Kiwi trainer top dog of screen

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 08:56 05/03/2009
JOHN SELKIRK/The Dominion Post
TOP DOG: Spaniel Snoopy plays Sam Neill's canine reincarnation in the movie Dean Spanley. Animal trainer Mark Vette says the diving Kiwi dollar and global recession has been great for his West Auckland business.

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Wall Street is in meltdown, the economy on life support, but the news is all good for New Zealand's animal movie stars.

Animal trainer Mark Vette says the diving Kiwi dollar and global recession has been great for his West Auckland business.

"It was looking a bit tight when it all started a couple of months back, but now the dollar is down around US50c we've got pretty much a full book for the next year."

In the past month he has trained dancing cows for Russian and Californian dairy ads, a llama is in training for a project, and birds and other animals are working on a big - but secret - movie.

Mr Vette, partner Rosie Miles and trainer Marie Manderson are celebrating their success turning Kiwi actor Sam Neill and Australian Bryan Brown into reincarnated dogs in the movie Dean Spanley.

Funded by the New Zealand Film Commission and directed by Toa Fraser, it was shot in England, where it has had warm reviews. Also featuring Sir Peter O'Toole, it opens in New Zealand next week.

Brown appears as a labradoodle called Pluto. Neill's earlier incarnation was played in sequences filmed in New Zealand by Snoopy or Poppy, two welsh springer spaniels.

More than 100 dogs tried out for the roles.

Pluto has a big movie CV and is in fulltime work, on another secret international advertisement.

Mr Vette said Pluto needed work as he was always on the go. He came from a family after his over-exuberance led to a serious car accident. "We rescued him and he was in a difficult situation. He was so full of life and they loved him, but couldn't control him."

Ms Manderson said the dogs had to be taught 50 or so behaviours for the movie's 18-week shoot, including one that seemed natural but was surprisingly hard. "The dogs in the script had to leave messages for each other, so we had to train the dogs to lift their legs without going to the toilet."

The trainers also had to teach Neill and Brown how to run, act and scent like dogs. "When a spaniel gets focused on something that's it; they are completely in the moment. Neill had the look."

Mr Vette also trained the pukeko that walks into a house on a power company's television advertisment.

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- The Dominion Post

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