My dear furrriends, I am delighted to share with you, this special feature on the current cinema release of "A Man Called Otto" starring Tom Hanks. We have been working hard to get you the behind the scenes scoop on this Sony Pictures production.
We got speaking to Britany Hufnagle Long (animal trainer), Dawn Barkan (Animal coordinator) and Schmagel the cat (floofy star of "A Man Called Otto"
I hope you enjoy reading this and we hope you enjoy learning all about Schmagel, who is well on his way to becoming the most famous floof of 2023! We highly recommend you go and check "A Man Called Otto" out if you haven't already.
(Pictured: Britany Hufnagle Long and Schmagel)
Thank you so much for taking part in this Q&A. We really appreciate it. Please tell us a little about yourself and your roles at Hillcrest and Dawn Barkan Animals.
I started showing dogs at the age of 6 years and continued throughout college. I majored in animal behavior at a private college and, shortly after, started my behavioral business. At that time, I began dabbling in the NYC scene with my own animals and getting them into advertisements and small shows. I was advised I should start training cats. I took that advice and the rest is history. As far as today, I own Hill Crest Canine Country Club in Pennsylvania which is an animal training, grooming and boarding business, as well as working in the movie/tv industry with my animals full time.
My relationship with Dawn is that she is my agent and now a great friend and mentor.
We previously spoke with Dawn about her work with cats in film and came to learn that you work with her. How did this partnership come about?
Our partnership really started with a cat. The first job I worked with her was on the film "Clerks 2" with my black cat Maggie.
Growing up, did you always have pets?
I always had a few dogs around the house growing up and I was constantly training them. I used to hand feed my first dog, a cocker spaniel, from my sister's doll spoons. After that I had Golden Retrievers and fell in love with the breed. Likewise, our neighbor had a constant flow of barn cats at their farm; to which I would adopt one or two every few years and play with them like little stuffed animals. As I grew up, I trained dogs for shows and competed with them.
Was working with animals always the career path you wanted to take?
Yes, I did not have any doubts!
How long have you been training animals?
Technically I started when I was 3 years old with our family's Cocker Spaniel and I'm 37 now. Soooo, a long time!
As someone who works with both, what are the main differences between working with cats and dogs?
Believe it or not they are fundamentally the same. They work for food, trust and the bond they have with their person.
Us cats usually tend to do what we want, when we want. Have you ever had to "fire" a cat for not doing their job?
Because all of the animals I use are mine I haven't needed to do this. I take training them VERY seriously and because of this there is a training process that needs to happen to make them 90% predictable.
We recently seen "A Man Called Otto" and thought it was fantastic. Please tell us what it was like for you to be working on the film, alongside Tom Hanks, who is such an iconic actor?
I cannot say enough good things about working with Tom. Everyday, he was polite, positive and genuinely cared for the well being of the animals. You can't ask for more than that!
Please describe a typical day on set
Every day on set is different. We do our best to request a safe spot for the animals to hang during the day. This ensures that they are happy, safe and comfortable. Sometimes this means they have their own trailer, while others it is a quiet room just off set. We always take their food, water, litter box, treats and toys to assure they have a wonderful day. For us people, they make sure we are comfy too by providing us with plenty of snacks during the day!
We thought Schmagel did a fantastic job on the film. And of course he looked adorable througout! Please tell us about him
He is my cat and lives with me <3. He was found as a stray with his sister Schmiscuit and we estimate that we found them when they were around 6 weeks old. He is currently 7 years old. He is a domestic longhair (fancy terminology for a long haired cat).
What are Schmagel's favourite snacks?
His all time favorite snacks are catnip greenies with a close second being dehydrated chicken hearts!
What are Schmagel's favourite activities and toys?
Schmagel loves to learn and snuggle. He also likes to suck on blankets. He likes toys with strings attached to them.
I'm a big fan of toys on strings myself Schmagel. Excellent choice!
