Watch a pack of rabid dogs terrorise a city

Cannes-winning Hungarian film White God is like Cujo x 1000

Forget Eddie Redmayne. Anyone who’s seen Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó’s jaw-dropping film, White God, knows that its four-legged stars – twin dogs Body and Luke – were robbed on Oscar night. Just ask longtime animal trainer Teresa Ann Miller, whose work with the impressive canines was integral in realising this powerful tale of an army of dogs who are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore. Their uprising is spurred after a little girl's father refuses to house her mutt Hagen and abandons him. The critically acclaimed film (it killed it at last year’s Cannes) straddles the line between drama and horror – think Hitchcock’s The Birds with a lot more Kibbles 'n Bits. Here, Miller clues us in on what it takes to coax out an award-worthy performance from man’s best friend.

FINDING BODY & LUKE

“It took close to three months to find such a unique dog that would stand out in a crowd of 200 other dogs, and more importantly I really wanted to have a photo double for him, for the amount of work required. So now I had to find two one-in-a-million dogs. I ended up finding him, he was a dog looking for a home in Arizona. What sold me first was his look. I hoped that he would have the abilities, and knew that I would be able to work him to a certain extent, but it was absolutely his appearance that got him cast for the movie, and it was Kornél (Mundruczó) who made that decision.”

SAFETY FIRST

“I wouldn’t put a child in danger so I wouldn’t put my dog in danger. Before I even bring my dog to the set, the first thing we do is look at the set and look what might be a problem. We did a lot of work on the railroad tracks and on the city streets and there was broken glass everywhere. We had a huge cleanup to do before the dogs even got to the set to make sure that the entire path was safe from nails, debris etc. That’s the first priority, that the animal can do it in a safe environment. We take every precaution necessary.”

CGI DON'T THINK SO

“When I learned the amount of dogs we’d be shooting, and how big it would be, the first thing I thought is, 'I’m in Los Angeles, and I don’t have the contacts or the means to do this in Budapest'. I thought that it would be CGI. The running scenes alone took five months to put together. Just to get that many dogs running together and accepting each other and patterning together, you’re not going to find many productions wanting to put that much time into something like that when you can simply use CGI. But Kornél didn’t want a human mind putting their understanding of the dogs into the dogs. He wanted dogs. He didn’t want the over sensationalism of drooling, and blood, and dripping. It could’ve been much more vicious, but this was more documentary, a natural way of filming it.”

LIKE FATHER, LIKE DAUGHTER

“The technique I use is one that I learned from my father, who was a trainer in the industry for 40 years, and was responsible for Cujo, White Dog, K-9, Beethoven, and Babe, The kind of training we do is a lot more relaxed than an obedience type of training. I don’t want the dog to respond to me quickly or sharply, and so militantly, because it comes off as a dog that’s been worked on and trained. What we do is a much more natural kind of training, and that’s just allowing the dog to do the various behaviors that we’re asking at his own pace or at the pace that works best for the director. So I’ll speak to the dog in complete sentences, just to give him time to get up, and stretch, and look around. It’s a really close relationship. There’s not a whole lot of dominance. It’s more like a partnership.”

DOG SPORT

“Árpád Halász is the Hungarian trainer that we worked with. I just did the lead dogs, Hagen and the little Jack Russels. But his team did a great job. He specializes in all the dog sports – flyball, Schutzhund and obedience. He’s a true dog lover, a true sportsman. It was so cool watching him. There was this one dog – he was the one that would shake it up and shred anything. Any dog that likes tug-of-war, or rough-housing – that’s what they did with him. They let him do it to a purse, a backpack, a bag of groceries, and that was his specialty. He would just shake his whole body shredding things. The dogs he would teach to jump up on the car and come up to you for toys or treats, it was essentially just dog sports, but under a controlled circumstance, in a controlled manner, and with a specific mark and location.”

TRICKS AND TREATS

“The dogfight sequence without the blood, and the smoke, and the camera work would just look like two dogs playing. It came out so much more impressive because they were playing, their mouths were open, they were grabbing each other, which is a much more realistic approach than what they did in the old days, when they would tie their mouths shut and let them wrestle without hurting each other, and how that technique has morphed over the years is just amazing.”

White God is out in cinemas from Friday