Developing Baxter and Me: Maintaining Authorial Voice Despite Industry Pressures

Palgrave Macmillan
Publication Type:
The Palgrave Handbook of Screen Production, 2019, pp. 169 - 180
Issue Date:
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Baxter and Me (Leahy 2016) is a feature-length documentary about dogs and intimacy. It includes two intertwined threads: a story in the present about Baxter, my large Labrador, and me, and a story in the past, which is a memoir of my life mitigated and mediated through my dogs and in part illustrated using my previous films. This chapter describes and analyses the development process for the film. Securing funding to make the film and the writing of the script were intertwined activities as I came up against pressures from the funding body, and at times the producer, to make a different film from the one I had initially envisaged. This chapter argues that while these industry pressures challenged my authorial voice as writer/director, they were ultimately fruitful. While compromises were made, I was able to remain faithful to my original intentions and the pressures on me made for an ultimately better film. The completed documentary is more audience-friendly and has achieved higher production values that the one I originally envisaged. Even though I lost some sections that I had held dear, the film is now also stronger because I was able to introduce some philosophical ideas from critical animal studies and thus hold onto my authorial voice. A key tactic to achieve this was the translation of ideas from academic writing about dogs into an engaging voiceover that I delivered as narrator of the film.
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