Going through an intensive emotional struggle that makes you truly examine your life goals and values, particularly when someone close to you understands your views and aspirations, can be a gratifying and important life lesson. The main characters in the new independent comedy-drama, ‘Gone Doggy Gone,’ are startlingly forced to reexamine what’s truly important in their lives after a series of harrowing events. Two of the movie’s lead actors, Kasi Brown and Brandon Walter, also graciously learned from the project. They discovered the best ways to approach filmmaking on the set, as they made their feature film writing and directorial debuts with the comedy-drama.

‘Gone Doggy Gone’ follows a Los Angeles-based married professional couple, Abby (Brown) and Eliott Harmon (Walter), who are constantly putting their personal emotions and goals on hold in order to maintain success in their careers. Instead of having a child, the two instead treat their terrier, Laila, as a baby, much to the confusion of their friends and everyone else in their lives.

After experiencing her own personal and career turmoil, the Harmons’ dogsitter, Jill (Shaina Vorspan), is pushed into so much distress that she kidnaps Laila and demands a ransom from the Harmons. The couple soon discover their dogsitter is behind the crime, and set out on a road trip to get their beloved dog back. Abby and Eliott are joined by their fiercely opinionated friend, Kat (Kate Connor).

After the group has several disastrous attempts at getting Laila back, they hire an aspiring private detective, Dan (Jeff Sloniker), who works with his driven father, Stan (Richard Riehle). While Dan is determined to prove himself to the Harmons and his father, he unexpectedly becomes attracted to Jill. The surprising connection between the twp. who both feel misunderstood, further drives a disconnection between Jill and the Harmons, and makes everyone question what’s really important to them.

Brown and Walter generously took the time recently to talk about ‘Gone Doggy Gone’ over the phone, in preparation for the adventure comedy-drama’s screenings at the San Diego Film Festival. Among other things, the actors-writers-directors discussed how they were inspired to write the film’s script after the dogsitter who watched Laila, who is Brown’s dog in real life, began bring her out wherever she went; how they learned that starring in, writing and directing a movie can be challenging, but how extensive planning and rehearsing during the pre-production stage greatly helped in their shooting of the independent film; and how they were both ecstatic when they found out the movie was accepted into the San Diego Film Festival, as it’s not only a respectable festival, but it’s also close enough for them to bring some of the cast and crew from their homes in Los Angeles to the screenings.

ShockYa (SY): You co-wrote the script for the adventure comedy-drama, ‘Gone Doggy Gone,’ together. Kasi, the inspiration for the story came after you had a dogwalker who began to bring your dog, Laila, home later and later after visits. Why did you both decide to make a movie based on the idea of what would happen if the dogwalker never brought Laila home?

Kasi Brown (KB): We started writing together after we met at a Citizens Brigade improv class. We then has a show on the Internet called ‘Mother Approved Comedy.’ We did that for about three years, and then we did ‘Funny or Die.’

We decided we then wanted to do a feature film together next. We had both written several feature film scripts separately in the past, but we didn’t make any of them. We did know that we would like to write together.

Leila, the dog in the movie, is actually my dog. I had this dog-sitter who would take her to the movies, doctor’s appointments and out to lunch with her friends, and would videotape everything. She would send me all kinds of pictures. (laughs) She was really obsessed, and calls Leila her best friend.

One night Brandon and I were talking about it on the phone. He said, “What if she just didn’t bring your dog back?” So that was really the inspiration to write this particularly story.

SY: ‘Gone Doggy Gone’ is the first feature film you co-wrote together, after working on three ‘Mother Approved’ comedy shorts together. What was the transition like going from the shorts together to the feature? Were there any lessons you learned on your previous projects together that you brought with you to the comedy-drama?

Brandon Walter (BW): Kasi and I had both been writing screenplays all our lives. I was telling Kasi, “Let’s make a movie now, instead of just doing the sketch comedy show.” We weren’t making much return on the investment we were putting into the show. We weren’t getting as many hits as we thought we’d be getting, as we didn’t know how to promote it then.

We wanted to make a feature, because that’s what we came out to Los Angeles for in the first place. This story came up, and we thought, let’s do this one. We used all our skills from making those ‘Mother Approved’ shorts to make our movie.

KB: Doing the sketch comedy writing helped us when we were writing the feature, as it taught us how to get in and out of a scene quickly. You have to set something up, get tot the point and get out. I think a lot of first-time film writers spend way to long in each scene, and that makes the editing difficult. But we had that background in finding the pacing to keep something funny.

SY: Besides co-writing the screenplay for ‘Gone Doggy Gone,’ you also co-directed the film together. How did penning the script influence the way you both helmed the movie?

