We’ve all seen
them, stapled to telephone poles, taped in store windows: the flyers for
lost dogs and cats. They’re suburban cris de coeur which quickly
become litter, forlorn memes clamoring for our attention among all the other
ads and notices, for garage sales, poker runs, and bar bands.
And so we pass them
by, indulge a brief pang of hope for a stranger, perhaps even say a
prayer--because praying costs us nothing--then go home a little gladder in
the knowledge that our own animal companions, at least, are safe and sound
and waiting for us.
A lost-dog flyer is
the first page of a story whose ending we almost never get to read--an
ending, if we’re being honest, we’d probably rather not read. It’s a tough
old world out there, and we know in our head that folks--our neighbors--are
hurting, grieving, enduring. But we may not want to feel their pain in our
heart. There’s enough of it going around.
For filmmakers TJ
Jaeger and Hunter Huddleston, however, in a better world, where good
intentions are matched by good deeds, a lost-dog flyer might become instead
a nexus of compassion and community.
That’s the premise
of their remarkably poignant 2016 short, Lost Dog, viewable on YouTube.
Entered in Campus MovieFest (CMF), the world’s largest student film
festival, Lost Dog won a juried award for cinematography, and by virtue of
CMF’s partnership with the Cannes Film Festival, Lost Dog will be screened
at Cannes in May.
That means that
Jaeger and Huddleston--Chesterton High School Class of 2012--are going to
the French Riviera.
“It’s a dream come
true,” Jaeger says. “Hunter and I always joked about making it to Cannes but
now it’s real. It’s intimidating but empowering. More than anything, we are
beyond excited for all of the networking opportunities this can lead to.
Industry professionals will be there, along with many of our student peers.
I can’t wait to see how these two weeks abroad will change our lives.”
For Huddleston the
Cannes screening is something else too: vindication. “It’s a reward for all
the years of people laughing at us, who said that dreams never really do
come true. I just want to set an example to anyone, especially anyone from
the Midwest, that dreams can come true. All you have to do is believe in
yourself and ignore the skeptics.”
Lost Dog needs to
be seen. To describe the five-minute film is to spoil it. But this much can
be said: It’s a silent, with Jaeger and Huddleston’s friend, Matt Leetz--also
a CHS student before he moved to Valpo--playing the role of the boy who’s
lost his dog. Leetz’s performance is sensitive and mature, and the piano
score, composed by another good friend, Julius Dolls of Chicago, is
evocative and moving. “Without Matt and Julius, the film never would have
been made,” Jaeger says.
The shoot, though
less than a week away from the CMF premiere, was highly collaborative, as
Leetz recalls. “We bounced ideas and shots off of each other over pizza,” he
says. “For me the whole filming experience was just another hang-out with
friends. It was extremely relaxed in spite of the time crunch. Cannes is an
incredible opportunity that came about from spending time goofing off with
friends and making something we’d want to watch.”
The shoot may have
felt like a goof-off at the time. Yet there’s nothing muddled about the
final product. Lost Dog is tight, thoughtful, and dynamic--“We love using
moving shots and interesting angles,” Jaeger says--and even features a sly
nod to Hitchcock (hint: look for the MacGuffin).
Still, at the heart
of the piece is its heart, and the twist in the final scene is as sweet as
it is sad.
“We write about
loss, about heartbreak, because these are universal feelings we know people
can empathize with,” Jaeger says.
“Films allow us to
empathize with the world around us,” Huddleston notes. “They help remind us
of feelings we might have long forgotten. Watching a movie can make you feel
like a child again.”
Huddleston began making films together at CHS, most of them for WDSO news
segments or for their art and English classes. On occasion they’d try going
all auteur, Jaeger confesses, to find they’d simply aimed too high: “Like
writing feature-length scripts and trying to shoot them with old cameras and
edit them on iMovie.”
Over the years,
though, their work began to acquire a particular look. “We tend to have a
very dark style when it comes to our storytelling,” Jaeger says. “Funny too,
but funny in a dark way.” That look--their brand--they’ve since named
Bemused Entertainment. Motto: “We Just Want to Make Cool Movies Until We’re
“Most of the films
we produce and create now are made for ourselves and small festivals,”
Huddleston says. “It’s a way to hone our skills and practice new techniques
Which is as it
should be. Not only are they apprentice filmmakers, they’ve been part-time
filmmakers while at IU-Bloomington. Huddleston is still there, finishing his
B.A. in media and cinema studies. Jaeger took his degree in journalism last
year. But when Huddleston graduates in May--and after their trip to
Cannes--they plan to move to Los Angeles, where they hope to find their
place in the industry.
And if they don’t,
that’s okay too. Because for both filmmaking is really about the making, and
they can do that anywhere. “Whether that’s in the Hollywood world, the indie
market, somewhere in the Midwest, in my parents’ basement, it doesn’t
matter,” Jaeger said. “There is no feeling comparable to being on a set and
working on a collaborative undertaking like a film.”
“I don’t care if I
ever become rich,” Huddleston says. “I don’t care if I win any awards. I
don’t care if I become famous. For me, films are a therapeutic way to help
better understand this life. The validation and money will never give me the
immeasurable feeling I get from creating a film from nothing.”
Huddleston themselves may downplay their prospects, but their star, Leetz,
believes they’re only just coming into their own. “I’m super excited for
them because this is what they’ve wanted to do since they were kids and
they’re finally garnering the attention they deserve for the quality of work
For giving them the
confidence as well as the opportunity to create, Jaeger and Huddleston have
dedicated their entry at Cannes to their 10th-grade media teacher, Matt
Waters, and their 11th-grade English teacher, Jason Cook. “They had the
greatest influence on my creativity,” Jaeger says. “I owe them so much.”
Huddleston, for his
part, thanks his parents “for telling me, at an early age, that I can do
anything I set my mind to. Without their love and encouragement, I wouldn’t
be where I am today.”
“You only have this
one life,” Huddeston adds, “You might as well follow your heart and show the
world all the beautiful ideas you have in your head.”
Huddleston are expecting their trip to France to be expensive, and while
they hope that IU’s Media School will subsidize a portion of it, they’ve
also started a GoFundMe.
www.gofundme.com and search for
“Bemused Entertainment to Cannes.”