During a Christmas luncheon with his family Ken Kragen's 7-year old daughter, Emma writes a parody of "The 12 Days Of Christmas" on the back of the restaurant placemat. Everyone loves it and Emma takes it to school the next week where the music teacher adds it to the Christmas program.
Ken sends what Emma has written to Tommy Nelson Publishing in Nashville. The head of the company calls soon afterward to say that he had his salesman sing the song at a meeting and everyone totally broke up over it. He says he wants to publish it as a book for the coming Christmas holidays.
February to May, 1998:
Thanks to Tommy Nelson editor, Laura Minchew, wonderful art work and an overall presentation for the book is completed. Ken gets 25 kids together at A&M studios and records the song with famous record producer Don Was overseeing the session. Jeff and Paul Stillman then create a karaoke version and add dogs and cats to the entire final CD. The CD is added to the book package.
"The 12 Dogs Of Christmas" book hits the market and is an instant hit eventually selling more than 500,000 copies in the next few years.
Ken and his wife Cathy Worthington take a copy of Emma's book to a party in Malibu as a housewarming gift. Everyone at the party loves the book and David Palmer, an executive at Sony who is there insists that it should be made into a movie. He asks Ken to come in and make a pitch to the development people at his studio.
Ken asks writer Steven Paul Leiva to work up a pitch for an animated film based on the book. Steve sits down at his computer, sees "Annie" and "It's A Wonderful Life" video tapes next to his keyboard and decides to write a treatment for a film with those same feelings.
Late January 2001:
Steve and Ken go to Sony and pitch the "12 Dogs" concept with Steve virtually performing the film from his notes. As they are leaving the development woman pulls Ken aside and says that it was one of the best pitches she's ever had. She says that she's sure they'll want to make the film. A few days later Sony closes that department and fires everyone in it.
February & March, 2001:
Ken makes several unsuccessful attempts to place the film elsewhere. He files Steve Leiva's story treatment away.
A year & a half goes by.
Friday, December 26, 2003:
Academy Award winning director, Kieth Merrill e-mails Ken Kragen a photo of 2 of his 22 grandchildren reading "The 12 Dogs Of Christmas" book.
Monday, December 29, 2003:
Ken, Cathy & Emma have lunch with licensing agent Lois Sloane in New York and the idea of finally making the movie comes up. She urges them to make it.
Monday, December 29, 2003:
Ken e-mails Kieth and tells him about the huge success of Emma's book and says that he is going to send him Steve Leiva's treatment.
Monday, January 5, 2004:
Ken fed ex's the treatment to Kieth
Tuesday, January 6, 2004:
Kieth calls and is very excited about the project.
Monday, January 12, 2004:
Kieth flies to Los Angeles and meets with Ken, Cathy and Emma to discuss the project. Ken tells him he can only raise a limited amount of money and wonders if it's even possible to make a period film with kids, dogs and snow for less than a million dollars. Kieth says he knows how to do it by using his son Dagen and his USC Film School buddies who have just made "Napoleon Dynamite" for next to nothing and sold it at the Sundance Film Festival to Fox Searchlight Films.
Tuesday, January 13, 2004:
Ken meets with Kieth, Kieth's sons Daenen & Dagen Merrill and "Napoleon" producers Sean Covel and "Doc" Wyatt to discuss doing the film. They are excited about it and say they will figure out how to do it for the limited budget.
Thursday, January 15, 2004:
Kieth Merrill begins writing a script from Steve Leiva's treatment. He e-mails Ken frequently about his excitement for the project.
Monday, February 2, 2004:
Kieth delivers a completed script for a "live action" film. He's written it in an unheard of two weeks and it is amazingly good.
Ken calls the president of a large merchandising company to see if he can get an advance DVD order. The man suggests they might want to invest in the film instead. Ken also gets several friends to join him in financing the movie.
Tuesday, February 3, 2004:
Ken, Kieth and Daenen meet with Sean and Doc to discuss the budget, various productions issues, etc. Sean & Doc say they can do it and want to get started to be able to find a location that will still have snow in March and April as well as the other elements that are needed.
Thursday, February 11, 2004:
Ken breaks his foot in a fall at home.Sunday, February 15, 2004: Kieth, Daenen and others fly to Maine to begin location scouting in several New England states. They stop first in Bethel, Maine and call to say search is over before it has begun. That night they e-mail Ken pictures of the town and he agrees that it is perfect for the movie.
Monday, February 23, 2004:
Casting begins that week. Ken is in a cast of his own.
Monday, March 8, 2004:
Kieth, Ken & Casting Director Melissa Skoff read a terrific 12- year old girl for a major supporting role in the film. Even though both Steven Paul Leiva and Keith Merrill had written the movie's lead as a boy, Kieth goes home that night and completely rewrites the script for this girl to star in. In a meeting the next day she and her parents seem extremely enthusiastic about her playing the part.
