The new Benji finished filming Benji Off the Leash, her first movie, in August of 2003. It was released theatrically on August 20, 2004; DVD and VHS were released on December 28, 2004. Joe Camp's journal from the set was published here during production and continued throughout post-production and distribution. Experience the journey yourself, from the beginning in Joe's journal below:
2/7/03 - Many of you have been following the various sagas (Which movie will it be? When will it go into production? When will it be released?), and I can tell you it's been quite a journey. The story begins with the fact that all of the pure Benji movies have been made independently and financed privately (ie: with no Hollywood Studio in volvement in the financing and production process - which, of course, is why Benji belongs to our company, and not to a studio). Our company even distributed the first two Benji movies worldwide, not by choice but because every distributor in Hollywood turned the first one down. During the past year, we ha ve explored and actually negotiated with several of the more traditional industry sources: Hollywood Studios. But when a Hollywood studio finances a film, they want to own and control everything. As you might have read, we spent four grueling years of expensive litigation getting all the Benji rights back from a partnership that didn't work; and we simply are not going to hand over our character to someone else to go off and do whatever they want with it. There's no shortage of enthusiasm for Benji. Quite the contrary. But each of three lengthy negotiations terminated because we couldn't get past the ownership and control issues. And, as you might have heard, this time around Benji is on a mission to make a positive difference in the lives of children and homeless animals. It's a very important mission to us and we will simply not give up the ability to pursue it. We have always prided ourselves in attempting to make decisions for the right reasons, rather than the easiest reason or the economic bottom line. And now, at last, we can report that we have returned to our roots -- private financing -- and have raised the money to produce the next picture independently, just as we have always done. As I've learned so many times in my life, God is out there working even when it seems I've been abandoned. We are humbled by the fact that we've had such a quick and enthusiastic response to the financing effort, and now we're off and running to make the best, most suspenseful, funniest Benji movie ever. Stay tuned....
3/29/03 - Well... at last we're off and running. Our production office is in place and I leave home in two days to begin nailing down locations and casting. We're building a wonder ful crew and I think we're all very excited about finally getting into the production of the picture. It's not without a measure of nervousness, however, because this picture will be raising the Benji concept to a new level. Previous Benji movies have always pitted Benji's emotions and struggles (his acting) against humans and/or responding to situations and events. This will be the first time Benji and a dog co-star will be acting and responding to each other. A co-star with a polar opposite personality to Benji's. Benji, as usual, is very serious and very focused on the job at hand. But Shaggy, sometimes called Lizard Tongue in the movie, is a carefree, ditsy dufus of a stray out for a good time; and completely without intent, he manages to goof up everything Benji is trying to accomplish. We had a photo session with Shaggy last Thursday and he was so-o-o funny. Y'all are going to love him to death. More soon.
5/11/03 - Just a little more than one week now before shooting begins. Benji and Shaggy are in intensive training with seasoned and well-known trainers Roger Schumacher and Genny Kerns. They are doing one terrific job! Just amazing stuff emerging. Casting is complete and what a terrific ensemble it has turned out to be. All but two locations have been found, and we're really bearing down on that first day of shooting. A bit scary actually. A lot still has to fall into place. Keep your fingers crossed for us and say a prayer every now and again. I'm sure we'll need them all. More soon.
5/19/03 - Well... we set sail in two days. We've got a great cast. Great crew. Great animal trainers. Terrific dogs (of course). Now the concern is: can we make the schedule?
I really think this is going to be one of those movies that you can watch over and over again and still love it... simply because it's nice; the performances (dog and human) are wonderful, and it's about good stuff. The actors playing Sheldon and Livingston (the dufus dogcatchers in the film) are simply hilarious and I learned this weekend that Sheldon sings Sinatra jazz like Connick! What an amazing and weird contrast. Incredibly discordant. Now get this! For over a year I've wanted to end the movie with a Connick-like rendition of It Had To Be You. In the very last scene of the movie the stray hero of the film is named "the new Benji"... and I've always wanted to dive into the ending credits with a big full-face shot of our hero girl and... It Had To Be You (because, in fact, it did have to be her from the first moment I saw her). But I knew we could never afford Connick or Sinatra on our budget... and here comes our very own Sheldon! Just amazing. Now if we can just negotiate the rights to use the music... because as it stands right now The Songwriters Guild of America wants a small fortune just for the rights to use the music. Say a prayer for us.
