by Kieth Merrill

An ancient Chinese proverb asserts, “A picture can express 10,000 words.” 

Susan Wood as Cathy Stevens, “The Dog Lady”, and newcomer Adam Hicks as son Michael. Cathy Stevens created an orphanage for dogs abandon in the depression – in a town that has a NO DOG ordinance. Conflict from the first frame.

Aunt Delores [Bonita Friedericy] with her favorite customer, Mabel, [Dorthy Brodesser]. Bonny took the character of Aunt Delores to delicious heights. What a terrific actress.

When the pictures flash before us at 24 images per second the pictures appear to move and we transcend altogether the ability to describe the experience with words.

Mrs Clancey [Kapri Merrill ] goes into labor in the middle of rehearsing the school play. Hilarious scene with Kapri and Mindy Sterling.

The “Doglady” on her rescue mission.

The Mayor’s house on the night of the annual Mayor’s Christmas party. Turns out that the Mayor and the evil dogcatcher are brothers !

Movies are ultimately about pictures – hundreds of thousands of pictures projected intermittently in such rapid sequence that they create the illusion of motion. When Aguste and Louis Lumiere projected their film, La Sortie des ouvriers de l’uine Lumiere [“Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory”] in 1895 they changed forever the power of pictures to express ideas and feelings that words alone cannot.

Writer / Director Kieth Merrill giving direction to principal cast, Eric Lutes as “The Coach”, New comer Jordon-Claire Green who will be introduced in this film — the incredible Susan Woods as the doglady, John Billingsly [background – just off his big success as supporting co-star to Denzel Washington in Out of Time and the venerable and seasoned Richard Riehle as The Mayor. We were blessed with an extraordinary cast.,

Dogcatcher Doyle calling on Aunt Delores with a little Christmas cheer and great hopes for a little Christmas kiss under the mistletoe. John Billingsly and Bonita Friedericy are married in real life which made the marvelous scenes between them MORE fun than you can imagine.

Our handsome young leading man, Adam Hicks, with one of the hero dogs of the movie.

As “Film Editor” of Meridian magazine, I am continually expected to use words to talk about pictures. This month I decided to use pictures rather than words to express myself. Rather than write words about some “picture-related” topic, I decided to take you behind the scenes of my latest film, The 12 Dogs of Christmas, and let pictures say everything I have to say. I decided to let pictures express my passion for making movies.

The evil dog-catcher and his “road warrior” side kick [Jim Jackman] make wonderful bad guys. They are determined to eliminate all of the dogs in Doverville — while the kids are determined to save and protect them. The dogcatcher, played brilliantly by John Billingsly we will soon discover has an even more dastardly intention in the bowels of the awful dog pound prison where he takes the hapless dogs who fall victim to his net or the ominous
dogcatching machine.

The dogcatcher’s machine evolves with an every increasing number of ways to catch the dogs – I had great fun designing this strange machine and watching it come to life. That is the joy of movies. A whimsical idea becomes reality before your very eyes.

Dogcatcher’s cat, Old Scratch can smell a dog a mile away. “Old Scratch” is another name of the devil in case you didn’t get it.

The completed film will include over 144,000 distinct frames [pictures] and require no “words of introduction”.  Until then a few words are essential to put the few selected pictures in context.

Emma, played by new-comer Jordon-Claire Green [JC] discovers the ultimate fate of the dogs in the old barn in the woods where the “missing dogs” are pitted against each other in mortal combat. Here she drops from the loft to save YehTeh, her friend’s old English Sheepdog from certain destruction in the jaws of the vicious German Shepherd.

What begins as a very stormy relationship between Aunt Delores and Emma when Emma shows up on her doorstep looking for a place to stay — evolves to a wonderful friendship and a chance for Delores to “do something about that hair honey” at long last.

The big climax of the movie is “the show” – The 12 Dogs of Christmas”. Here Kambria Porter plays the Poodle girl. Rocket, the poodle plays Max. This was one incredible dog.

Emma Kragen wrote The 12 Dogs of Christmas on a paper napkin when she was 7 years old. Her father, famed talent manager Ken Kragen, showed it to his publisher. “They flipped”, Ken told me, and Emma’s prose was made into a book. It rapidly became a best selling children’s book.

Writer / Director Kieth Merrill gives the cast instructions before a
scene at the old barn in the woods.

Kids, dogs and Christmas.. we were laughing and crying and the movie wasn’t even finished.

The magic of kids and dogs and music. Here Kapri Lyons catches the last of the lab puppies and hurries to her spot.

When Ken called me shortly after Christmas and asked if I would be interested in making The 12 Dogs of Christmas into a movie, I couldn’t say no. First of all, Ken Kragen is one of the really good guys in Hollywood. We have been friends – personally and professionally – a long time. But most of all, it was the challenge.

Emma first hears about her strange “aunt Delores” from a disgruntled lady in furs on her way back to New York.

The popular Richard Riehle as Mayor Nobel Doyle.

The talented and delightful Jordon-Claire Green with Puppy. Happy at last.

It has been said that there are 3 things to avoid at all cost when making movies: KIDS, ANIMALS AND SNOW. Moreover, the source material was a book for kids, 12 pages long with mostly pictures. Now THAT is adaptation

Denny and the Bully Boys make Emma – who just arrived from Pittsburg – most unwelcomed in their little close knit village of Doverville,

Jordon-Claire Green as Emma.

Adam Hicks as Mike.

There was a concept in place but no screenplay. It was already mid-January. I locked the doors, turned off the phone, asked Dagny to slide power bars under the door and wrote like a man possessed. Fourteen days later I emerged with a first draft that seemed to capture the spirit of the book and everyone’s imagination.  And why not?  It was filled with KIDS and DOGS and CHRISTMAS – which meant of course SNOW.

My son, Daenen, seen here with one of the hero dogs, was one of the 2 producers on the film. Great fun to have the rising generation so involved in our wonderful world of movies. The other producer is Sean Covel whose indy film, Napoleon Dynamite was the darling of Sundance and sold for 4.7 million. Working with the rising generation of young film makers is exhilerating.

Emma persuades Aunt Delores to get the dogs ready for the Big Show.

Emma tries to find a job as paper girl –

In our first meeting our animal trainers said bluntly, “it can’t be done.” In our last big scene we put 70 children and 58 dogs on stage into one spectacular finale’. You’re going to love this picture.

The Dogcatchers chase Cathy Stevens [doglady] and the kids to the edge of town beyond where they have no jurisdiction. Curses. Foiled again.

Miss Walsh, played with delight by Mindy Sterling, teaches spelling. Mindy is best known for her role as” Executive Assistant” to Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies,. Terrific actor.

Mrs. Walsh [Mindy Sterling of Austin Powers fame] confronts Emma & Puppy.

We found a magic little village in Maine that looked like a place created by Norman Rockwell. The town loved the movie. The movie loved the town.

Executive Producer Ken Kragen with writer / director, Kieth Merrill.

Writer /Director Kieth Merrill lining up a shot at the historic railroad station in Conway, New Hampshire.

Director – the red x on the hat is to direct the children’s eye lines..

To tell you the story with words in order to ensure that the pictures make sense, would contradict my picture versus word thesis, so use your imagination. Read the captions. Enjoy being on location with us as much as we loved making this marvelous movie. It has something for everyone and is coming for Christmas.

70 kids 58 dogs – and the wonder of Christmas. Coming in December to a theater near you.