Four Legs, One Broken Heart. Set Adrift explores grief from the point of view of a dedicated and loving dog named Patch.
Interview with Writer/Director Jennifer Sheridan
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
Thank you! I made this film because I wanted to explore grief as a theme, but from a new perspective. I decided to tell this story from the point of view of a loving dog who loses his owner. His whole world is turned upside down, the sound of keys in the door to him is the sound of his owner returning and every time it isn’t her, he experiences that loss all over again.
His remaining living owner is trying to move on with his life and pack away his dead wife’s things, but the dog's sense of smell is so strong that he doesn’t want her things taken away and he keeps pulling them out again to sleep on. This causes a rift in their relationship and it isn’t until the dog begins to accept that she’s not coming back, that they can learn together how to deal with the void she left behind.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
I think anyone who has experienced loss will appreciate this film, but even if you haven’t, the dog’s portrayal of longing, confusion and sadness is something that needs to be seen to be believed. I’ve trained my dog Bowie since he was a puppy and so I wrote the script knowing what he was capable of, but even I was surprised by some of the things he did on the day. He’s incredibly patient and smart, it was a wonderful experience to make this film with him.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
I lost my father many years ago when I was a teenager and I’ll never forget that sensation of walking into a room and expecting to find him there. After a few years that eventually goes away, but every now and then these moments occur where you are reminded of what you’ve lost and they always sneak up on you when you least expect them. My mother used to talk about how much she missed his smell and how that lingered and then disappeared.
Our own dog died a year later and there are many stories out there about dogs experiencing grief at the loss of an owner. Most famously there was a dog in Scotland who stayed by his dead owner’s grave and the villagers brought him food everyday to keep him alive. There was also a more recent example in Italy of a dog who continued going to his owner's church after she died and then himself died a month later. Dogs bond with us in a very special way and can pick up on our emotions, which shows that there’s a great depth of empathy and love in them.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
Quite a lot actually, originally it was a story about an old man walking to his favourite bench on the beach followed by his loving dog. By the end of the film you realise that the old man is dead and the dog is on the bench alone. It changed because I felt that I was only telling half a story, so I kept re-writing it until I finally had the story I wanted to tell. I knew that working with my dog Bowie was going to be a challenge, but I wanted to push myself and him and not shy away from adding elements because I was worried we wouldn’t pull them off. I’m glad I was brave enough to do that because what we ended up with actually exceeded all my expectations.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
People have been most astounded by the dog's performance I think. In Q&A sessions I tend to get asked ‘how did you make him do that?’ The short answer is chicken, lots and lots of chicken!
It has made a lot of people cry, which is strangely satisfying because it’s only eight minutes long. I think using Bowie the dog as the main protagonist is a bit of a short cut to people’s emotions. I know that when I watch a horror film I can see person after person get killed off, but when the killer goes for the family pet I literally can’t watch anymore. I had an incredible review from a guy who saw it at Heartland Film Festival, he told me about when his dad had died, their family dog had chased the hearse down the road and never really gotten over it. It really resonated with him and it was so wonderful for me that someone on the other side of the world had connected with the film in such a personal way.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
I was really pleasantly surprised, because when I first watched my editors cut with the music on I cried, but then after that I couldn’t connect with it in the same way. I think it was just because I had become immune to it, but I worried that something had been lost along the way. When audiences reacted to it the way they did, I was reassured that it was all still working.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I’m always happy for more people to see this film, I’m proud of it and I’m very proud of my dog Bowie. He’s a great little actor.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
I think at this point we are nearing the end of our festival journey, but if any festivals want to show it I’d be very happy. I want to put this film online soon, so that anyone can view it and it reaches as wide an audience as possible.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
It’s already done so much for my career and things are really taking off right now. I have since made another short film that is much more career focused and indicative of the type of films I want to make in my career. Set Adrift was a story that I just had to get off my chest and make and it has already exceeded my expectations of it. I’m really proud and pleased that it has achieved what it has.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
What do you think the overflowing water represents?
Would you like to add anything else?
I’d love it if anyone who see’s this film and connects with it to please let me know. My twitter handle is @filmineer and it would be so great and make me very happy to hear from you.
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I’ve just made a dark sci-fi short starring Jacob Anderson from Game of Thrones called ‘The Super Recogniser’ that is coming out in festivals soon. I also have a feature in development that I’m really excited about. I’m also a television editor and I’m about to begin the edit for a wonderful British dark comedy that I’m not allowed to talk about yet, but I’m thrilled to be working on it. Very exciting times right now.
Interview: September 2017
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
Four Legs, One Broken Heart.
Length: 8 mins
Director: Jennifer Sheridan
Producer: Adam Shakinovsky
Writer: Jennifer Sheridan
About the writer, director and producer: Jennifer Sheridan is the writer/ director. Set Adrift is her fifth award-winning short film. She lives in London. www.jenniferdirector.com Adam Shanovsky is a well respected producer and writer, who runs a cross platform production company in London called Bru productions http://bruproductions.com/
Key cast: Phillip Barantini, Leanne Michael, Bowie the dog.
Looking for: film festival directors, journalists.
Social media handles: @filmineer
Where can I see it in the next month?
DC Shorts and then next month Vimeo.