Robert Vince (director, writer and producer) and Anna McRoberts (writer and producer) answered some questions about their new film of The Search for Santa Paws, available on DVD and Blu-ray on November 23 .
Q: What are your most memorable Christmas moments?
Robert Vince: My most memorable Christmas moments are with my family in Malibu, CA with my kids. My favorite childhood memories are with my five brothers and sisters in Vancouver when we used to build snowmen in our back yard. Yes, the music in the movie is very emotional and was created by Brahm Wenger who is a composer we have worked with since the original Air Bud movie.
Q: Why do you think talking puppies are so popular?
Anna McRoberts: I think talking puppies are so popular because we’ve always lived in a world in which we can only imagine what our pets/dogs are thinking. With talking puppies, we’ve opened up a whole new level of magic and imagination.
Q: Another major difference compared to prior films was the use of notable Disney talent with Mitchell Muso, John Ducey, Madison Pettis and even a song by Debbie Ryan. Was this coincidental casting or did Disney want to use their notable talent from the Disney Channel?
Robert Vince: Casting varies in each and every film and is determined on a case by case basis. The casting choices on this film was actually made by me and Anna McRoberts my producing and writing partner.
Q: Which was your favorite dog to work with?
Robert Vince: My favorite dog character is Rasta who is voiced by Chris Massey. There is just something hilarious about a Jamaican dog with dreads.
Q: After Santa Buddies last year and now The Search for Santa Paws, can we expect an annual holiday-themed Buddies movie?
Robert Vince: You never know! All I can say is that you will more than likely see a sequel to Santa Paws (of course, we already have a story in mind).
Q: For “The Search for Santa Paws”, you literally found yourselves a new star with young actress Kaitlyn Maher. For such a young child, was she easy to work with, especially around the dog (that plays Paws)?
Anna McRoberts: We first used Kaitlyn as a voice on Santa Buddies and we were beyond impressed with her talent and presence and knew we had to put her in front of the camera next. Kaitlyn is an amazing person, very intelligent and a consummate professional. She was a true pleasure to work with. She is also a real dog lover and if I may speak for her, I am sure she might pick the puppy scenes as some of her favorites. In addition, her and Paws became very fast friends.
Q: What was the funniest blooper that happened on set with the dogs and/or kids?
Robert Vince: When you work with kids and animals bloopers occur daily. In the dancing scene “I Do Believe In Christmas,” the girls were so excited they kept falling off the beds.
Q: What did the child actors that were part of it think when they saw the final movie?
Anna McRoberts: The kids were overjoyed when they saw the final product. They It’s really exciting for them to see the film come to life on a whole other level from when they were on-set filming.
Q: What drove the both of you to make a character driven storyline versus continuing another “Buddies” storyline?
Robert Vince: I think the “Buddies” have become such beloved characters and storylines and everyone has become so familiar with them (including us). In The Search For Santa Paws we had the opportunity to introduce you to all-new characters — including much more human characters which allowed for more complexity in the story line.
Anna McRoberts: All the Buddies films were also character driven films but The Search for Santa Paws takes characters we met in a previous film (i.e., Santa Buddies)and explains to the audience how those characters came to be. We are continuing with the fun and adventurous spirit of the Buddies franchise and adding some Christmas magic to create an all new film centering on our favorite holiday of the year!
Q: Where did HuckleBuckle Toys come from? Your imagination or life experience?
Anna McRoberts: When we were writing the script, we needed a name that served several purposes. Firstly and most importantly, it needed to feel magical, that Hucklebuckle Toys was a store where anything could happen. Secondly, it needed to be able to be shortened and still work as a name, so that James and Kate Huckle, who shortened the name long ago, could return to their original name Hucklebuckle once they got in touch with the true meaning of Christmas. The magical name Hucklebuckle serves as a marker of belief, once James and Kate “learn to believe” in the magic of Christmas, they see the importance of changing their name back and continuing on the Hucklebuckle legacy.
Q: Was the film Miracle on 34th Street an influence?
Robert Vince: Yes it was actually just as much an influence as Annie, A Wonderful Life and a movie we did a number of years ago called Chestnut. We also looked at all the Christmas classics. It was our goal to create a film that would become a perennial favorite during Christmas.
Q: What does the “Christmas spirit” mean in your family?
Anna McRoberts: Christmas spirit in my family is synonymous with love, family and giving. To us, Christmas is primarily about being together, sharing moments and creating memories. I really do believe in the magic of Christmas, it’s a time of year when people open their hearts and this means the possibilities of this magic season are limitless.
Q: How did you come up with the idea of the Christmas icicle?
Robert Vince: Anna came up with that concept. We loved it for a number of reasons. For example, it was the implied environmental issues and we also wanted to explain where the magic came from and that the spirit of Christmas is stored in the icicle all year long.
Q: Do you have dogs of your own? What breeds?
Robert Vince: Yes I do! In fact I recently brought home one of the Golden Retriever pups from a film we just finished shooting. Her name is Emily-Rosebud, she is 18 weeks old now and the best dog ever. She is sitting at my feet as we chat.
Q: I realize there are obvious reasons for using well-known actors’ voices. Do you ever have open calls around the country for unknowns?
Robert Vince: Yes we do host open calls. Most of the voice talent selections are not name driven but rather character driven.
Q: Conventional wisdom says to not work with kids or animals, and both are in this film. What were the challenges of this?
Anna McRoberts: We have no idea where that concept came from! We simply adore working with both children and animals. Our set is always a happy joyful place which we believe is always reflected in our finished films. Who doesn’t love to go to work all day with fluffy puppies and adorable kids. I’d say the only challenge is to not have TOO much fun!