It is our understanding that many films with cats require several lookalike cat stars in a production but that was not the case for "A Man Called Otto". Schmagel did all the cat scenes himself?
Yes! Every movie cat needs at least 1 double for itself. His sister Schmiscuit was his double. Because he was a perfect guy, he did all the scenes himself. He likes to joke that she was just along for the free snacks!
(Pictured: Schmagel and Schmiscuit. Your guess is as good as mine, who is who! 😹)
It can often take time for cats to bond with people they have just met. How do you go about introducing a cat to their co stars? Can this ever be problematic?
The bonding process really depends on the cat. Schmagel doesn't take much time at all to bond with his co stars. Tom went out of his way to schedule meetings with Schmagel and get to know him before the movie even started. As we cat people know, there are yes and no petting areas on cats and I think that's the biggest challenge. Dog people want to pet bellies, most cats don't like that.
How did Schmagel and Tom Hanks get on between scenes? Did they bond instantly or did that take time?
They bonded pretty easily because Tom really tried. I can say their bond got deeper over time. This is true to the point that when I said, "Where's Tom?" Schmagel would actually look for him!
(Pictured: Tom Hanks and Mariana Trevino with Schmagel the Cat)
What are your favourite memories of working on "A Man Called Otto"?
Essentially the down to earth moments on the porch with Tom and Schmagel. Being an animal trainer is such a unique opportunity because, besides the camera man, you are right next to the talent the entire time. Sometimes we talked about deep subjects while other times we played wordle on his phone.
We really felt that the film highlighted just how special and important animals can be to those that are lonely and going through hard times in their life. Dogs might be forever known as "man's best friend" but is there anything you would say to anyone who thinks cats aren't loving?
I would say they are completely wrong. One of the reasons my cats work so hard is because they are bonded to me and I them. They completely trust me when they are scared and I cuddle them when I feel like I need their love. They don't ignore me, they cuddle back.
As an animal trainer, what is the hardest scene you have ever worked on?
Our job as a trainer is not only to train the animals but to make sure we are keeping them safe. This movie had a lot of difficult scenes as it was outside, off leash and during some of the coldest months of the year. The actions themselves alone are not too difficult but when you add the context to which the film is shot, it adds a different dimension to the work. The scene in this film where the cat is sitting in exterior garage area and the camera is looking at him from at least 20 feet away was very difficult. This scene was outside, without a leash and there were many things that could have spooked Schmagel.
We can see from your resume you have worked in quite a few big titles. Are there any that stick out to you as being your favourites?
Honestly, this one was probably my favorite for many reasons. Firstly the story is so relatable and the message is endearing. I love being part of something that I can honestly endorse. The talent is some of the best in the business. Therefore, watching them was almost magical. Lastly, I was able to prove to myself that I was able to train a cat to this caliber. I have worked on several big projects but this was the first time I was the head (and only trainer) who was responsible for all of the animals (not just one).
Are you currently working on any other projects?
I did a tv show this fall to which the cat was a continual, main character. Besides doing tv shows here and there, I am currently waiting on my next big project :)
Can we expect to see more of Schmagel on the big screen?
I really hope that after this movie is out, that people see how wonderful he is. I'm hopeful that he will get his next big project soon!
Would Schmagel like to say a few words to all his fans?
I really appreciate all the love and enthusiasm of my fans. I'm so glad that I was chosen to do this film so I could show off how great all of us cats really are. Let's be honest, I'm not sure what our humans would do without us anyways!
So there you have it my floofy film fanatics! What an honour it was to chat to the star that is Schmegal and his wonderful and talented hooman Britany! Imagine doing all his scenes himself without any stunt doubles! Outstanding work!
However, dont be going anywhere just yet as we also caught up with the wonderful Dawn Barkan to see what she has been up to since we last spoke.
Thank you for joining us for a catch up.
Tell us what it means to be an animal coordinator?