Everything else seems to be falling into place quite well. There will s
urely be bumps in the road but I really believe this one is blessed. All my mis-judgments or earnest wishes so far have been covered quite amazingly by God.
A special thanks as we finally begin to my wife Kathleen who helped me every step of the wa y in developing the story and screenplay and was the driving factor behind me finally biting the bullet to make the attempt to raise the money independently when the Hollywood system refused over and over to finance it unless they could own and control the entire thing. And, of course, that effort to raise the money privately worked. And to the group of investors, who are all, by the way, from or connected to Mississippi, home state of the Humane Society of South Mississippi from where the new Benji was adopted: to all of you an appreciation the likes of which you will never know.
To Margaret Loesch, my other producer and dear friend and icon in the family entertainment business, thank you so much for all you've done and will do. And a sincere thanks to my oldest son Joe Camp III who is Production Manager and Co-Producer and has done an incredible job of making an impossible budget not only possible but unbelievable with terrific crew. Wish us luck please. Say a prayer. Or just buy a ticket next summer. We will appreciate it very much... and I believe in my heart that you will too.
6/1/03 - After s even days of shooting, I can say very confidently that we have a terrific movie in the making. Benji's big brown eyes spreading across a 40-foot movie screen will surely melt even the coldest heart and Benji's screen nemesis Shaggy (aka Lizard Tongue) is keeping the cast and crew in hysterics. The cast is just superb and I couldn't be happier with the results we're seeing on the screen. At the moment we're just a tad behind schedule but my son Joe Camp III has amazingly found creative ways to give us the time we need to make this one the best ever! Trainers Roger Schumacher and Genny Ke rns are doing the impossible with three dogs (Benji, Shaggy, and Benji's movie mom) none of whom have ever been in a film before and who they didn't even meet until just a few weeks before production started. I cannot thank them enough. I'm the first to admit that sometimes the set seems like a war zone with all the logistics, equipment, and people that it takes to put one of these things together, but the results we're seeing on the screen makes it all more than worthwhile. I think you're going to be pleased. Now it's back to work for me. Oh, and have a look at the first few production stills by clicking PRODUCTION PHOTO GALLERY.
6/14/03 - Hi all… Sorry for the long gap in communication. Movie production is not unlike being caught in a war zone. Especially if you care about the results. Very little ever goes the way you plan it. There’s always a crisis. And on a budget like ours, there’s always a feeling of panic. I’ve often said that Benji movies are an exercise in trial-and-error filmmaking. You never know exactly what’s going to work until the camer a rolls and you’re actually out there trying it. And when the plan doesn’t work it has to be revised immediately because standing around with a big expensive cast and crew waiting to shoot does no good for the budget. Then, just when you’ve convinced yourself you’ve done the right thing, you look at the footage the next day and realize that you didn’t (do the right thing)… and your error must be re-shot. Fortunately we’ve had a minimum of that so far, but we have had some… all my fault. No matter who does what, the buck stops in my lap and, in a couple of months, when we’re trying to cut all this together and make it work, there’s no one to kick but me if there’s a problem. The good news is, when all is said and done, we’re getting really terrific stuff and there’s no doubt in my mind that this will be the best Benji movie ever. Every day when we’re shooting I find myself laughing… and crying… and am continually struck at how blessed this project is. I have no idea why any of us deserve it, but blessed it is.
And speaking of blessed, as I sit here at the little fold-up table that houses my laptop, I’m listening to the first "mocked-up" themes from our music composer… and tears are streaming down my cheeks. N ot so much because the music is sad, but because it’s so good, so absolutely perfect, so better than I have any right to anticipate. If ever there is a movie to which music is absolutely important - as important as any other element - it’s a Benji movie. For there is no dialog coming from the dogs… except through their eyes, and their hearts. There are no animated, digitized mouths moving, no voices played over as if to hear them think. Only the real emotion on the screen… and the music. The story of how Anthony DiLorenzo came to be our composer is yet another amazing example of how well we’re being taken care of from above.
