An A-List Animal Trainer Prepares a Great Dane for His Film Début

David Siegel and Scott McGehee, filmmaking partners for three decades, both read and loved the Sigrid Nunez novel “The Friend” when it was published, in 2src18. They took Nunez out to coffee, then optioned the film rights to the story, wrote a script, and began making plans to produce it.The novel, which won the National

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David Siegel and Scott McGehee, filmmaking partners for three decades, both read and loved the Sigrid Nunez novel “The Friend” when it was published, in 2src18. They took Nunez out to coffee, then optioned the film rights to the story, wrote a script, and began making plans to produce it.

The novel, which won the National Book Award, is narrated by an unnamed writer in Manhattan whose friend and mentor, a more famous writer, has recently died by suicide. She inherits his dog, a Great Dane named Apollo. “The Friend” is about a lot of things—grief, memory, loneliness, goatish men, writing, teaching, kids today—but it is, fundamentally, a love story between two bereaved creatures, writer and dog, seeking consolation and companionship in a treacherous world.

Siegel and McGehee had actors in mind for the narrator and the mentor, to whom they gave the names Iris and Walter, respectively. Now they needed their Apollo. In the fall of 2src19, they reached out to the prominent trainer Bill Berloni, who has been supplying, hiring, and coaching animals for stage and screen for nearly fifty years. Berloni asked if it had to be a Great Dane. “Great Danes are big, dumb, and lazy,” he told them. (Or, as he prefers to put it now, “They are sensitive, and not known for their obedience training.”) “Can I talk you into another breed?”

The filmmakers insisted. The unwieldy size, the inconvenience, the majesty, the mournful bearing: these elements were essential. Plus, the cover of the novel had an illustration of a Great Dane on it—a Harlequin Dane, white with black spots, in a red collar. Film is a visual medium, and its practitioners are visual people. That image, as much as any description on the page, had captured their cinematographic imaginations.

With Berloni, they began a nationwide search. Berloni also works as an animal-actor agent, so he knew the landscape. The auditions folder swelled with the head shots of some thirty Great Danes. They saw dogs in Chicago, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. There was an Aggro, a Thor, a Storm, and, in Louisville, an actual Apollo. Henry, Logical, Kodiak, Legend. Berloni went to Fredericksburg to see Gage, to Sacramento to see Atom. Snazzy, visiting from Anchorage, got a tryout while in New York for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

In February, 2src2src, Berloni, Siegel, and McGehee rolled into Iowa. It was just after the Presidential caucuses. They’d been searching for six months and still didn’t have their co-star. Preproduction was scheduled to begin in a month. They took a meeting with their latest prospect at an obedience-training club in Des Moines. This one’s name was Bing. He was nearly two years old and was a bit less muscular and intimidating than some of the others they’d seen, with a gentler air. Berloni put him through his paces, giving him a range of standard commands, and Bing responded with elegance and ease.

“If you don’t hire this dog, I’m going to represent him,” Berloni said.

This time, they took his advice. At the beginning of March, 2src2src, Bing and his owner, a business-systems consultant at Wells Fargo named Beverly Klingensmith, travelled from Iowa to Connecticut to spend some time with Berloni and his wife and business partner, Dorothy. Everybody got comfortable with everybody. The philosophies and approaches jelled. Klingensmith returned to Iowa, leaving Bing in Berloni’s care.

The filmmakers got ready to shoot. And then, a week later, the world shut down. Covid. Bing went home. Then came the writers’ strike, and the actors’ strike, and the tangram of the talents’ schedules and projects. It was four years before they resumed making the picture, right after this year’s Iowa caucuses. Bing, now almost six, had had an entire election cycle to hone his craft and age into the role.

Nunez, who wasn’t involved with the adaptation of her novel but had nonetheless been keeping tabs, said, “I was so anxious about Bing.” Another thing Great Danes aren’t known for is longevity; their average life span is just eight years. “I was hoping that Bing would just hang in there,” she said.