Thursday, March 11, 2004:
While everyone on the producing team has gone off to Maine Ken discovers that they have not filled proper paper work and deposits with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the Writer's Guild (WGA) and the Directors Guild (DGA). With production starting in a little over a week a mad scramble ensues to get everything settled by March 15th, the day before the actors leave for location.
Friday, March 12, 2004:
The first recording session takes place at musical director, John-Kevin Hilbert's house.
Sunday, March 14, 2004:
The rest of the production team leaves for Bethel, Maine to begin preproduction of the locations.
Monday, March 15, 2004:
Ken Kragen's first call this morning is from a representative of the lead girl saying that her parents have thought long and hard over the weekend and have decided to withdraw her from the film. They worry about the SAG situation and also have been told that we don't have professional dog trainers which is untrue. Since she and the other actors are set to leave for Maine in two days on Wednesday morning this is a major crisis. Melissa Skoff begins bringing in several dozen young girls to replace the original girl. Frantic work is also going on to get SAG and DGA approvals done. The actors' departure is delayed until Thursday morning.
Tuesday, March 16, 2004:
Melissa Skoff comes into Ken Kragen's office with both thumbs up. She has found the lead girl. She and Ken read Jordan-Claire Green and totally agree. They call Kieth Merrill on location and tell him to trust them. They then meet with Jordan-Claire's mom, Becca, and talk frankly about the need for her and her daughter to fully commit immediately to the project and understand that they will have to fly out in just two days for Maine. The SAG approval comes through. The DGA and WGA situations are also solved. Hurray!
Wednesday, March 17, 2004:
Ken Kragen flies to Boston. Stays overnight.
Thursday, March 18, 2004:
Several actors depart from Los Angeles for Boston and then are driven to Maine. Ken has morning casting session in Boston and finds three additional actors for roles in the film and then Daenen Merrill picks him up and they drive the four hours to Bethel, Maine.
Friday, March 19, 2004:
The start of principal photography is moved from Sunday March, 20 to Monday, March 21 because of lack of period vehicles. The young producing team expected to get them in Maine but struck out so they are now being shipped from Kansas City at considerable expense. The start of production is pushed back a day as a result.
Sunday, March 21, 2004:
At the end of a long tiring day of preproduction a meeting is held between Ken, Kieth, Daenen and the two professional dog trainers, Roland Sonenburg & Paul Jasper. The trainers tell them that the movie cannot be made and that the best thing they can do is to quit and go home! After sending Kieth off to work on the next days filming plans Ken and Daenen spend a couple of hours discussing the problems with the trainers while at the same time working hard to keep them from quitting . In the end they agree to do the very best they can to make the film. They ultimately do an incredible job under very difficult conditions.
Monday, March 22, 2004:
The first day of principal photography. The second unit's camera malfunctions and they lose a lot of time. Still, they get some terrific shots. The first unit films scenes in the Mayor's Office and it goes very well. A good start!
Tuesday, March 23, 2004:
The dog sled is cut in half by a steel bar in the snow. The stunt doubles are thrown off but no one is hurt. Overall though the day's filming goes well and the scenes are completed.
Wednesday, March 24, 2004:
The old cars arrive and not one of them will run. Two have flat tires and there are rocks and sand in the gas tank of one. They have to be pushed and pulled into position and a half day is lost trying to work with them. For moving shots we roll the cars downhill.
Thursday, March 25, 2004:
It rains most of the day and we work in the mud. Half the money for the film is not yet in. It's very stressful as we can't possibly make it through the filming without the rest of the money.
Friday, March 26, 2004:
We shoot all night in heavy rain. The crew, cast and extras all are up to their ankles in mud. It's a mess. We've come to Maine for snow and instead we're getting rain and temperatures in the 50's. Get great shots, nevertheless.
Saturday, March 27, 2004:
Another all night shoot. This time someone mistakenly releases the beagle dog and its owners from the set and in the middle of the night at 3am Daenen Merrill has to track it down for a key shot. After searching all over town for the people's home Daenen knocks on the owner's door and says simply "I've come for the dog!" The people are so groggy that Daenen later says that they probably will wake up in the morning and wonder what happened to the dog.
Tuesday, March 30, 2004:
After two glorious, sunny days off we go to Portland, Maine and film in cold and damp conditions. We are filming in an old section of the city that has cobbled streets and passes for Pittsburgh in the early 1930's. It looks great. The Portland paper does a big cover story on the filming and a local television station opens its evening news with and 8 minute story on the production. They interview everyone including Emma who is here on her Spring Break from school. Still don't have the rest of the money.
Wednesday, March 31, 2004:
We shoot all day in the rain at the train station in Conway, New Hampshire. Very slow day but good stuff. Driving back to Bethel over the mountains the fog is so bad we can't even see the lines on the highway. Very scary.
