George Zaverdas

Run Time:


Synopsis: The true story of a man, a dog and the Holocaust.

How did you come across the story?

A friend of mine I've known for 30 years introduced me to her Dad. One day over a cup of coffee 14 years ago, he was telling me how he was a survivor of the Holocaust and how he lost pretty much everything. And then he told me the story of how a German Shepherd dog, a German farmer and his wife saved his life. I asked him to explain it. I just thought it was a wonderful story for a short film one day. It just stayed with me.

Why did you choose to make a short film out of it?

The story was just so unbelievable to me--that a dog saved this man's life. He was being chased by Nazis and this dog protected him from that. I thought this is a great story and an important one, and I believe that these stories should be told. And, it was eating me. I always said to myself one day I have to make this. Finally, I did it. I just thought it was such an amazing story. And, ironically, it took me losing my job to make this a reality.

What was your job?

I have been in market research testing movies for 16 years. I was let go due to the financial crisis. I was let go for eight months, and I made this short. I have just been rehired.

How did you cast the dog? Was the dog a method actor? Did he starve himself for the part? I ask because when he sees a piece of bread being passed to the man, he looks like he hasn't seen any food for a month.

Everyone told me to go to an animal agency and Los Angeles has a few of them due to the TV shows that are shot there. And they wanted to charge me between $300 and $1000 a day. Then they would tell me you are going to need two dogs in case one doesn't deliver. And then they told me you can only have the dog or dogs for eight hours. The place where we were shooting was an hour away, so, it was two hours traveling and six hours shooting the scenes with the dogs. It was just out of our budget. And then a friend told me out of the blue, that a friend of hers was a dog wrangler for the LAPD and maybe you should give them a call. Anyway, I met this wrangler who has trained German Shepherds for 30 years. I met him and said: “I want to audition your dog for film.” And he said, “My a movie!" He was more thrilled that his dog would be in a movie then anything else. So, I rehearsed with the dog for one day and he did everything asked of him. It was a miracle. I hired the dog then and there. But I couldn't sleep the night before the shoot. I was so worried about this dog. What he freezes? What if he doesn't deliver? He hasn't gone to acting school? The dog comes onto the set and he does everything in one take. Everything except the one take you just mentioned when the farmer reaches in to give the man some food. I don't know if the dog was starving or not but that took us six or seven takes because the dog kept eating all the bread before it could reach the man. He would rip it out of the actor’s hands before we could get the scene shot. And then I found out from the prop guy that he only brought two loaves of bread. And we are in the middle of nowhere. The nearest deli was a 45-minute drive away. Finally, we got the scene right. But apart from that scene the dog was a star. He was a one-take dog.

My mother called me up after seeing this film and said: “If the film with the dog is not in the festival, you’re cut out of the will." Why do people react this way to this film?

Are you serious? Oh my God, I want to meet your Mum. A lot of people are like that about the film. The connection is either to the Holocaust and to Holocaust survivors or they are huge animal lovers. Tell you Mum I'll tell the dog what she said and that she was pivotal in launching his career in film.

So this is your first short film?

I have always made little short films for myself. It was just something I did for fun, even way back when I was a kid. I had a super 8 camera and all that. But as far as a professional short film with actors and a crew, it’s my first short.

Being this was your first short film, what did you learn about filmmaking now that you didn't know going in. What advice do you have for someone making their first short film?

Spend time casting. I would say casting is 70 percent of the film. A lot of films I see that don't work it is because of bad acting. And the other thing is to prepare. Just make sure when you get on the set you know what you’re doing. Everyone is going to ask you questions. Where do you want this? Where do you want that? If you are prepared, everything should go smoothly. If you do get lost and confused, just pretend you do know what's going on.

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