Bing arrived in New York by minivan on January 9th of this year, with Klingensmith, whom everyone calls Bev. She had enough paid time off at Wells Fargo to accompany Bing as a trainer on the shoot. They planned to be in the city and away from home for three months: one for rehearsal, then two for shooting. No one, including Bev, would tell me how much she was making to furnish and train Bing. “For people who lead normal lives, it’s a nice chunk of change,” Berloni said. “She’s getting five figures for her participation. She’s not doing this for profit.”

“That’s not fair. I do not only visit you once a year on National Asparagus Day.”

Cartoon by Edward Steed

The production had rented a four-bedroom house on Staten Island. To receive a film-industry tax break, the dog had to stay in New York, and Staten Island was the best option for an affordable rental with an ample back yard. Bing and Bev moved in, as did Berloni and one of his trainers, Trisha Nguyen. Another trainer, Kelli Gautreau, commuted from New Jersey. During the next few weeks, Bing and his housemates travelled to Manhattan for rehearsals and training sessions.

Two weeks before shooting, Bing had a wardrobe fitting at the production offices, in Chelsea. Berloni arrived early, straight from a meeting with the producers of a Broadway show. “They want me to help them put the most dogs ever onstage,” he told me. “Twenty-five to thirty dogs, unleashed. A dog-park scene. I’m looking at them, like, You realize, right, that trained dogs are just going to sit there and wait for the command. I did ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ twenty years ago. That was ten dogs. I said, ‘I’m never going to do this again.’ ”

Berloni is sixty-seven, trim, and deliberate in his movements in a way that makes him seem both chilled out and tightly wound. His uncommon attention to the temperament of animals manifests as poise. He has graying hair and a neat beard and brings to mind Steven Spielberg, without the billions. He typically wears jeans and a black Carhartt jacket. He and Dorothy live in central Connecticut, on a farm they call Little Arfin’ Acres, with twenty dogs, four donkeys, three cats, two geese, a macaw, and a pig, all of them for hire. He grew up on another farm nearby; his father was the horticulturist to the city of New Britain.

“I wanted to be an actor,” he told me. “I wanted to go to Yale Drama School, but my parents couldn’t afford it. So I got a job as an apprentice at the Goodspeed Opera House, in East Haddam. They put on revivals and musicals. Dozens of shows went from there to Broadway. I was basically there building scenery.”

It was the summer of 1976, and the Goodspeed was launching a new musical called “Annie,” based on the comic strip. “There was a part for a dog, but they had no trainer,” Berloni said. “I was nineteen. I had no experience. They gave me thirty-five dollars to buy a dog and feed it all summer. I went down to the Connecticut Humane Society and found a dog that was going to be put to sleep the next day. They wanted seven dollars for the dog. That was the first Sandy.” Sandy had apparently suffered abuse and spooked easily, so Berloni kept the dog with him at all times, leashing him to the stage while he built sets.

The show bombed at the Goodspeed. Walter Kerr, in the Times, wrote, “The evening, like the strip, doesn’t even try to be funny.” Still, Kerr went easy on the dog—“Sandy is all right (he’s bigger than Annie)”—and so, when Mike Nichols signed on to produce the piece and take it to Broadway the following year, Sandy and Berloni were asked to reprise their roles. Berloni had enrolled at New York University and was studying with Stella Adler. Now he had to hone his skills as a trainer. For one scene, as he recounts in his memoir, “Broadway Tails,” he devised a way to get Sandy to stop mid-stage; instead of using a dog treat, which would bounce off the floorboards and make a sound, a member of the cast would drop a bit of baloney. This technique would come to be known as the Baloney Drop. Its originator became Bill Baloney. (“I was Bill Baloney in third grade, actually,” Berloni said.) This time, the show was a huge hit, as was Sandy, who, at least according to Berloni, was the first dog ever to play a central character onstage. “And that’s how I became a world-famous animal trainer at twenty,” he said.

Since then, he has been the go-to animal handler for hundreds of Broadway musicals and plays. He’s done other “Annie”s, and countless movies and TV shows, but he tends to be leery of Hollywood, because TV and movie people often have unreasonable expectations of animals.