An animal Coordinator is responsible for making sure that all of the animal needs by a production are met. Normally, I am sent a script. I read through it and note all of the animal action. I then have to figure out what trainer and animal would best fit the bill. It is my job to let production know what is realistic and to make sure the trainers know what they need to do on their end. It also involves meetings with the directors and producers. I keep tabs on the production as we shoot and make sure all the billing is done and that the trainers are paid. Ultimately, I am responsible for things when they go wrong or right!
How long have you and Britany worked together?
I made the decision not to work on set anymore once I had my daughter. That meant that I needed to find quality trainers to send in my place. Fortunately for me there was a group of trainers that were young and motivated with good training backgrounds. I met with and spoke to them and started to use them on smaller jobs under the tutelage of my more experienced trainers. Once they proved to be trustworthy, I was able to send them out on their own. Britany was one of the new girls in that group. I had sent her to do a black cat job on Clerks III and she did well. She expressed a love for the movie Hocus Pocus. I believe in giving other women a leg up in this business so, I took her with me on Hocus Pocus two. I saw something in her that I liked. She was determined and focused. When Otto came along, I talked to her about what was needed and basically rolled the dice and took a chance. She ran with it and knocked it out of the park! Ive know Britany for several years now.
Why did you decide to cast Schmagel as the cat actor for "A Man Called Otto"
When a production needs an animal they will reach out to an animal company such as mine. I do not advertise so most of my work comes by word of mouth and is based off of my reputation. We will discuss what they need and when. We discuss their budget and then It's my job to pair the right animal to that particular role. I base that on what each animal can do or are capable of learning, the trainer's experience and wether or not the production can afford additional training if needed. When it comes time to narrow down the choices for an animal for a role, I talk to the trainer and see how they feel as they know the animal the best. For Otto, I sent in several very well trained teams and Schmagel. I let them know the experience of each team. In this case the director didn't care that Schmagel was the least experienced and the rest is history.
Can you tell us about any projects you have been working on since we last spoke?
Right now, I am working on a Ryan Murphy production called Feud. It's about Truman Capote. Lots of different animals. We just finished up American Horror Story which had several cat scenes. I am working on a few Apple TV series. Right now I am coordinating a Ridley Scott project this has a ton of dogs that is proving to be very time consuming. In this business, your phone rings and you never know what's around the corner.
My hoomans are delighted to hear about your work with Ryan Murphy! And an American Horror Story with cat scenes? Count us in!
You know Dawn, if you ever need a very handsome, floofy orange cat, I am available. I am very good at being dramatic and I have a very skilled range of vocal abilities. Plus, I accept kibble as payment! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. We are huge fans of your work and you have built a wonderful career and reputation for yourself in the TV and film industry. We wish you all the best with your future projects!
By the way, how are things with out good buddy Charlie?
He’s really getting old. This cat has at least 15 lives!
(Pictured: Charlie the Cat, Robert De Niros on screen companion in "Meet the Fockers")
It is great to see Charlie! Glad to see he is enjoying his retirement. Be sure to give him a little pat from us!
You can follow Dawn on Facebook
That brings us to a close on our "A Man Called Otto" special. We are truly humbled at the time and effort Britany and Dawn took out of their busy schedules to talk to us and we thank them very much. However, as you can imagine, it was all rather exhausting so I am going to leave you the trailer to check out followed by a quick message which is rather important, then I am off for a well earned snooze!
"A Man Called Otto" has been recieved with praise by critics and moviegoers alike. It is a tale that can be sad, sometimes funny in the most unexpected ways, but it also has some really heartwarming moments that are sure to be etched into the minds of those who see it. It also shows us the unique and special bond animals can have in our lives. Please be aware that "A Man Called Otto" deals with themes of grief and suicide. If any of these issues are affecting you, please seek out help. There are plenty of organisations to avail of, no matter where you are in the world. Talk to someone. You are not alone.