Interview with Filmmaker Bob Simpson (BRING BACK THE WHISTLE DOG)

Directed by Bob Simpson
Fast food menu items come and go, but none have ignited lasting passion quite like Canadian restaurant chain A&W’s Whistle Dog. This “hot dogumentary” profiles diehard fans fighting the good fight to bring back the iconic dog.

Get to know the filmmaker:

1. What motivated you to make this film?

Most of the team that worked on this film works at Rethink, A&W’s ad agency, and the Whistle Dog has always held a place in our hearts. This documentary came out of our own curiosity about it, the quirky name, the fact it’s an oddball item at a burger chain, and, most of all, the cult-like passion behind it.

When we found out A&W was bringing it back, the initial plan was to show up at a bunch of diehard fans’ homes and surprise them with Whistle Dogs, then use the best of these surprises for a TV spot. But it quickly dawned on us that dragging a film crew across the country just for a couple minutes at each stop seemed like such a waste. We had cameras, we had crew, we had super passionate fans—we had to do more with this. Our art director Ashley blurted out, “We should do a documentary!” We just laughed. A documentary! About the Whistle Dog! How ridiculous! But then we started talking about it and realized, no, there really was a story here. Let’s do it!

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

It took us about two months to complete the film. Our editors Megan and Leigh, who had doc experience, said the schedule was nuts, but somehow it came together. We all lived and breathed that project for those two months and got it done.

3. How would you describe your film in two words!?

Wholesome fun.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

The biggest obstacle in making the film was probably agreeing on its length. When we first got the idea, we said oh, it can just be a short doc, like 4 or 5 minutes or something. But after shooting all the interviews (which went ridiculously in-depth since the subjects were so passionate about the dogs), we ended up with over 30 hours of footage. For a brief moment, we entertained the idea of a feature, but we quickly came to our senses and said let’s keep it short-ish, try for something under 30 mins. The first assembly was about 25 mins, so we knew we could get it down further. The 20-minute mark seemed reasonable, and that’s where we were headed as we edited.

In the ad industry, the general goal is to make everything as short and punchy as possible, due to ever-shrinking attention spans. The motto is always “Less is more.” We’ve been trained to cut to an exact length, the standard being the classic 30-second spot. And, nowadays, a lot of that content is 15s and even 6s for online use. We’re naturally averse to anything long. Our instincts are to ruthlessly cut things down. So as we got closer to completion, we attempted chopping the doc down to the absolute minimum, like under 5 minutes, just to see how it felt. But since our original goal was to make a doc worth entering in film festivals, it just felt like if it got too short, not only would it not tell enough of the story, we couldn’t rightfully call it a documentary anymore. It ended up at just under 18 minutes, which feels right.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

It literally gave us goosebumps to hear audience reactions to the film. It was so nice to know others enjoyed the story too, even though it seemed many were from the US and had never even heard of the Whistle Dog. One woman, in particular, described the film as “earnest and wholesome.” Everyone seemed so charmed by the Whistle Dog fans and their passion. Our team is so proud of what it took to make the film, so it was incredibly rewarding to hear audiences enjoy watching it.

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

This doc was a collaborative effort, so in answering, I can only do so for myself. I’ve always been a big fan of docs, which, by their nature, are about great stories. Over the years in my role at Rethink, I’ve had the opportunity to direct video content in a documentary style, almost mini-docs. I really enjoy the process, the research and preparation, and then ultimately shooting and editing the final piece. After learning the process and understanding how it’s done, even on a smaller scale, that’s really how I, and the whole team, got bit by the filmmaking bug. And with the Whistle Dog, we just knew we were sitting on a great story and we were excited to make the leap into long form to tell it.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Probably Reservoir Dogs. In university, our friend group was obsessed with it. We’d watch it over and over, memorizing all the lines. It was all about the dialogue. All Tarantino films are like that. Once Upon a Time, Pulp Fiction… the way characters speak is always so engaging. It’s so hyper-real and natural, yet completely compelling, even when they’re talking about everyday things. It’s just delivered in a way that real people talk.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

Honestly, hearing audience feedback is incredibly helpful, whether it’s good or bad. As a creative, we are always trying to learn and the best way to do that is through peer feedback.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

FilmFreeway is incredible. The site is really well designed and easy to use and made entering festivals so easy, literally a few clicks. Certainly nice not having to fill out similar forms for every festival.

10. What is your favourite meal?

Hot dogs of course!

11. What is next for you? A new film?

We’ll see. We’ve always got a bunch of fun things in the works at Rethink. I’d love to film another doc if the right kind of story comes along.


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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