“We did ‘Annie’ on NBC a few years ago,” he said. “Live, on network TV. The producers said, ‘We’ve already hired an animal trainer.’ This was a Hollywood animal trainer, who said, ‘I can do it in eight days.’ I say, ‘You can’t do it in eight days!’ A week before airing, on the second day, the dog bit a child in the face. Guess who gets the call?”

He felt differently about “The Friend.” “Scott and David aren’t like the filmmakers I’ve worked with,” he said. “They really care about the animals. They want to do it right.”

Seasoned film producers might dispense droll prohibitions against kids and dogs, but rare is the IMDb page without them. Rin Tin Tin, a battlefield rescue from the First World War, was the cash cow that propelled the career of Darryl Zanuck and the rise of Warner Bros.; Lassie got the industry through the star-wary years of the Red Scare. Meanwhile, trainers built their own careers and fortunes. The grandest of them all was Frank Inn, who had been an assistant to Lassie’s trainer, Rudd Weatherwax, of the Weatherwax family—trainers, too, of Toto and Old Yeller and Asta. (Many movie dogs were actually multiple dogs.) Inn’s mutt Higgins, discovered in Burbank, was sixteen when he came out of retirement, after six seasons on “Petticoat Junction,” to originate the role of Benji. Higgins’s daughter Benjean took over for several of the sequels, including “Oh! Heavenly Dog” (198src), starring Chevy Chase and Omar Sharif. Cujo, if you’re wondering, was at least four St. Bernards, a mechanical dog, and a stuntman in a dog suit.

At the Chelsea production offices, an elevator door opened and there was Bing, magisterial in every respect: a lean, muscular hundred and forty-five pounds and, by the prop department’s tape measure, forty-two inches tall from his forepaws to the top of his skull. His snout, like Roger Federer’s neck, flushes pink when he gets tired or stressed. He has a splotch on his scrotum and a long ropy tail. He projected mild curiosity, self-possession, some awkwardness: your basic arriving-at-an-office vibe. Bev, at his side, wore a long parka and jeans, had short dark hair and glasses, and projected forbearance and good humor. Berloni said that I could greet Bing once but would afterward have to avoid petting him or making eye contact, to keep his allegiances and attentions focussed on him and Bev, and on Naomi Watts, who was playing Iris, the film’s protagonist. Bing and I savored our moment, he left some slobber on my sweater, and then he got to work.

The prop masters, Gino Fortebuono and Rebecca Spiro, had laid out an array of expensive-looking collars and leashes, of varying sizes and shades of red. “We’re searching for the perfect size, the perfect width, the perfect red,” Spiro said. “Really, it’s an homage to the book cover.”

Bing sniffed at the collars, then stood still as Fortebuono put one on him, with a deferential attempt at delicacy and haste. Everyone stepped back to assess Bing as Bev and Berloni had him strike a few poses.

“I know it sounds nuts, but we should try a brighter red,” Spiro said. They swapped collars. Spiro, apparently accustomed to working with actors, said to Bing, “You’re beautiful! There’s no one more beautiful than you.”

There were other props and accommodations to consider: Fortebuono unwrapped a giant plush panda, to use as a stand-in for Bing during setup and lighting, and a new air mattress, to rehearse scenes set in Iris’s apartment. He and the props team discussed a kind of thin chrome matting that they were considering for a shoot on a Brooklyn pier. They didn’t want to expose Bing’s paws to the pier’s old splintery planks and protruding nails, so they’d found some “chroma” to roll over it like a carpet. The board pattern would be restored in postproduction, by way of C.G.I. Michael O’Brien, the crew’s transportation captain, came over to discuss modifications he’d devised for Bing’s trailer, since the steel stairs were too steep and dog ramps were too narrow to accommodate Bing and a handler. O’Brien had procured a moving-van ramp instead. They also strategized about building a bench for a scene aboard a boat, and a special passenger seat for a scene in a car, so that Bing’s head would be even with Watts’s. “We’ll have to remove the seat and replace it with something else,” Berloni said. “And I’ll be hiding on the floor at his feet.”

