Dog Days is a six-part comic web series on YouTube that follows the misadventures of a fledgling dog walker named Max Miller. It was created and written by Sam Rubinoff, a stand-up comedian for five years and a dog walker himself. He also plays Max. Sam started his own dog-walking business four years ago because he needed a day job that wouldn’t require him to get up too early, since he’s out late most nights performing in comedy clubs. Out of that grew the idea that became Dog Days.
(At this point I should probably mention that Sam is my nephew, the son of my wife’s sister. We’ve known each other for fourteen years now. I’ve been wanting to write about the series since it debuted last November, but concerns about conflict of interest and objectivity, as well as my chronic procrastination, always got in the way. That said, I’ll be as straight as I can here.)
At the beginning of Dog Days, Max, a young lawyer, is working in a law office sharing a cramped cubicle with his sex-obsessed friend, Steve (Michael Blaustein, a James Franco look-alike). A humiliating encounter — the first of many — with an abusive boss (Aaron Berg, frighteningly intense) ends with Max quitting his job in flamboyant crash-and-burn fashion. After storming out of the office, a chance encounter with a dog walker inspires Max to make dog walking his new career.
Each episode is between four to seven minutes long. The entire series runs approximately thirty-five minutes, with Max bouncing from one dog to the next with varying degrees of failure. A rather hapless character, Max emerges slightly dazed from most encounters. But, like Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Woody Allen, and others in this tradition, he keeps plugging away in the face of adversity (and absurdity). Max also reminds me of Griffin Dunne’s character in Martin Scorsese’s 1985 feature, After Hours, who struggles to survive an increasingly surreal night in Soho. Nothing that happens to Max is as threatening as that, but along the way he has to deal with the challenge of walking a dead dog (episode 3 – “Lucy”), owned by a somewhat demented lady named Edna (Marilyn Seide), who thinks Dick Nixon is president and that Ed Sullivan is still on television. Then there’s Morgan (played by the wonderfully named Boomer Tibbs). Morgan is a Nazi lover with a TV tuned to the Hitler Channel who hires Max to make sure his dog, the appropriately-named Hunter, doesn’t pee on Morgan’s Persian rug (episode 6). And then there’s Vlad (H. Foley), the boisterous Russian who attaches himself to Max in the first episode and becomes his biggest supporter. I was initially put off by Vlad, but he has a good heart and I liked him a lot by the end.
Not everything in Dog Days works, but most of it does. I’ve watched the series a number of times, and my only real reservation is the character Patricia, played by Jo Young (episode 2 – “Kevin”). She’s exaggerated and over-the-top, which is a bit jarring compared to everyone else. But overall Dog Days is funny and clever. It’s easy to relate to Max’s dumbfounded reactions to the farcical situations he finds himself in. He’s the normal one, relatively speaking.
Sam took the first draft of his Dog Days script to Evan Levine, a friend who helped trim it down and punch it up. Most of the actors are people Sam knows from the stand-up comedy world in New York. He found Boomer Tibbs and Marilyn Seide online through Actors Access. Cameraman Jeff Carton shot the series on a Canon 6D Digital SLR. Sam and Jeff created the shot lists. H. Foley (who plays Vlad) directed five episodes; Evan Levine directed one. All six episode were shot before editing began. Sam admits this was a “little crazy.” He did a rough cut of his own before sending it off to Dan Hirshon to edit. Sam says about Dan, “…it helped that he used to be a stand-up comedian, so he has great timing and helped me create funny moments that I didn’t even think about when I was writing the script.” The shoot was nine days over two months, with an additional half-day for pickups.
What fascinates me is that Dog Days can exist at all. When I was in film school in the 60s, you needed a lot of stuff to make a film: expensive cameras and other equipment, film stock, lab processing and prints, projectors, etc. And in the end all you had was a 16mm student film. With digital technology it’s much easier to make films, and the Internet makes it possible for those films to be widely seen. Of course, you still need a script, actors, luck, and talent, but now anyone crazy enough to try has a shot. The feature film Tangerine (2015) was shot with three iPhone 5S smartphones. It received great reviews and 22 awards from 33 nominations. When films can be shot with smartphones and digital cameras, the landscape has definitely changed.
Dog Days is an impressive achievement by a first-time filmmaker and a lot of fun. Here it is. The trailer is followed by the six episodes. – Ted Hicks
After Hours and Tangerine can be streamed from Amazon.