Author/co-screenwriter of ‘A DOG’S PURPOSE’ dishes on his writing process, complexity of dogs

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

A DOG’S PURPOSE
Rated PG, 100 minutes.
Director: Lasse Hallström
Cast: Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid, Peggy LiptonBryce GheisarK.J. ApaJuliet RylanceLuke KirbyBritt RobertsonKirby Howell-BaptistePooch Hall and John Ortiz

Earlier this week we reviewed the home release of A DOG’S PURPOSE, which we described as “a treat to devour.”

If you’re like me, you may have been a little apprehensive about seeing this movie. When it comes to animal emotions and the possibility of dogs dying in movies, I tend to turn walk in the other direction. However, as difficult as it may be to watch a dog pass on to the next life or go through life’s trials and tribulations, it can be quite a rewarding experience to dive into.

Author/co-screenwriter W. Bruce Cameron recognized this and made the endearing novel and film A DOG’S PURPOSE.

While so many stories about dogs tend to end with death, it’s refreshing to see one where we get to see the other side of the coin. In A DOG’S PURPOSE, our central dog (voiced with charm by Josh Gad in the film) lives through several lifetimes, allowing the viewer to get a better understanding of a dog’s perspective and their true purpose.

We had the opportunity to speak with Cameron recently about his process from going from novel to script and how delving into stories about canines shaped his understanding of them.

Author/co-screenwriter of ‘A DOG’S PURPOSE’ and his dog, Tucker. Courtesy photo.

How A DOG’S PURPOSE is the antidote to sad-dog films like OLD YELLER:

“I’m particularly struck by how dogs are devoted to people. By looking at us for leadership, they are putting faith in us. If I accidentally step on my dog’s tail, my dog immediately comes to me wagging and licking submissively to see if they did something wrong. They’re seeking assurance. They absolutely adore us and want to please us at all times. They look at us for guidance on how to navigate this world. That’s why we have a responsibility, I’d say. We breed them so they cannot live on their own. You don’t see dogs in the wild. We’ve created a codependence that we must honor.”

Does he feel that the film accurately follows the structure of his novel:

“Yes. I do. I was one of the screenwriters on the film. I did provide some input on the whole thing. I will say, though, adapting your own book is a little like sitting down, looking at your hands and deciding which fingers you’re going to keep, because all the rest of them are going to have to go.

A novel can be a luxuriously long piece of work; you can take all the time you need to explore things. With a screenplay, you’re going to lose your audience quicker, because you need to aim around two hours.

Was I happy with the structure? Yes. In the end, it’s a story about a dog that keeps being reborn, remembers each life and it evolves his understanding of life each time. I feel pretty comfortable telling people to see the movie. Of course, I’ll say you’ll want to read the book first — or after, because there are things that are explained in the book where we didn’t have enough time to explore in the film.”

Balancing the different characters in the film compared to the book:

“Every life is much more explored and in depth in the book, especially Elle the police dog. She had some adventures and very complicated things happen. The relationship, on the other hand, with Elle and his owner,Carlos (played by John Ortiz), still remains. Carlos has suffered a very traumatic loss in his life and can’t connect with anyone because of that loss. He can’t even connect with a loving dog. Elle trying to understand and get along with the policeman is very much part of the book.

In the movie, it is suggested. The movie does a fantastic job of presenting, in a very short period of time, the exact same interaction and conflict. That’s the art of making a movie: It’s thrilling to see what took me several chapters to explain in a minute on film.”

Dennis Quaid cuddles this cute guy in A DOG’S PURPOSE. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

After doing a few stories about dogs, does he think he could be a dog psychiatrist:

“You know, I don’t think so. Here’s why: Take your dog to the dog park sometime, let your dog run around and watch them. What you’ll discover is that dogs have this very complicated social structure that changes constantly. If a new dog comes to the park it’s as if every dog there gets a new assigned role. Dogs that were playing and are friends will suddenly stop playing, or dogs that were ignoring each other will suddenly start growling at each other. It’s very weird, because you can’t apply human interactions to dogs and figure them out.”

How he makes each dog story he tells different:

“A DOG’S JOURNEY is a sequel to A DOG’S PURPOSE. It’s very much a continuation of the story. You could read both stories back to back and not feel they are separate works of fiction. They’re kind of the same book.

On the other hand, I have another book coming out on May 9, titled A DOG’S WAY HOME. Even though it’s told from the perspective of a dog, it’s an entirely different story and character. The dog’s personality is very different from A DOG’S PURPOSE.

Dogs are wonderful and wonderfully complex that it doesn’t mean that having a dog as your central character is the same story over and over again. You can tell many stories with many different dogs, like humans.”

A DOG’S PURPOSE is available today on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD. Read our theatrical review here, written by Courtney Howard.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.