Q: Which was your favorite dog to work with?
Anna McRoberts: I loved working with all the dogs equally but if I had to choose one it would have to be Paws – he’s fluffy, soft, adorable, playful and smart all at the same time.
Q: Can you talk a little about the casting process for Santa and the orphans?
Anna McRoberts: We worked on casting this film with our amazing and talented casting director. She was a big fan of Richard Riehle and until The Search for Santa Paws, we had never found the perfect role for him. He’s a gem of a talent and a human being. I wish he could be in all our movies. As for the orphans, we saw a lot of girls for these six roles and above all they had to be able to act, sing and dance! In the end, we found six unbelievable girls whose talents were limitless.
Q: Can you tell us a little about how you came up with e concept of the Santa CAUSE?
Robert Vince: As a parent, it was always difficult to explain the multitude of Santa Clauses that are at every mall. We were trying to come up with a concept that would help parents explain the numerous people dressed up in Santa outfits. And it finally struck us — that they could be ambassador for the real Santa Claus in the North Pole spreading his message throughout the world.
Anna McRoberts: We loved being able to create a logical answer for children who wonder how there can be so many Santa Clauses around during the holiday season. They may not all be the REAL Santa but they all work to perpetuate the Santa CAUSE, the spirit of kindness and giving. We believe in the Santa Cause very strongly and hope that it is a movement that can stay alive all year round.
Q: Do you believe in Christmas Magic?
Anna McRoberts: Absolutely, I believe very strongly in the concept of Christmas magic and magic in general. I am also a strong proponent of the idea that “what we believe, we can achieve” which is why I think Christmas is my favorite holiday. It’s a time of year that we are all reminded to believe in believing and that when we do, anything can happen!
Q: Do you have an audition process for dogs, or is that handled separately by a trainer?
Anna McRoberts: That is all handled by our group of amazing trainers.
Q: Kids seem to stop ‘believing’ earlier and earlier, does that present a challenge in developing story lines that appeal to the entire family
Robert Vince: Unfortunately, children are inundated with commercial messages that can sometimes rob their sense of imagination. Movies are one of the places children can allow their imaginations to run free. We do our best to explain some of the logical issues like “Why are there so many Santa Clauses at every mall?’ and so far our “ambassadors for the Santa Cause spreading the message of love and kindness for the one and only Santa Claus” idea has been very well received.
Anna McRoberts: I think children are built to believe, and it is our job as filmmakers to create worlds that enable them to carry on allowing their imaginations to thrive. I think it’s one of our greatest responsibilities as family filmmakers – children naturally have great imaginations and we need to do everything we can to make sure they don’t stop ‘believing earlier and earlier’, but in fact learn to believe in magic and possibility and imagination forever.
Q: Aside from your professional involvement in the movie, how did you feel the first time you saw this movie? Are you able to remove yourself from production and see the movie through our eyes?
Anna McRoberts: I was covered head to toe in goose bumps the first time I saw the film, and was surprised that even though I knew what was coming, I still shed a few tears!! There are so many elements that come together after we finish filming, the music for example which is very prominent in this film and beyond beautiful, that we as filmmakers become part of the audience just like you!
Q: What was the biggest challenge for you during the filming of “The Search for Paws”?
Robert Vince: My biggest challenge as a Director was the musical numbers. I had never done a musical before. I was actually very surprised at how much fun I had. And I especially enjoyed working with the choreographer and our composer.
Q: What gave you your dedication to this movie?
Anna McRoberts: We are dedicated to making films that exemplify values that we believe in. I feel that The Search for Santa Paws exemplifies many of these in a very powerful and effective way – Belief, teamwork, love, kindness, and family are all key themes in this film and ones that in our opinion, deserve our ‘fierce dedication’.
Robert Vince: I am pleased you have picked up on our passion for this film. As filmmakers we feel we have created something special with timeless quality. Santa Paws has complexity with many interwoven story lines that all have to come together in a delicate balance. It’s a Family film so it has to work for the children and parents equally. We hope everyone who watches this film gets into the Christmas spirit.
Q: What are your plans for your own “magical Christmas”?
Anna McRoberts: I plan on spending time with as many loved ones as possible. To me, Christmas is made magical by spending time with family and friends and remembering the most important things in this world — sharing, kindness and love.
Q: Production-wise, obviously a much bigger difference compared to last year’s “Santa Buddies” production-wise, visual-effects wise and story. But what was your primary goal as a director and producer for this film that would make it very different from any of the previous “Air Bud” and “Buddies” films in terms of story and production?
Robert Vince: As filmmakers we are constantly learning and developing our skills. I think The Search for Santa Paws is our best work to date. Our goal was to create a perennial Christmas classic with timeless values. We wanted to create a family film experience that parents would enjoy with their children. Santa Paws is different than the Buddies films and we wanted it to be. We experimented with the musical element and it’s been very well received by audiences thus far.
Q: Can you imagine a world without Santa Claus?
Anna McRoberts: No! I cannot imagine a world without Santa Claus which is why we must all continue to believe – the magic of Christmas comes from believing so we all need to believe to keep The North Pole running!!
Q: Any final thoughts on The Search For Santa Paws?
Anna McRoberts: We are very excited about this film and hope it will bring joy to many families this holiday season and become a holiday classic in their homes for years to come. Thank you for the great questions today!
Robert Vince: Thank you all for your time today, it was great to be able to provide you with further insight on the making of this film. I am off to take Emily-Rosebud for her walk.
The Search For Santa Paws is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
For more information on The Search For Santa Paws, visit the official The Search For Santa Paws web site.