In film, we intuit or even celebrate ingenuities and work-arounds in the service of illusion. The fake blood, the cars on rails, the Potemkin villages, not to mention the computer graphics, the herds and armies and tempests that exist only in code. We don’t often indulge the frugal point of view—that all this trickery is excessive and wasteful, in practical rather than aesthetic terms. Fealty to the script and to the vision of the cinematographer—the devotion to the deception—requires adjustments to the world of real things which can seem, to a layman used to making do, unduly elaborate. Why not rewrite the scene, to make it more practical to shoot? Why not choose a splinterless pier, with flush and freshly hammered nails? Because there’s a magic carpet, and it’s awesome. And we must insure that no animals are harmed in the making of this film.

Spiro said to Bing, “You want to try a beautiful outfit?”

They put him in a zip-collar sweater and then in a red harness.

“Is it too busy?”

“It’s too teched out.”

“Can we get a photo of him in the sphinx position? He’s going to be in this position on a train.”

“Down,” Bev said, in a moderate tone. Bing settled into the sphinx, ears pricked up, tail tucked under his rear. “Good boy!” she said, in falsetto. A line producer strolled by, tried to throw an empty coffee cup into a nearby garbage can, and missed. “Leave it,” Bev murmured, in a low husky voice. The dog gave her a droopy-hound glance and resumed posing for the camera.

Bev lives on a ten-acre property in Newton, Iowa, with one of her two adult sons and her husband, a corrections officer. She breeds Great Danes and also has a sideline in dog photography. Her kennel is called Foto Danes. On her forearm she has a tattoo of a paw print, with an image of a camera aperture in place of the metacarpal pad. “My two loves,” she said.

“And that is why, no matter how many clothes you own, you will always do the same amount of laundry.”

Cartoon by Eugenia Viti

Bing is her sixth Great Dane, if you count only those she and her family have kept in their home. When an executive producer of “The Friend” first reached out to her, in 2src19, Bev deleted the e-mail. “It seemed far-fetched and crazy,” she said. But then she fished it out of the trash. After the production was interrupted, she put off getting him fixed, because the script of the film called for an intact male.

The key to Bing’s performance was his relationship with Watts. They had started rehearsing together at Watts’s home in Tribeca as soon as he got to New York. For their final session, an assistant brought Bing, Bev, Berloni, and Nguyen in out of the rain, and Watts came down a broad stairway holding her own dog, Izzy, a Yorkie-Chihuahua mix. Watts wore yoga pants and a loose sweater. Izzy and Bing, who’d become friendly, greeted each other first, with Bev and Berloni taking care that the big dog not crush the small one. (Izzy often hung around the set and would eventually appear as an extra in a scene at a pet store.) Then Watts greeted Bing. The first time they’d met, Watts had fed him bits of salami. This time, Berloni handed her a brown bag of equivalently decadent but healthier treats he’d prepared on Staten Island. His aim, he said, was for Watts to surpass him in Bing’s hierarchy of handlers, to rank second after Bev. Now he yielded control to Watts, whose goal was to develop firm control of Bing while appearing on camera to be fumbling, a bit of a newb, for the sake of the story.

They worked in a mirrored gym off the front hallway. Watts led Bing on some laps. “Going through doors safely is a skill,” Berloni said. At one point, as Watts told Bing to stay, Berloni tried to distract him by dancing around and making noise. Bing held his pose. “Good boy!” Bev and Watts cried.

“He doesn’t like it when he makes mistakes,” Watts said.

She took him out for a couple laps around the block, with Berloni and Nguyen jogging ahead to serve as sentinels on the corners, on the lookout for dogs or other threats. The streets were perilous. “In desensitizing him to scary things, you don’t want to throw him into the deep end,” Berloni said. “Two poodles at twelve o’clock.”

Bing mostly encountered admiration. Everywhere he went, people noticed.

“It’s like being out with a rock star,” Watts said.

I’d been out with him before, on crowded blocks near the production offices. Passersby smiled and made remarks. “What a beauty”; “Magnificent. Such a great beast”; “What is that?”; “That’s a pony”; “Horse”; “I have two Great Danes in my building, owned by a Dane.” When Bing lifted his leg on a planter, civilians scattered. The stream brought to mind a fireboat in Hell Gate.