Those of you who have read my account (below) relating to how long I’ve wanted to use It Had To Be You over the ending credits will remember how shocked I was at discovering that Duane Stevens, the actor who plays Sheldon, one of the dufus dogcatchers in the film, turned out to be an incredible jazz singer (in the Sinatra/Connick genre). Well… in Duane, not only were we presented with someone we can (hopefully) afford to sing that song, in the traditional genre… but Duane introduced me to Anthony DiLorenzo, a musician friend, classical trumpet player, composer, orchestrator, conductor… and, in my opinion, the next John Williams. Strong memorable melody and emotional evocation are the most important elements in a musical score for me, especially where Benji is concerned. And after listening to the works of no less than thirty (simi-affordable) composers, I was truly becoming depressed. And then Duane handed me a CD of Tony DiLorenzo’s symphonic scores. Honestly, my first thought was "Oh great… a friend of a friend… well, I guess I have to listen." And so after a few days of procrastination, I finally stuck the CD into the player… and was struck by lightning!
It’s mostly sc ores for things like ABC’s Wide World of Sports, college football and basketball, the triple crown, more than fifty movie trailers (Forrest Gump, 101 Dalmations, Toy Story, Crimson Tide). He’s even won an Emmy… but Benji Returns: Rags to Riches will be his first full movie score… and I believe we’ll be going for the Academy Award. Serious. I’m so excited! I cannot tell you! Just no way to express it. And the best thing is that Tony is really excited too. He is so into this story… and as I’ve said before, the first doodlings from his home studio are already making me cry. Thank you God for Tony. And thank you Tony for being a part of our lives and our production. Remember us when you accept that Oscar.
And, for those who read the notes on the It Had to Be You saga relating to obtaining the rights (below)… it’s done. The owners of the rights have bent over backwards to work out a way to help us afford it… and I thank them so very much.
One (shameful) note that I neglected to say when we started putting production photos here on the site: they are all from our incredible production photographer Tony Demin from Livingston, Montana. The job of the "still man" on a movie shoot is probably the most thankless job on the set. We’re always crushing forward, using every moment to make the movie and make it better, and the poor still guy is trying to sneak in here and there and grab the essence of each scene, always trying to be unobtrusive yet get his work done. And he’s always being moved around. "Tony! You
can’t be there. The trainer has to be there! Nope, not there either… Benji’s eye-light goes there. Tony, please move, the camera assistant can’t pull focus with you there." Etc, etc. And yet, this is the best batch of still photos we’ve ever had. See examples soon in the Production Photo Gallery. Many thanks, Tony.
The entire staff and crew are amazing. All working with less help and more stress than they normally hav e, and working much harder that they usually have to. I appreciate all of you so very much! Special thank you’s to Production Designer Eric Weiler and his entire staff for have put so much into making each set look so terrific, while working with so little. And a whopping thanks to Mark Mullins who, with minimal help, has worked pure m agic in the props and set dressing area. A harder worker I have never seen.
Not quite half way into production now… more soon.
6/29/03 - More than half finished with shooting now. Every day is still a battle, fighting weather changes, rough terrain, unexpected crises, and just hard work getting what must be gotten to make a Benji movie special (see the new photos published in the PRODUCTION PHOTO GALLERY). But we continue to fight the battles and somehow win. Getting great stuff; very exciting when we get enough sleep to realize what we're accomplishing. We worked two long nights in the woods this week... and had several opportunities to lose valuable shots because Benji missed a mark or wandered somewhere unexpected during a shot; but we were saved, as we have been so many times by First Camera Assistant Rick Page, and his assistant Gary Johnson. You guys probably never think about this when you're relaxed in a theater watching a movie, but the key parts of every scene must be in focus and that doesn't happen automatically like it does on our home video cameras. Focus must be changed on the lens every time an actor (or dog) moves. Imagine trying to follow focus with a tiny knob on the camera when you never know exactly where the star is going to land. Actors get marks on the ground (never visible because the marks are out of frame) so the focus puller always knows where they'll wind up. Not the case with Benji and Shaggy (Lizard Tongue). They are often very unpredictable, and often that unpredictability fosters the best action. Rick has some sort of built-in measuring stick and, is always right on the money. Amazing. And on top of that he must take care of the camera we're shooting with, nurturing its every digital whatnot. And even operate the camera on occasion. Thanks so much, Rick, for all the care and concern. Thanks again to the entire crew. This was a tough week and everybody gave their all for some really gorgeous footage. And many, many thanks to Genny K erns, Benji's new trainer. Genny has really hit her stride and is pulling the very best out of our floppy-eared superstar (at eight weeks old... at four months old... and fully grown!)