Thursday, April 1, 2004:
Rain, rain and more rain. Even thought it's April Fools day It's no joke.
Friday, April 2, 2004:
Heavy rain and mud everywhere. Steadicam operator, Don Muirhead, takes a hard fall and the magazine holding the film cracks open. We lose his morning work. Bigger worry is if the camera is alright. We will hold our breath until his subsequent work is developed in Los Angeles. .
Monday, April 5, 2004:
Finally we catch a break. We decided to film with the 2nd unit on everyone else's day off because snow is predicted. It does snow and we get glorious shots near the mountain streams.
Tuesday, April 6, 2004:
We don't have enough snow for the shots we need so we bring several tons of snow in to dress up the set at a wonderful old farm house. It holds us up for a couple of hours but the end result looks gorgeous.
Wednesday, April 7, 2004:
The final money comes in and we're fully financed at last. Ken's perpetual stomach ache finally goes away.
Friday, April 9, 2004:
Have had to bring truck loads of snow in off the mountain every day but we are getting great looking shots. For once the cars didn't have to run as we shot the final scene of the movie at the Hooper farm (The Dog Orphanage) . On the negative side Ken is now told that the film is well over budget.
Tuesday, April 13, 2004:
The IATSE Union comes to Bethel and recruits nearly half our non-union crew. They approach us this morning saying that we have 24 hours to become a union movie or half the crew will walk. The initial estimate of what "going union" will cost us is in the hundred's of thousands of dollars. We debate various ways to deal with the situation from holding firm and seeing who actually leaves and then replacing them to capitulating and moving ahead. We ask the union for an extra day to sort things out. The three union organizers actually are pretty nice and work with Ken to keep things from getting into a battle.
Wednesday, April 14, 2004:
The decision is made to bite the bullet and become a union film. It's hard to swallow but we simply can't lose a day or two in production because we don't have the money to go over and we lose some of the actors early and they will not be there to finish the film if we push the filming back. There is just too much uncertainty if we fight the union. The sun finally comes out after two days of rain.
Thursday, April 15, 2004:
We sign the union agreements.
Friday, April 16, 2004:
Ken gives an impassioned speech to the crew. He tells them that he has taken an additional mortgage on his home to finance the film and that he hopes that now that we've agreed to unionize they will concentrate on making a great film. We are bringing in huge amounts of snow to dress the locations as the temperature climbs into the 70's.
Thursday, April 22, 2004:
We begin filming the movie's musical finale with 70 kids and 58 dogs. It's an impossible undertaking on paper but seems to work. The kids and the dogs are so cute we all believe more than ever in the potential for this movie. It's Ken and Cathy Kragen's 26th wedding anniversary and the first time they've ever not spent it together.
Saturday, April 24, 2004:
A good day except for the weather which went from rain to bright sun to hurricane like winds and even hail.
Tuesday, April 27, 2004:
We are hit with the news that 21 cans of film have somehow been exposed to light on their travels from the set through Boston to the film processing house in Los Angeles. These reels contain two days of our biggest and most complicated scenes and are almost impossible to duplicate if they are not usable. Turns out it has resulted mostly in fog on the edges of the film and all but two close ups are usable. We've dodged another bullet. At the same time we are not sure about film we sent subsequent to this particular shipment and that absorbs lots of time, effort and expense to check.
Wednesday, April 28, 2004:
Ken has begun to raise the extra money for the overages.
Friday, April 30, 2004:
Ken leaves for Boston in the morning with actors Eric Lutes, Mindy Sterling and Richard Riehle to catch an afternoon plane home. It's a fun trip. Meanwhile back in Bethel a trimmed down crew sets out for a four hour set of process car shots with three remaining principals, Susan Wood, Adam Hicks and the movie's young lead Jordan-Claire Green. It turns into an all day affair which runs up more non budgeted expense but we finally finish the movie. Hooray!
Saturday, May 1, 2004:
Ken flies home at last from Boston. Kieth and the rest of the gang will head home on Sunday.
Monday, May 3, 2004:
The lab reports that two reels have torn sprockets and can't be developed. These turn out not to be vital to the final film.
Wednesday, May 5, 2004:
The lab reports a scratch down the middle of two more reels. This can apparently be fixed by printing with a wet gate.
Monday, May 10, 2004:
Kieth's other son, second unit director Dagen Merrill begins editing at the Kragen & Company offices. The footage looks great. Everyone's excited.
Friday, May 21, 2004:
We screen about 30 minutes of the film in rough edited form and it is terrific.
Wednesday, August 18, 2004:
We screen the finished film for friends, family, cast and crew plus others in the industry. Great reaction. Everybody loves it. Ken says making a movie is like having a baby. Once they're born you forget the pain and rejoice in the beauty of the child.