KB: Yes, because we both also have a background in acting. Even when we wrote the sketch comedy, we would act things out together, just to see if it was funny, and if i was the best idea. The best thing about working in a partnership with Brandon is there is no ego involved. Whoever has the funniest idea wins. We worked through that in the beginning.

Then we wrote ourselves as a married couple in the movie. So that presented a lot more challenges than we were aware about. Like when he and I were on screen together, than who was watching the monitor?

BW: I actually wrote a blog about this on our website. I talk about if you’re going to write yourself into your movie, make sure you’re not a couple. That way one person can be behind the monitor at all times, watching the other director, who’s in front of the camera.

KB: In order to combat that, we spent more time in pre-production, doing storyboards and really planning and rehearsing.

BW: We would rehearse a lot in Kasi’s home, which is actually one of the sets in the film. The Harmons’ home is actually her home. We would rehearse a lot of the scenes to get them down the way we wanted them…

KB: …in the space.

BW: That way, when we got to the set, we already knew what we wanted to do. We would also trust our crew when we were totally off. (laughs)

SY: Besides co-writing and co-directing the film together, you also both star in the film, playing the married couple, Eliott and Abby Harmon. Why did you both decide to also star in the movie? How did writing and directing the comedy-drama influence your portrayals of your characters?

BW: For me, I’m an actor out here, and I didn’t have anything for a reel. So I wanted to be in the movie, so I wrote myself a part.

KB: That was the same reason for me.

BW: But for our next film, I’m not going to be in it. It was to much to take on. I feel like we were very lucky to come out with what we got, but doing all of these roles made it complete chaos almost all of the time. (laughs) But it was really great and fun, and I’m really happy with our performances in the movie.

KB: Brandon and I are really into psychology. One of our favorite things is to delve into what makes a person do the things they do. We dealt with it in our sketch comedy, and we deal with it in our movies. Even our next movie deals with it. We love it. The reasons why people do the things they do is funny to us.

So we’re really about looking at ourselves and the people we are in real life, and what’s funny to us. I’ll listen to what Brandon feels is funny about me, and vice versa. So for our first film, we decided to really highlight those qualities.

BW: We put screen versions of ourselves into the movie.

KB: We knew that would be easier than delving into a deep character, which we both do in other projects. Writing and directing your first feature may pose more of a challenge if you also played darker characters. So we just played more extreme versions of ourselves.

SY: Shaina Vorspan plays Jill Tozer, the Harmon’s dogwalker who views Laila as her best friend, in ‘Gone Doggy Gone.’ What was the casting process like for the role of Jill, and how did you also decide on the rest of the cast?

BW: We had an open casting call, and we had a lot of great actors come in. When Shaina came in, Kasi and I looked at each other, and both knew she was the right actress. We have that silent communication that brothers and sisters have.

But we had to argue with the producers, and insisted she was right for the role. Eventually they said, “Yes, that’s her.”

KB: To be fair, we had to argue because they wanted to hire a name actress. You want name actresses, so that you can sell your movie.

: So the producers were pushing for some kind of name.

KB: We did go after a few name actresses, but they weren’t quite right. For us, it was more important to have the right person in the role.

SY: Were you able to have any rehearsal time with Shaina and the rest of the cast before you began filming ‘Gone Doggy Gone,’ to help build the characters’ backstories and relationships?

KB: Yes, most definitely-we made sure that we could have some rehearsal time. When you’re under the gun as you’re shooting an independent film, you don’t have time on the set to get to the places that make it the best it can be. So we made sure (the other actors) were available for rehearsals. We paired them up with whoever they had the most scenes with in the movie.

BW: There were a few scenes in the movie that we felt represented who the characters were. We worked those scenes over, so that they could be the foundation for the actors. Then the other scenes could just fall into place.

SY: Speaking of shooting ‘Gone Doggy Gone’ independently, did that influence the creativity you brought to your directing duties, and your portrayal of your characters?

KB: It’s hard to say whether it added creativity. Actually, we had too short of a period to allow for creativity. Since we were the lead actors, as well as the writers and directors, there are certain scenes we’re very proud of in the film.

One scene we love is the one where Jill is in the office with her boss, and she gets fired. That scene depicts who we are as filmmakers, because we really pay attention to detail.

We love working with the art department. The details in the background say things about the movie. We didn’t have enough time to pay too much attention to all of the details for every scene that we wanted. But that’s every filmmaker’s problem, so we did the best we could. But I feel like the way Brandon and I work, more time would be (great).

: More time is always what you want on a film. A lot of times we’d set up a shot, and we could get two or three takes, if we were lucky. Then we would go to the next scene. It was like, that was it; thank God we practiced, because we have to move on. You learn a lot when you make your first movie.