7/6/03 - Among the run-of-the-mill crises this week, we had a few special pleasures. We filmed baby Benji (8 weeks old) and tweener Benji (5 months old) and they were both absolutely captivating. Trainer Genny Kerns' work with these two young puppies is amazing. Hope to have some photos in the gallery soon. Also began work with Merlin, the story's whacko Cockatoo who baby sits baby Benji. Trainer Steve Chindgren has done wonders with him as well. Putting these three up big on a theater screen almost fee ls like cheating. We were working in Colby's secret fort (in the woods) all week and Production Designer Eric Weiler has done it again. Every kid's dream. Everybody who's walked into the fort has wanted to take it home, including Colby (actor Nick Whitaker). Lying awake one night, I found myself running snapshots of all the scenes and locations we've filmed so far and they all look so-o-o good! In addition to Eric, I feel remiss for not passing along major kudos to our Director of Photography Don Reddy and his Gaffer Marcello Colacilli and his crew. The film is going to look better than most of those big expensive pictures.
7/20/03 - It's difficult for me to realize, but we're actually beginning our last week of production (hopefully). The crew has really been working hard, and wit h passion, not only to keep us on schedule, but to keep the fantastic footage coming that will soon be cutting together into a super movie. The battle last week was the heat. Working outside in 106 degrees makes it very difficult to keep Benji's mouth closed... and a dog can't really act and express emotion when she's panting, panting, panting. A huge air conditioner follows her around wherever she goes, but usually we shoot a take... then cool her off for ten minutes... then shoot another take... then cool her off... etc, etc. Fortunately, Shaggy's (Lizard Tongue's) story personality is such that his tongue needs to hang out. There's certainly been no problem there, and the week to come looks like the temperatures will be about the same. Earlier in the week we shot the big closing scene and everybody was in in tears... well... Kathleen and I were in tears. It's really nice to see emotional scenes work out as envisioned way back when writing the screenplay. Many, many thanks to Costume Designer Glenn Ralston and his department for doing such a terrific job with wardrobe and for coming in under budget! And to transportation coordinator Britani Alexander. She has done an incredible job with minimal resources. The entire crew has simply been superb, every one, and I thank them all so very much. Be sure and see the new photos on the gallery page, and stay tuned. More soon.
7/28/03 - Well... it's done! We completed the shooting phase of the movie at noon on Friday. Over 900 camera setups. Almost on time and budget. And we have the footage to make a movie you will love and be proud of. Kathleen and I will leave Tuesday morning with the kids and five dogs (Benji, Shaggy, and our other three) and make the drive back home. A van will follow our two cars with all the editing equipment. We'll spend the next week converting our tiny little guest house into an editing room, getting the equipment set up, etc... then we'll be off to Pawleys Island, SC for nine days of napping in the hammock and listening to the Atlantic pound one of the few beaches around without ANY commercial establishments or high rises at all.
Before we lea ve, on Monday, we'll do an interview with the Associated Press. The reporter and photographer were on the set this past Thursday. As I understand it, they will be preparing the piece for a weekend story on the wire (don't know which weekend yet), so do watch for it. And many thanks to Debbie and Doug for that. Two days after we return from SC, Benji, Kathleen and I will be leaving for Mississippi for a couple of benefits... one for a national police organization on the coast and the other a benefit for a new animal shelter in Jackson.
Sometimes, during a process like this, it gets a bit difficult to remember that it is, in fact, a process. Back when we were staring those 900 camera setups in the eye, the task looked enormous. Especially with new trainers. And new dogs. TWO dogs (five, actually, counting Benji's mom and Benji as a baby and a teenager)... getting a new crew accustomed to the weird process that a Benji movie requires... and overcoming the heat (a dog cannot emote when panting in 106 degree heat). The task still looks enormous, but at least that part is in retrospect. As I mentioned early in this journ al, it's not only a process, but often a "trial and error" process. Dodging, darting, changing plans on the spot. Having to stay focused all of the time so that nothing slips by untended to. The editing will be much the same. No matter how focus ed during shooting, there will always be things that don't work as planned, but rat
her than accept such, we always find ways to re-work, re-write, and figure it out so the performances and the story are as absolutely good as can be. Again, often trial and error. But at least we're off into the next phase of the process... with smiles on our faces. And as the sleep begins to catch up, the excitement stirs.
