessio Summerfield.
Summerfield said that he was excited to finally have the chance to work on a feature film, and that this is his first project that requires more than a week of consistent filming and production.
With experience of working on independent films that reach local audiences and film festivals under his belt, Summerfield likes the unique working environment affiliated with the production of this film.
“I like that at its heart the movie feels like an independent film, but with an aura of professionalism surrounding it,” Summerfield said. “Everyone’s at their best, trying to make this a great experience and a great film.”
One of the aspects that makes the film increasingly professional is Qualls’ utilization of the Canon 5D Mark II, a digital camera that can create images almost identical to that of a 35mm film camera at a fraction of the cost.
The type of camera has been used to film sequences in big-budget movies such “Captain America,” “Iron Man 2” and “The Avengers.”
“With this camera, I feel like we’re able to create an extraordinary movie and still keep it within our reasonable budget,” Qualls said.
Keeping things within budget is a major concern for the cast and crew because the movie is being financed by the College of Liberal Arts and by a grant from the Daniel F. Breeden Endowed Grant Program as a teaching and learning project.
Qualls co-wrote the script with his wife, Anna Weinstein, a screenwriter.
Qualls and Weinstein have previously collaborated on scripts, but usually dramas.
Qualls was inspired to not only create a movie that he could enjoy with his own family, but one he would proudly show to others because its hopeful message.
“The film is not only a family comedy about coming to terms with outward appearances vs. the inner beauty of things, but it also raises awareness about adopting rescue dogs and the unsettling presence of the puppy mills that some of these dogs come from,” Qualls said.
Motivated by films such as “Dumb and Dumber” and “Stepbrothers,” Qualls also sought to preserve the element of slapstick comedy while avoiding crude humor and striving to maintain a PG rating.
Qualls said it would be ideal for the film to be picked up by a distributor and have a full theatrical release, but currently he is concentrating his efforts on making the movie available via digital distribution such as Netflix, iTunes and Amazon.com.
For now, the only theatrical release planned is at the local movie theater, Carmike Wynnsong 16 Cinemas in Opelika.
The dates of the theatrical and digital releases have yet to be confirmed.
Shooting began on May 5 and is expected to end on June 8, with the exception of some scenes being shot later at the actual World’s Ugliest Dog Contest in Petaluma, Calif. during June 21-23.