Earlier this week, I was fortunate enough to attend a screening and press junket for the new Disney+ plus show PICK OF THE LITTER, which debuted today. While Shannon gives you her two cents on the 2 episodes that were screened, I’ll be your guide for the press conference which featured Executive Producer/Director Don Hardy, Executive Producer Mary Celenza, CEO of Guide Dogs for the Blind, Chris Benninger, and Puppy Raisers Roger and Sue Dupuy.

PICK OF THE LITTER is the first original docu-series on Disney+ that is not based on a Disney property. This series is based on the full-length documentary of the same name that premiered at Slamdance in 2018. The series follows a group of six dogs on their quest to become guides for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Executive Producer/Director Don Hardy explained that “someone from Disney+ saw the trailer for the Pick of the Litter full-length documentary around the time it was about to be released [in August 2018] and they wanted to talk to me about turning it into a series.” He continues: “That’s something we wanted to do but docu-series weren’t what they are now. We decided to make it into a documentary but then ended up getting the series here at Disney.” Once that was all set and done, Don and Disney went to Guide Dogs for the Blind’s CEO Chris Benninger to discuss documenting the selected families that were training the dogs for 18 months. Chris talked a bit about the process of cameras following not only her facility but the families as well: “Ultimately, we have a mission to accomplish and we wanted to make certain that we were accomplishing the vision and not disrupting the families while training.” Chris finished by saying: “The camera crews were respectful of the process and made sure they weren’t interrupting the training that was going on. At the end of the day, it turned out to be some pretty terrific training and focus for the dog because that’s what being a guide dog is. It’s learning how to focus and ignore [the camera crew].”

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We then met Puppy Raisers Roger and Sue Dupuy who talked a bit about the special training required for their pup as well as having a camera crew follow them throughout their house. “We got to clean the house!” Roger said about his wife Sue’s reaction to the camera crew coming to film. “We were surprised that we were asked to be a part of this project because we just see each other as volunteers.” He went on to complement the entire production crew on how professional, gracious, and on-time they were during the entire shoot. Sue Dupuy said, “I was a little bit nervous having so many people coming to our home and seeing us at our best and our worst. Not being able to control that added a little bit of anxiety. Working with Mary Celenza (Executive Producer) and the crew, I immediately felt a connection knowing what was best for not only the documentary but also for the portrayal of the incredible mission that guide dogs have.” Chris went on to explain how the docu-series was able to expand on what the full-length documentary explained: “We’re very hopeful that this series will raise visibility around what we do and how we do it. All of our services are free. We receive no government funding so we’re hoping that this will raise additional support for the mission.”

Executive Producer Mary Celenza talked about how much time she and the crew would spend with the families as well as being on the campus center for Guide Dogs for the Blind: “We had to learn from the [puppy] raisers in the series what those puppies had been like growing up so that we could get their backstories.” She continued to talk about the innovative camera work that was also used for the series. Since the dogs are smaller, they needed a specific camera rig to capture them running, playing, etc. Don went on to elaborate on what they used to capture these moments: “We came up with a smaller camera on a gimble that could be turned into a monopod that we could flip upside down and allowed us to keep up [with the dogs].” Don further explained that when he shot the full-length documentary, it was mainly him shooting everything. Luckily, he had a camera crew for the series and made sure to tell everyone to “wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for all the walking and running you have to do. So it was shot in a very interesting way.”

As we came to the end of the press conference, Don told us what he enjoyed most about having a series compared to a feature film: “Since the feature was only 98 minutes and the series is 3 hours total, [viewers] will learn more about the training, the trainers, and what goes into being a Guide Dog.” He also went on to explain what viewers can expect in upcoming episodes (but we don’t want to spoil that for you!). That said, here are my two cents on the show: I thought it was a very fascinating series about a subject I didn’t know too much about. There are some moments where I teared up and of course I love dogs. After the press conference, we were allowed to meet some of the Guide Dogs in the flesh…or I guess in the fur. All in all, the entire junket that day was doggone fun. PICK OF THE LITTER is now available to stream on Disney+.

John Duarte
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