Again... thanks so very much to our investors, who put their trust in us with hard-earned dollars; and for the contributions from every one of our cast and crew. As you know, this project is very near and dear to my heart and each of you helped take a teeny bit of money and put virtually all of it up there on the screen. Benji Returns will look and feel as though it cost a lot more than it really did. And I so appreciate that. More in a couple of weeks.
8/1/03 - Back home and beginning to decompress from the rigors of production. Thanks to Dave Whisenant, our fantastic techno-wizard editor, the editing room here at the house was actually set up and ready to go much faster than expected... and as I write we are actually two minutes into the opening title sequence. It looks goo-o-od! After all the crises, record heat, lack of sleep, and racing the production clock, it's finally beginning to look like a movie! Yea!
9/4/03 - Benji and our family spent ten days of much needed rest and relaxation at Pawleys Island, SC then went to Jackson, MS where Benji helped the Mississippi Animal Rescue League raise more than $100,000 for their new shelter construction. And now we're back, entrenched in the editing room, and have almost fifteen minutes of the movie cut. Dava finds it disconcerting to be editing Benji's movie while the real herself snoozes at her feet. We were excited to see the new Associated Press story on the movie out last week. If you missed it, click above to read. It's a nice story.
10/6/03 - Thirty-six minutes edited, and counting! Now it's really looking like a movie. And Benji is coming off the screen so beautifully. Amazingly. Why amazingly? Isn't that the way we expected her big brown eyes to bolt off the screen into your hearts. Well... yes. But until it's actually happened I suppose there's always fear. But she's terrific. In all incarnations... at eight weeks... at four months... and fully grown. And Shaggy is every bit the dufus nutcase that... well... that he actually is. Both are lying at my feet as I write this and for me, that's the part that's always been missing in the past. I've always been so in love with the Benji character and the dog playing the part at the time that it was difficult to tell him or her goodbye when a production was finished. Now I don't have to.
12/16/03 - Eighty-six minutes edited now! Yea! Getting ever closer to the expected 100 minutes. And the wonder of the dogs has taken over. As in every Benji movie, Benji is in control of your emotions with a capital "E." And Shaggy, the new dog in town, brings a comic element n ever before seen in a Benji movie. This dog is the dufus of all dufuses (is that a word??). Lovable dufus; but dufus nonetheless. Both dogs are usually in the room with us when we 're editing and Benji has long since gotten over seeing herself on the screen, and hearing the trainers' voices when we're selecting takes, but not Shaggy. He actually barks and whines at himself on the screen. (But then, he growls at himself when scratching his own ear. I truly think he forgets that it's him doing the scratching). And that personality leaps off the screen. I suppose I can admit now that there's always a bit of fear at the beginning of the production process...wondering if I can really do it again, bring the heart and soul of the dog so alive in your emotions that you live every minute with him (her). Especially when it's a new dog and new trainers (and even another dog)...but the fear is gone, replaced with excitement and warm smiles... and happy tear s. No talking dogs or computer effects here. Just real dogs doing their thing (well...okay...my thing). But it truly does my heart good to know that, once again, adults will enjoy as much as kids, and, as I've seen so many times when I speak to school kids and show one of the past Benji movies, "today's" kids, even teenagers, will be sitting for an hour and a half mesmerized by the struggles and antics of two very real dogs. And remembering them forever. Wow! What a feeling!
1/10/04 - Picture editing is finished at last! Still a lot of sound and music work to do but we are officially finished wit h the picture part. And we've had two "real-people" screenings in the editing room, on a small screen, with incomplete sound and music, but I couldn't hope for better response. A little scary actually. The one yesterday was all adults over 30 except for one 20-year-old young lady. And their reaction was unanimous. Several comments follow:
"Caught me by surprise. This movie is a must-see. The kind I want to buy."
" Made me feel like a kid again. My husband is going to bawl when he sees it."
" The sweetest Benji movie I've ever seen. A perfect family movie. A roller-coaster of emotions. There is no movie character that has ever told me he loves me like Benji does with those eyes."
"Really awesome. Endearing. Made me feel like a kid again."
...the 20 year-old young lady
" Even if you don't have kids you must see this movie. If you are human you will enjoy it. A breath of fr esh air."