There were a lot of scenes that we cut out from the final movie-we didn’t need them all. There’s probably a day or two of wasted time of scenes that aren’t even in the movie. We could have spent that time working on the scenes that are in the movie, and really find funnier moments for them. But you live by trial by fire.

KB: Yes, definitely. The best thing about the script was that we took our time with it. So we had a great script when we started. I think the biggest mistake with first-time filmmakers is that they just want to make the movie, so they just slap it together. But I can’t even imagine what would happen if we did that.

BW: I wouldn’t even go through with the film if we had to do that. I have to know the foundation is really good. That way if we gave it to somebody else, it would come out okay.

SY: What are your distribution plans for ‘Gone Doggy Gone?’ Have you set up a distribution deal yet for the film, or plans on when you’ll be releasing the film?

BW: Yes, we’re already in talks with a distributor.

KB: But until the deal is solid, we can’t really say who it is. We’re definitely aiming for VOD, but we may not do a theatrical release, since we don’t have any stars in our film. So that can be a waste of money.

BW: But we’re definitely weighing our options. We’d like to put it out in theaters. But the reality is, you have to have stars these days to get a theatrical release…

KB: …and make it profitable.

SY: ‘Gone Doggy Gone’ will be playing at this year’s San Diego Film Festival on September 27 and 28 at Reading Cinemas. What does it mean to you that the film was chosen to play at the festival, as well as the other festivals it has screened at?

KB: Before we were accepted into the first festival, we were sweating buckets, like all filmmakers who doubt themselves. You may have a good product and be proud of it, but when you start getting rejection letters, you start sweating. Then the first festival you’re accepted into, you’re like, “Thank God! We’re so excited!” Then more acceptance letters start to come, and you start to feel more solid in your visions as a filmmaker.

Then when San Diego came, Brandon and I were both ecstatic, because its’ a very well respected festival. Even other film festivals that have accepted the movie since think the San Diego festival is an important one. We’re going to be at the festival he whole time, because we want to be in that environment the entire time.

BW: We’re really happy that we live in L.A., so that we can just drive down to the festival. For independent filmmakers who are stretching their pockets thin, it’s nice not having to buy a plane ticket. (laughs)

KB: Yes, and we’re going to bring a bunch of our lead actors, including Shaina, and our Director of Photography (Garrett O’Brien) there for the screenings and Q&A’s.

SY: ‘Gone Doggy Gone’ has already played at several other festivals, including The Good Dog! International Film Festival in Australia. How have audiences responded to the comedy at the film festivals it has already played at?

BW: Oh, the responses have been incredible. It’s just great to see the movie with an audience, because the laughter is like a wave in the theater. Someone will laugh at something, which will trigger someone else to laugh at something else. People are like, should I be laughing at that? Then someone else starts laughing, too. So the group theater environment to watch a comedy is so fantastic, and it hits on so many levels for us.

KB: We’ve been lucky that during our first three festivals, we won the audience award at two. Having the audience vote for us is great, as we want our movie to be in every household across America and other countries, too. We want people to enjoy our film, and that’s our number one goal.

We’ve also gotten to play the film in the Midwest and California. Our movie is mature, so it has some very Los Angeles scenes to it. So to play in the Midwest. Having everyone laugh at our jokes was great.

BW: Yes, it as great, because I feel like it reaches everybody, which is wonderful.

SY: Are there any particular actors or directors you’d be interested in working with on your future projects?

KB: Yes, we’d love to work with Meryl Streep!

BW: Yes, we’d definitely talk to Meryl Streep! (laughs)

KB: For our next movie, Susan Sarandon, are you out there?!? (laughs) David Koechner is a great comedic actor. He does stand-up and was in ‘Anchorman,’ and he’s hilarious.

BW: I hadn’t even though of this much. But we’re looking forward to working with really great, known actors, who can help get us money for the next movie. (laughs) Robert Patrick would be great.

KB: Amber Heard would be great…

BW: …and why not Johnny Depp, too?!? (laughs)

KB: We have a script that we wrote before ‘Gone Doggy Gone,’ because we knew we needed one on the back burner. So now we can go right into that.

SY: Speaking of other projects, besides ‘Gone Doggy Gone,’ do you have any other films lined up that you can discuss?

BW: Our next project is a horror comedy, and it takes place in a Midwestern town. It’s really funny, and it’s more of a comedy than a horror movie.

KB: It’s what would happen if horror happened to funny people. We also have another film for elderly people.

BW: Think of it as a ‘Cocoon’ reboot.

: That’s for actors who may not be getting a lot of work anymore. We want all of you! (Both Brown and Walter laugh.)

Kasi Brown and Brandon Walter Talk Gone Doggy Gone (San Diego Film Festival)

Written by: Karen Benardello

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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