I love Tropfest. It started as an Australian short film festival (now an international event of 20 years) where anyone could enter a 7 minute or shorter film on pretty much anything they liked, provided it somehow featured the “theme item” for that year, in whatever oblique way they wanted. And whilst watching one of the short films on the 2002 DVD of finalists I had an idea for a sketch for Adelaide Gang Show (for which I was doing a bit of writing at the time) – the film was about a guy who comes home with a girl after being out at the pub, and when they get back he meets her dog: the guy’s able to talk to the dog, somehow, although it’s not a notion that’s explored in any great detail – it’s just one of the assumptions of the piece.
So the idea that intrigued me for the sketch: a man, for reasons of his own, decided to put on a dog costume, somehow get adopted by a family, and live his life as a domestic pet. He seemed perfectly happy with the arrangement – he was fed regularly, had somewhere to sleep, got regular exercise… his rationale was that provided you didn’t have overly ambitious requirements it wasn’t such a bad lifestyle.
The scene was that a boy who the dog’s owner had met had come over to take her out to the park, so she brought her little brother and her dog, and the boy was confused and infuriated that this domestic arrangement existed. Very early in the piece the boy established that the guy in the dog suit was just a guy in a suit, and as the sketch went on the boy tried to convince the girl & her brother that the idea was ludicrous (imploring them at one point – “The keys were in his POCKET! DOGS DON’T HAVE POCKETS!”). I can’t remember the rest of it, but I think it concluded with the boy – having failed to impress the girl – put a squash ball on his nose, tucked his socks into his cap, and ran off stage shouting “Woof woof! Woof woof!”.
It would be safe to say that it’s not a dramatic masterpiece that will live on alongside the works of Shakespeare or Mamet.
What was a combination of amusing and terrifying, however, was a few years later – well after I’d moved to London – one of my friends mentioned in conversation, “Someone stole your idea for a series on SBS!”.
It’s funny how what starts as a short film in a non-mainstream film festival can years later get picked up by an independent TV channel, and then get made into a quirky cult TV series, isn’t it?
And, come to mention it, what are the odds of that series then being picked up by a major US TV network and remade starring one of the lead actors from the Lord of the Rings film trilogy?
I know. I was as surprised as you were.
At this point it’s difficult not to scramble to justify my position by pointing out the manifold differences between the pieces – that’s like the scene in Coming to America where Cleo MacDowell is explaining to Eddie Murphy how his MacDowell’s burger restaurants are different to McDonald’s: the shitty imitator clutching at straws to differentiate on finer points and window-dressing an otherwise clear facsimile.
The SBS series was an extension of the Tropfest short, where the reasoning behind Adam being able to speak to Wilfred was never made clear (at least, in the episodes I saw). It just, sort of, was. From what I’ve read of the US series of Wilfred the premise is that Elijah Wood’s character sees the dog as an Australian man in a dog costume, but everyone else sees him as a dog. I don’t think our sketch was about either of those things, but I guess the idea had come from seeing a bloke in a dog suit.
Good job we didn’t have any of the characters whistling “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree” as well…