" When you look into Benji's eyes, they communicate so much. And I loved the comedy. Laughed out loud a lot. When it comes out on DVD, this movie will be in my library."
" Anyone with a beating heart in their chest is going to love this movie."
Thanks so much to the long hours, patience, and brilliant work of Dava Whisenant our editor. And to Tony Dilorenzo, our incredible composer. Now it's getting exciting!
1/28/04 - The World Premiere is set for Jackson, Mississippi on March 25th! This is exciting. Just barely over a year ago producer Margaret Loesch, Benji, and I set out to raise the money for production of the movie. We were going first to Mississippi (where both Margaret and I went to college and where the new Benji was adopted); then to Dallas, Raleigh, and on to New York. But we never got past Mississippi! In a little over two weeks we raised the entire production budget, all from people who live in Mississippi or who are related somehow to Mississippi. We were floored. So, with heartfelt thanks to each of you who invested in Benji Off the Leash, and a special thanks to Executive Producers Jack and Phoebe Lewis, Jim Ritchie, Sherman Muths, Sherman Muths III, and Roy Williams, we present our investors and the people of Mississippi with your new movie's World Premiere! In Jackson, on the evening of March 25th, a black-tie (optional) affair followed by a gala party where everyone will get to meet Benji and Shaggy and several of the cast members. All proceeds will benefit the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children (www.foch.org) and the Mississippi Animal Rescue League (www.msarl.org) (for Premiere information call 601-366-5018). And to all of you who have stuck around all these years and sent us so many good wishes and prayers for the return of Benji, we can now say, thanks to the folks of Mississippi, your wait is almost over.
As another gift to Mississippi, the film will open early in Jackson, on Friday, March 26th. Openings around the country will begin June 11, none later than August 6; and Benji and I will be traveling to no less than 25 of the larger cities around the country within the week preceding the city's ope
ning. It will be a busy summer.
3/9/04 - Music has been recorded, and it's simply super! Tony DiLorenzo did an incredible job. This is always the most fun part of the process for me. I su ppose because there is so little I can do to affect the outcome... so I just sit back and watch (and listen) as the entire movie now merges and molds together in a form that is always so much more than its parts. Then the music is merged with sound effects and finally mixed. There were maybe 80 tracks of sound that all had to mix together into a six-track Dolby Digital form and Jeffrey, Eric and Scott were magicians. And it was fun to watch these ultimate professionals ogle over Benji the day I brought her into the studio. Could not keep their hands off her. Now we're down to the final color corrections on the film. Benji Off the Leash was shot on Hi-Definition Digital, then finally, last week, transferred to film. Technology today is so incredible. I was very nervous until we saw the first film print. I mean, to shoot on nothing but digits that ultimately get transferred to film... and have it look like it was film all along... just amazing. Anyway, here we are, just a couple of weeks away from the World Premiere... and it looks like we might just make it. To see the full Distribution Schedule, clic k on Distribution Information in the bar to the left. And take a look at the Tour Schedule. Benji and I will be in many markets as the film release rolls out and we hope to see you.
3/20/04 - Well, here we are at last. Less than a week from the World Premiere! And what a trip it's been. We've had several more screenings for "real folks" and response continues to be just incredible. I'm as excited as I've ever been over one of these openings. And a bit nervous. It's hard to believe that all this work now comes down to one day. Friday March 26, when Benji Returns opens in its first market, Jackson, MS. It doesn't seem to be bothering "Her Benji-ness" at all, however. She lies at my feet as I write this, watching our four other dogs and three cats parade back and forth past my study door. I guess her only sign of anxiety is that most of the time, she'd be out there in the parade, but she's been sticking pretty close since the suitcases came out. We leave Tuesday for Jac kson, and she doesn't want to be left behind. She really enjoys the travel because most of the time at home she's just one of the dogs, cats, goats, and chickens. Out on the road, s he gets all the attention. Benji and I will be touring more than 35 cities between now and summer's end. To find out how close we'll be to you, check the bottom square to the left. To see when the film will be playing in your area, click on Distribution Information. All of us associated with the film are very pleased to have the opportunity to raise the bar back up a bit as it relates to what some folks have begun to believe is acceptable family entertainment. There is no violence, bodily excretion humor, or blasting special effects in this movie. Just a really good story, well-told, with strong, emotionally involving characters. Many, many thanks once again to all those who have followed this process from the beginning and to all those who have helped make it happen. Now, it's in your hands. I can only say that it comes to you from the heart.
