The obsessive dog breeders parodied in ”Best in Show” seem like easy targets for comedy, but actor/ director Christopher Guest says getting the project off the ground was ruff, er, rough. When Guest pitched the idea of a film about the cutthroat world of purebred dog shows to his ”Waiting for Guffman” cowriter Eugene Levy, he wasn’t met with tail wagging. ”He said no, not funny,” says Guest, who cowrote and starred in the 1984 rock mockumentary ”This Is Spinal Tap,” which was rereleased in theaters and on DVD last month. ”But that reticence disappeared when I said I’d pay him to like the idea.”
Too bad bribes don’t work as well on studio executives. Despite the cult status of 1996’s ”Guffman” (which grossed just $2.9 million in theaters but became a Saturday night rental perennial) and ”Spinal Tap,” Guest says the market for mock documentaries is almost nonexistent. ”To be honest, if you took ‘Spinal Tap’ into a production company today, they’d tell you to go screw yourself,” he says. ”And even after ‘Spinal Tap’ it wasn’t like, oh, now you’re hip. The entertainment industry is still run by the same people who wouldn’t let us make that movie.” Guest says without the help of Rob Reiner, the director of ”Spinal Tap” and a partner in Castle Rock Entertainment, neither ”Guffman” nor ”Best in Show” would have found financing. ”We have a loyal following, but it’s not like there are 5 million people out there going, ‘Tap! Tap! Tap!”’ he shrugs.
But even with Castle Rock’s backing, the budget for ”Best in Show” was kept on a short leash. Unable to afford more than 150 extras for the film’s fictional Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show, Guest rented cardboard cutouts to fill the audience. Hiring doubles for the expensive show dogs used in the film, which stars ”Guffman” alums Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, and Michael McKean, was out of the question. ”If the dogs had started barking or taking a dump at any point, there would have been no movie,” says Guest. ”We didn’t have the money to extend the shoot.” When the owner of a standard poodle backed out in the middle of production, Guest had to hustle to track down a substitute in just two days. ”A dog person might be able to tell the difference, but I don’t think the audience in general will notice,” he says.
Though ”Best in Show” grossed just under $500,000 in its limited release opening weekend, the film will likely become a must rent for any cynic who’d rather punt a toy size canine than pet it. But Guest cautions audiences not to judge the movie’s admittedly dorky cast of characters too harshly. ”It’s not like these guys are assholes and we’re not,” he says. ”You can pick almost any field and there’s going to be weird people. We’re all assholes.”