In Tribeca, the session ended with Watts and Bing lying on the floor beside each other. A cuddle for the co-stars. “I’ve never worked on a film where there’s so much coöperation from an actor,” Berloni said. “I’m jumping up and down inside.”

The house on Staten Island was on a busy street in the Mid-Island section, a few blocks off the Expressway. A row of prodigiously used poop bags guarded the gate to the back yard. “Welcome to the house that’s too small for two Great Danes!” Berloni said.

The other Dane was Bing’s understudy, a Harlequin from Chicago named Wilder, who was also staying in the house. “There’s no understudy for Naomi Watts,” Berloni said. “It’s a celebrity thing.”

Wilder and Bing share a grandfather, a prominent show champion named Fender. Wilder, like Bing, has two different-colored eyes and a splotch on his scrotum. When Stephanie Kelley, his owner, got a call from Bev about the understudy job on “The Friend,” she bought Nunez’s book, but Wilder chewed it up before she could finish reading it, so she doesn’t know how it ends.

Wilder was in the kitchen. “Be prepared to be slobbered on,” Berloni said. “Don’t look him in the eye. You are a pretext for a training session: how to introduce a stranger to the inner sanctum. It’s never happened before and won’t ever happen again.” It was like approaching a Hollywood villa occupied by two Marlon Brandos. Using a strap and a clip, Berloni and the others had rigged a makeshift harness around Wilder’s posterior to keep his tail from whacking into things as it wagged: a jollity belt.

Wilder and Bing, being intact males, weren’t allowed to be in the same place at the same time, lest they fight. They’d never laid muzzles on each other, despite sharing the house. “Do I want to spend the next five weeks trying to make them best friends? No,” Berloni said. The trainers had worked out a system to let one dog out while the other remained in his room. Wilder was distinguishable from Bing by his Chicago Cubs collar and by his relative exuberance, though he was getting more temperate under the tutelage of Berloni and others. “He didn’t sniff my crotch today!” Kelli Gautreau said.

They took Wilder to the basement for a training session. During each lap, he glanced at me, the stranger in the sanctum. (“Good observation,” Berloni said when I mentioned this.) Eventually, Gautreau led Wilder up to his crate on the second floor, and Bev went to get Bing. “Do you want me to bring down the ham?” she called from upstairs.

Bing paid me no mind. “That’s the difference between a trained dog and an untrained dog,” Berloni said.

Ever dutiful, ever morose, Bing followed orders and gobbled up treats. They had particular behaviors to teach and scenes to get him ready for—or, really, to figure out their own choreography for, the human gestures and body positioning that would elicit the desired canine reactions. This involved a constantly shifting exchange of control, like the possession of the conch in “Lord of the Flies.” There was one scene in the script where Bing circles Watts while she’s asleep on a mattress on the floor (Berloni alternately hid and pretended to hide treats under the mattress); one where Bing, against his nature, puts a paw on her chest; and another where, against his training, he scratches at a door. There were dozens of what Berloni called “difficult actions.” At one point, Bing was supposed to grab a T-shirt and play keep-away with Watts—“Huge plot point,” Berloni said—but this was a tough ask, the source of Bev’s greatest worry. “A couple of years ago, he didn’t even like anything in his mouth at all,” she said.

Upstairs, Wilder, apparently jealous, howled in his crate.

On weekends, Berloni tried to get back to the farm, even if just for a night, but the prep for and then the shooting of “The Friend” ate up the hours. He was also busy with other jobs. He drove around the tri-state area at all hours to meet with animals and, while in transit, often mixed up the text threads on his phone.

“On Monday morning, I have a go-see in New Jersey,” he said one afternoon. “It’s a cow I’ve never met. A milking cow.” He had to drop off his bulldog Myrtle, who is a regular on “And Just Like That . . . ,” the sequel to “Sex and the City,” for an A.T. & T. commercial shoot in New Jersey. He was also rehearsing “an animal” (an N.D.A. prevented him from saying what kind) for “Only Murders in the Building” and arranging a falcon shoot for a show called “The Savant” (which he referred to as “the hawk job” when he mistakenly texted me about it). He was consulting on a hit play from London, “The Hunt,” which was opening at St. Ann’s Warehouse. He showed me a photo of the setup on his phone. (As he did so, a text popped up on his screen, from Nguyen: “You texted the wrong thread.”) In the play, a hunting dog has to sit patiently inside a glass house, with a trapdoor underneath, without moving or turning his head, while men with deer heads run around the stage. His description of all this had a wearied what’ll-they-think-of-next timbre. Sometimes Gautreau told him, “Bill, you know everything works out in the end. Haven’t you read your own book?”

