Daniel Ferguson stopped by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science as part of his tour promoting his amazing new IMAX film “Superpower Dogs.” The producer and writer known for “Jerusalem” and “Last of the Elephant Men” realized first-hand that dogs do have superpowers. These remarkable and dogs rescue people from dangerous earthquakes, avalanches, oceans and more, and share a powerful bond with their human partners.
Meet Reef, a shaggy black Newfoundland who can tow 50 times her weight in the water. There is also Halo who went from stealing sausages from the catering table to becoming a lifesaver. These are just two of the brave canines the film follows over three years.
Catch the film narrated by a superhero in his own right, Captain America himself Chris Evans, on the museum’s IMAX screen daily at 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m. Get to know the producer and hear some amazing stories.
Colleen Bement: Welcome to Denver. Have you been here before?
Daniel Ferguson: I love Denver. I’m on a whirlwind tour. I think the last time I was here was for the last movie that I did called “Jeruselum” so I came two or three times. That was a big hit here. I always love my time here. The mountains beckon. They tease me and then they throw me on a plane. One of these days I’ll do it properly.
CB: People are excited to see your new film “Superpower Dogs” on the IMAX screen at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Where did you come up with the idea for this documentary?
DF: Credit where credit is due, it was not my idea. I actually went into it kicking and screaming. My producing partner, Dominic, is a dog nut. I’ll tell you a slightly funny story. I met Dominic when we were working together in Saudi Arabia and we were making a movie about the pilgrimage to Mecca. Dominic used to disappear for days at a time–this is not something that you want your producer to do. It was this mystery: Where was he going, what is he up to. You know what he was doing, he was rescuing abandoned dogs and cats.
It was clear to me that he didn’t actually want to make a movie about the pilgrimage to Mecca, he wanted to make a movie about dogs. It took a while to get there and he pestered me a lot. I kept saying yeah but how do we do it and how do we make it in IMAX, and what’s so special? I played devil’s advocate and that’s how I like to go into a movie. If I’m going to spend years of my life I need to come up with a hook–something that is going to distinguish it from all of the ubiquitous content that’s out there online and on TV about dogs. Oh God, another dog movie, is that really what we need? That was my attitude.
He said what about search and rescue dogs and I said prove it to me, and he set up this incredible trip where we started in British Columbia at the annual certification of the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association, and then we went to California to the Search Dog Foundation. We saw these dogs digging people out of mock earthquakes, and when to Italy to work with the Italian Coast Guard, and these Newfoundland dogs were literally jumping out of helicopters and boats and saving people from drowning. Then we went to Kenya where Dominic lives, and we met this pair of bloodhounds that have brought 35 or 40 poachers to justice using their noses and tracking these poachers over hundreds of miles. At the end of that trip, I was totally seduced and said okay, there’s a movie here and it belongs on the IMAX screen.
We have our hook now. These dogs have powers that we can only dream of. It’s nothing but superheroes these days. It’s like Marvel won the war–they did. It’s like Netflix took whatever was left over, and I just wondered that maybe the real superheroes are closer than we think. I like that idea that in some way a being with superhero powers in terms of senses and cognition and intuition, is right on the edge of your bed.
I’ve come to the conclusion having made this film that the true superheroes are the right human paired with the right dog. We have abilities that they can only dream of and vice-versa, and when you put us together, especially over tens of thousands of years, we have fostered this incredible bond that makes the world a better place. The dogs in this film are doing incredible things. They’re saving the lives of soldiers with post-traumatic stress, and digging people out of avalanches. The message of the film is that all dogs have superpowers.
CB: How did you choose Chris Evans to narrate “Superpower Dogs?”
DF: I wanted someone who had played a superhero and you kind of can’t do better than Captain America. I wanted someone with a commanding authoritative voice. He had a genuine love and interested of dogs–he’s always posting photos about Dodger, and I thought this could really work out quite nicely because the new “Avengers” was coming out, and it was a nice alignment of the stars–literally and figuratively.
He was wonderful. We actually brought in one of the dogs in the movie to sit with him in the studio, and he loved that. He was so enthusiastic.
CB: Tell me a story from one of the sets that my readers would like to hear?
DF: Gosh, I’ve got lots of nutty stuff. The main storyline is we follow a puppy for three years. It’s four acts, and it’s very much Luke Skywalker and Peter Parker’s heroes journey and what it takes to save the galaxy. Halo, who was the main dog, was a real hot mess at the beginning. She loved to steal sausages from the catering table, and I’d call action and she’d grab a stick and run into her trailer. And sure enough, the transformation of this dog is pretty remarkable.
Another story indicative of the power of these dogs is that we worked with a Newfoundland dog called Reef and she is this massive black shaggy Newfoundland in Italy who can tow up to 50 times her weight in the water. I wanted to come up with a fun way of demonstrating that. At one point I asked all of the handlers of the other dogs if we could them into a Zodiac, a little dingy actually, and maybe Reef could tow them. It took a fair amount of rangling. No one thought it was going to work but at one point without even me calling action, Reef just came over, took the rope between her teeth and started swimming out to sea; like bye-bye, I’m gone we had to like speed up our boat and catch up. I couldn’t even stand up I was laughing so hard, it was so perfect.
Hear what Chris Evans has to say about making the film with these incredible canines.