The short documentary introduces us to Instagram canine photographer and author Elias Weiss Friedman, aka The Dogist, and shows us what it takes to photograph pooches of all shapes and sizes for a living (it looks pretty fun, to be honest).
The short doco was filmed over three days last year — one in January, one in June, and one more day in September. EJ worked with a small crew (usually just him, the DP Nathan Lynch and a PA), with no sound guy whatsoever.
After editing by Erik Auli, the film came together in a beautiful way, exploring photography, but delving into the world of dog ownership, which inevitably connects humans with one another.
Tell us how you first got into filmmaking. Was there a filmmaker that inspired you to make film?
“I went to film school with the goal of directing music videos, which didn’t necessarily happen but it led me to working at MTV, where I started shooting some short music documentary work. From there I started doing more personal work, focusing mostly on documentary type stuff. Nathan Lynch and I started shooting a doc with Andrew W.K. (it fizzled out, but maybe we’ll revisit it some day) and that really sparked my interest in just getting out there with a camera and making things happen. That’s what I love about doc work- you can really do it on your own without needing to wrangle a huge production.
“But in terms of initial inspiration, I feel like the most formative directors were Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry and Chris Cunningham who each had a DVD from that Director’s Series that came out right when I started film school. I watched those over and over.”
The Dogist is a wonderful film. What made you want to make a short film about Elias Weiss Friedman?
“I had been following The Dogist on Instagram for a while. One day last winter, my wife and I were working on a commercial shoot (along with Nathan Lynch, Nick Kraus, and Colin Travers, DP, B-cam, and colourist for The Dogist, respectively) and Nathan’s girlfriend Christina offered to dog-sit our dog Bobby for us. When she was walking him at Tompkins Square Park, Elias took a photo of him. When the image surfaced on The Dogist’s Instagram account a couple of weeks later, I saw this as my in, and I reached out to see if he’d be interested in doing a short documentary piece.
“I got a dog last year, and it changed my life in a lot of ways. Priorities change, schedules change, lots of stuff. But I can’t imagine it being any different, it’s been such an amazing experience. And so I think I was hoping to translate some of those feelings to this film, provided it intersected with Elias’ story as The Dogist. And it did. So that’s part of it. And the other part, of course, is to show how Elias has built this incredible Dogist empire with millions of followers, all on the sidewalks that we walk up and down every day. In the year that we were in touch with Elias he tripled his number of followers and put out a best-selling book; his ascent is amazing and it’s all built upon him, his small camera, and an internet connection.”
Did you learn anything about dog photography while making The Dogist?
“I feel like we reveal most of the tricks that Elias uses in the film- the squeak toys, the human dog voice, the knee pads, etc. It’s a pretty funny process to observe. I really loved seeing how much NYC dog owners took to having their dog’s photo taken though. If you walk up to someone in the street and ask to take their photo, chances are they’re gonna say no. But if you ask to take a photo of their dog, they’re so proud and can’t wait to see it.
“I think of all of the days we shot with Elias maybe one person said no to him, and that’s with our big video cameras lurking behind him. That willingness on the part of the owners was surprising, but makes sense to me now that I have a dog. I always avoid a camera if I think I might be in a shot somewhere, but if it’s for my dog, go for it.”
We also love your short film ‘Comic Book Heaven’. When did you make this film? Are you a comic book fan yourself?
“I shot Comic Book Heaven from August of 2013 until early January 2014, about one day a month during that time. I’m actually not a comic book fan at all. I was more interested in following the closing of a business in my neighborhood, but once I found out about Comic Book Heaven, it obviously had a great visual backdrop for telling this kind of a story. Plus as soon as I met Joe, I knew we were in for something good.”
What are you working on right now we can expect to see in the future?
“I’ve started shooting a new doc project with the stunt actor Brian Donahue, telling his story through the vast supply of super short cameos and appearances he’s made in film and TV over the course of his career. Erik is cutting this one again and can’t wait to see how it comes together. Plus we’re shooting a bunch of our own stunt scenes too.
“I don’t care if those make it into the final cut, it’ll just be fun to shoot. And I’m working on my first screenplay as well which has been an interesting change from the normal documentary work. We’ll see if I ever finish it.”