He’d set up an office in the extra bedroom in Staten Island, across the hall from Wilder’s crate. On the wall was a gallery of head shots of some of the extras in the cast of “The Friend.” Cutie, Rocco, Mr. Tibbs. Stella, a French bulldog in a wheelchair, a veteran actor. Some of them were his, from his farm. He repped them all. Since Bing can’t perform with other males, Berloni had brought him to the farm to audition some females. “He chose the four he wants in his movie,” Berloni said.

“Now I have a production meeting about earthworms,” Berloni said. He has been providing animals to “Sesame Street” for twenty-five years. In the office, he got on a Zoom call about an upcoming sketch that included a soil bed teeming with Canadian earthworms. The producers wanted Berloni to make the worms faster and more active. “There aren’t a lot of speeds, with worms,” he said. Ultimately, his advice was to speed up the film.

Downstairs, Bing was preparing to rehearse a scene in which he steals a hot dog from a vender’s hand. “They want a comedic take of gulp and gone,” Berloni said. “A hot dog and a bun is a lot. It’s either one take with a hot dog and a bun or three takes with hot dogs, no bun. There’s no Journal of Hot-Dog-Eating Takes for film dogs.”

Berloni with Sandy and Sarah Jessica Parker, in “Annie,” more than four decades ago.Photograph by Martha Swope / The New York Public Library

In the kitchen, Bev held out a frank in a bun. Bing sniffed at it, daintily removed it from the bun, and began to chomp on it, so that the end of it wagged like a cigar. Comedic, maybe, but not gulp and gone. They taped two attempts. “We will send that to the director today for discussion,” Berloni said.

The hot dogs presented another kind of problem once filming began. American Humane, the organization responsible for the “no animals were harmed” designation, monitors productions of all sizes and kinds. The representative on “The Friend” was a woman named Kendall Tinston. Throughout the shoot, she kept an eye on Bing, Bev, and Berloni, occasionally asking whether Bing might be tired or cold or even suggesting to the directors that the dog might need a break. Berloni, who is the director of animal behavior and training at the Humane Society of New York, was in no way opposed to her presence, and welcomed the additional voice, but the exigencies of a shoot sometimes made her interventions thorny.

So it went with the hot dogs. Berloni had thought of them, incorrectly, as treats rather than props, which fall under American Humane’s purview. Tinston asked Berloni for the ingredients list, which showed trace amounts of garlic powder and onion powder. “Dogs can be allergic to those,” Berloni said. “The ingredients don’t say how much, but American Humane doesn’t want a dog to have a reaction.” Tinston suggested some paprika-seasoned hot dogs available only in New Jersey, so one of the prop masters went out to buy four dozen. (In the end, they never shot the scene.) Then, a couple of days later, Berloni, working on a scene that called for Bing to drink water, added chicken broth to the dog’s bowl. Again, Tinston asked to see the ingredients. Onions. “I felt badly again,” Berloni said. “I hadn’t thought of it as a prop.” He wound up formulating his own broth, by microwaving Bing’s plain cooked chicken in a bowl of water.

There were a few things that kept Berloni awake at night as the shoot approached.

For starters, there was Day One—Apollo at a veterinarian’s office. “The vet exam haunts my dreams,” Berloni said. It was a tight, hot set, with Bing on a table and a stranger touching him in ways and places he tended to object to. “Oh, it was face, butt, ears, lips, everything,” Berloni said afterward. But Bing handled it well. Up the next morning at four-thirty with Berloni and Bev, he was raring to go. As the weeks went on, he seemed more and more excited to work.