3/31/04 - How good can it get?? We had a terrific World Premiere in Jackson, Mississippi last weekend. Lots of fun. And our first test market opened the next day. Exit polls reported that an overwhelming 97% of audiences (of all ages) loved the movie and said they would definitely recommend it to family and friends. More importantly, we learned that men and boys, even teenage boys, love the movie. especially the comedy. Benji's audience has traditionally been women. Not men. And we've always lost the boys at about 12 years of age. But not this time. Wow! And our first critical review also loved the movie: "It captures the joy of a special dog and the simpleness of childhood... what Newsome and Stephens do is kid stuff but it's hillarious kid stuff... Camp has made another endearing film that a whole new generation of families can enjoy." Tears from me. It doesn't get any better.
7/11/04 - Reflections from the home stretch. At this wtiing, we're approximately six weeks away from D-Day, when the picture opens all across the nation (August 20th) and what we know for sure is this: We have never had better response from audiences who have seen the movie. Never! But we've never had a harder time getting those audiences to believe that up front, before they see it. At every test and every screening, over and over, from adults and kids alike, we hear:
"I had no idea I would like this movie so much!"
"I'm amazed. I love this movie!"
"I don't know what I was expecting but it wasn't this. This is a great movie!"
"I laughed out loud. And cried. And didn't plan on either."
"I guess I thought it was going to be... well, you know... sappy."
And so on. I suppose in today's marketplace so loaded with big budget, high-powered, joke and action video game movies, it's difficult to believe that a real dog and a real story and real characters and emotional involvement can still work. That comedy can work even without poop jokes. That action doesn't require violence. I'm especially amazed at these reactions from adults who remember the earlier Benji movies because, traditionally, Benji movies sell approximately two adult tickets for every one kid ticket. And, today, it's difficult to find an adult, especially among women, who doesn't love Benji... but it's also difficult to find one who truly believes they are going to enjoy this movie, never mind love it, enough to be out there in line buying tickets. Yet, once they do, they all come out loving it. I'm being perfectly honest when I tell you that I have yet to hear from one person who has seen this movie, adult or kid, consumer or critic, who didn't love it. Maybe there's someone somewhere who hasn't spoken up yet, but for any movie this is a pretty amazing record! Yet we still can't seem to convince folks up front that such will be the case until after they've seen the movie. If any of this matters to you, the faithful who have followed this jounal from the beginning, those who know that we turned down Hollywood studio money, both for the production and the distribution, in order to maintain control and keep the content of the film appropriate for real family audiences, and who know that we don't have the huge advertising budgets the studios throw at your kids... then you also know that we need you help to spread the word. Please email your friends. Send them my special message to parents (click in the column to the left)... or a link to this site... or the trailer... or the video of what parents are saying about the film (again, click to the left)... or just ask them to buy a ticket on August 20. Take a leap of faith that Joe Camp is not lying... that you will enjoy this movie...and you'll get something out of it as well! Many, many thanks for you help. You will not be disappointed.
12/27/04 - Epilogue... Well, here we are at the DVD release date tomorrow. The theatrical
release did not do as well as we had hoped. Those who came to the theaters loved it according to research and a lot of anecdotal experience. Kids as well as adults, of all ages. But a very full summer of highly competitive family films with studios spending as much as ten times our little advertising budget pretty much buried our efforts to get the word out. It was so disappointing through the fall as I would travel with Benji and hear over and over again: Oh, Benji's doing a new movie?? That's great! When is it coming out? And then there were the parents who told us: Oh, we just don't go anymore. Even if the movie seems ok, you just can't trust the previews that will run before it so we wait for DVD. Hopefully there's truth there because as I write this, tomorrow's the day. I believe it's the kind of movie you and your family will watch together over and over again. It's a fun, entertaining film with a higher purpose, putting others ahead of yourself. And it's a message that sticks. You will be amazed at a dog acting on the screen, just like human actors act, expressing emotion that once again caused movie critics to say Benji deserves an Oscar for acting more than many humans who have won it. And, now, you and your family will be able to watch Benji Off the Leash whenever you choose. Available everywhere. Tomorrow. Enjoy.