There were other scenes that concerned Berloni—a near-collision with a cyclist, a memorial service aboard a boat in the East River, a beach sequence with lapping waves. The script also called for a butterfly to land on Bing’s nose. “Bill doesn’t do butterflies,” Gautreau said. (“Actually, I have done butterflies,” Berloni said, and described an advertisement he’d done for Huffman Koos furniture, for which an entomologist he’d hired brought six monarchs and a vial of “sex potion”—a Baloney Drop for butterflies.)

A day of shooting in Washington Square Park was supposed to culminate in a dog-run scene, featuring the females that Bing had got on well with on Berloni’s farm. But, after preliminary discussions about who’d be scooping up what (Berloni to one of the directors: “We’re going to pick up our dogs’ poop—I hope they don’t expect us to pick up other dogs’ poop”), the Parks Department told the filmmakers that it couldn’t close the dog run to the public, which would, in effect, prevent the production from filming there. Instead, the filmmakers considered a nearby humpy expanse of artificial turf, but the department would not permit the dogs to be off leash, even if each had its own trainer on hand. “The invisible leash is the treats in your pocket,” Berloni said. The filmmakers reworked the shot.

Another worry didn’t involve Bing at all. In the film, in a sequence that’s more fantasy than flashback, Watts has some scenes with Bill Murray, who plays Walter, and a dachshund. They shot these in a Brooklyn brownstone, during the fourth week of filming. The set was closed, but Berloni, a few days later, recalled what they’d taken to calling D Day: “The dachshund day was totally stressful. We had a kerfuffle. Dachshunds are high-strung. I told them this. I said we’d need to get the dachshund to sniff around before the shoot. The house would have to be empty. If dogs like that feel safe, at least they kind of pay attention. But when we got there everything was set up, the crew was ready. ‘The dachshund just has to sit on the couch. Let’s just shoot it.’ And then he wouldn’t stay, wouldn’t stay, wouldn’t stay, wouldn’t stay. ‘Is he gonna stay?’ ‘Um, probably not.’ ‘Take him away!’ So, in effect, they couldn’t get the shot they wanted.”

On set, Murray grumbled, “I could do a better job training a wasp.” (Shooting a scene with Bing near the Brooklyn Bridge, Murray tucked bits of chicken under his shoelaces, to get Bing to like him.)

“I consider it to be a complete failure,” Berloni said. The next morning, at 6 a.m., Berloni got an hour alone in the house with the dog. “And, that day, we got all the shots,” he said. “Including like twenty takes of the dachshund jumping up on a chair.”

Bing proved to be a pro. He aced the difficult actions, including the T-shirt keep-away. (“He did great on his hold,” Bev said.) Whenever an actor wrapped, the cast and crew, as per tradition, applauded on set, and each time Bing howled along. In the sixth week, Bing nailed the beach scene on a strand in Oyster Bay. Take after take, lying on his side in the sand, he glanced back over his shoulder at Watts, as the script demanded. During one setup, Siegel, the director, noticed, in the monitor, that Bing’s testicles seemed more prominent than usual and asked Bev if she might tuck them under his tail. She tried, as Tinston, the American Humane rep, looked on. “They’re untuckable,” Bev said. When the day was done, Siegel gave Berloni and Bev a hug. He’d anticipated that Bing would come up short and that they would have had to resort to C.G.I. Berloni was glad he hadn’t known this before: “I would have been a nervous wreck.”

Before Watts’s last day with Bing, Berloni told people, “If Naomi doesn’t cry, we haven’t done our job.” Sure enough, after she’d wrapped her last scene, aboard a Metro-North railcar, she realized that she wouldn’t see Bing again and went running back to his van, with tears welling, to say goodbye.

Berloni could now look back on all the years and find purpose and meaning, the hand of fate. “There’s a revival of ‘Annie’ in 2src27,” he said. “After that, I will drop the leash and retire.”

He fantasized about going to the Academy Awards. Messi, the Border collie from “Anatomy of a Fall,” had just aced his Oscars cameo; maybe next year it would be Bing’s turn. By then, he’d likely be neutered, in time for the rigors of the promotional tour. ♦

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