Beethoven's Big Break

When animal trainer Eddie's (Jonathan Silverman) rambunctious Saint Bernard Beethoven accidentally wanders onto a movie set, he becomes a canine star, and Eddie has to juggle his role as a single dad with his role as a "stage mom.

  • Starring: Jonathan Silverman and Jennifer Finnigan
  • Director(s): Mike Elliott
  • Producer(s): Wayne Morris
  • Screenwriter(s): Derek Rydall, Brian Levant
  • Distributor: Universal Pictures
  • Animal Coordinator: Birds and Animals Unlimited
  • Release Date: Tuesday, December 30, 2008
  • Rating: Outstanding

Featured Animal Action

Dog Action

Three Saint Bernards were alternated in the role of Beethoven. Cast and crew were introduced to the animals before filming began and instructed on their proper handling. The sets were secured and limited to only necessary cast and crew. All areas were disinfected and grounds were thoroughly inspected for hazards. Stuffed animals were used in rehearsals so as not to tire the dogs.

For shots in which a dog eats food or drinks water, trainers cued the dog to "get it," and all food was deemed safe for consumption. Food such as popcorn and bacon was covered in dog food or baby food to entice the dog to eat it. The pizza and salami were made of rubber. For shots in which the dogs lick the actors, trainers smeared baby food on the actors' skin to entice the animals to lick.

Anytime Beethoven is seen sitting, lying down, being petted by actors or walking or running, trainers cued the dog to perform this mild action. When the animals watch the movie premiere in theater seats, trainers placed the dog and puppies (the lizard was computer-generated) on their respective chairs and stood just off-camera to cue the animals to stay and look in certain directions. The chairs were rigged so the seats would stay down and not spring up. In scenes involving a dog in a vehicle, the vehicle was rarely moving. When it was moving, well-rehearsed actors drove slowly for a short distance, and streets were closed off to traffic. A trainer hid on the floor under the glove compartment to cue the dog. Anytime Beethoven is shown exiting Eddie's truck, the distance from the front seat to the ground was short.

When the dog auditions take place, several dogs appeared with their actual owners, who placed them on their marks. Trainers then stood nearby helping cue the dogs. For the shot in which Beethoven jumps through the paper backdrop during the auditions, trainers created a large hole before filming began for the dog to easily jump through. Using food as an enticement, trainers cued the dog to jump through this large hole. The dog was accustomed to this type of easy agility exercise.

For the scene in which Eddie struggles to put Beethoven into the back of the truck, trainers cued the dog to jump onto the actor and put its paws on him, and the actor feigned a struggle. For the shot in which Eddie pulls back the bed sheet to reveal the puppies, the lightweight sheet was only placed on the puppies for a brief moment and immediately removed.

Anytime an animal is seen in a costume, such as sunglasses, the costumes were custom-made to fit comfortably. Whenever Beethoven drags its leash, trainers cued the dog to run from point A to point B and cleared the way, ensuring that the dog would not trip over the leash or catch it on anything. The scene in which the dog tangles his leash around Eddie's chair was filmed in separate shots. First, trainers cued the dog to walk near the chair, which was filmed using various camera angles. Then crew members strategically placed the leash around the chair legs and filmed it getting more and more tangled. For the scene in which Beethoven breaks free from a corral, dragging his leash and a portion of the corral behind him, a breakaway (pre-broken) prop fence was used. In this well-rehearsed scene, trainers cued the dog to run from point A to point B, dragging the lightweight prop fence behind him. For the shot in which he jumps the fence, a camera was placed on the ground just below the short prop fence and the dog was cued to jump over it.

When Beethoven urinates on the child's pant leg, trainers cued the dog to lift its leg. Crew members wet the child's leg moments before filming. Whenever Beethoven pulls Billy on his skateboard, the trainer cued the dog to run, and the child actor was well-rehearsed on how to let go of the leash before the dog slowed down.

In one scene, Beethoven stands on the kitchen counter and eats spaghetti. Trainers placed steps next to the counter and guided the dog up the steps onto the counter. They then cued him to "stay," using actual pasta as an added incentive.

Beethoven pulls on the drapes and tears them down. Trainers placed the curtain in the dog's mouth. The curtain was attached to a rod, but the trainer held it near the bottom and played tug-of-war with the dog to make it appear as if the dog was pulling it down.

On the movie set, Eddie releases Beethoven, who runs and jumps onto the dining room table and leaps onto a man, knocking him down. The food, which was both real and plastic, was deemed soft and safe for the dog's paws. All plates, glassware, utensils and other items on the table were soft plastic props. The table was surrounded with a custom-made carpeted platform on each end. One trainer walked the dog up onto the starting platform and another trainer called it at the end of the table. The man was not in the scene when the dog was cued to run the length of the table and onto the second platform. The actor was then brought in, the second platform was removed, and the dog was cued to jump near the actor and off the table. The actor then fell backward in a choreographed fall to make it look as if the dog knocked him over. Later, for the shot in which Beethoven jumps on the craft services table and picks up wrapped licorice in its mouth, trainers cued the well-rehearsed dog to jump a distance it was accustomed to jumping. The trainer then hid behind an actor and cued the dog to jump off the table.

Whenever Beethoven knocks down a person on the movie set, a costumed stuntperson played the role of the actor. These scenes were filmed in separate shots. First the dog was cued to run from one trainer to another. Then the dog was cued to place its paws on the actor, who was standing. Then the actor fell in a choreographed move. For the shot in which the dog knocks down the door, a special door was loosely rigged to fall when the dog approached.

On the movie set, Beethoven runs under the director's chair and lifts the producer off the ground. For this shot, a chair with soft rubber legs was suspended by wires attached to a raised pole on a pulley system, and two crew members held the ends of the pole, following the dog's path. The chair's weight was never on the dog's back.

A dog and puppy montage shows actions such as Beethoven getting a bath, the family holding the puppies over the toilet and puppies running after Billy on his skateboard. For the bath, the dog was covered in a mixture of organic potting soil and leaves that adhered to its body with nontoxic jelly. He was then briefly placed in shallow, warm water and shampooed with dog shampoo. For the toilet action, trainers handed each actor a puppy and instructed them on how to hang them safely over the toilet bowl. For the skateboard action, trainers cued the puppies to run from point A to point B while the child actor kept the skateboard a safe distance away and kicked it away before the puppies came over to lick him.

When the bad guys stuff Beethoven into a large duffle bag and drag him off, there was actually a stuntperson in the bag to show its heaviness – no dog was used. After appearing to be placed in the bag and kidnapped, Beethoven attacks the kidnapper and wrestles with him in the back of a van. The kidnapper then places a rag over Beethoven's snout, causing him to go limp. For this scene, a costumed trainer doubled for the actor. To make it appear as if there was a struggle, the trainer play-wrestled with the dog, who actually enjoyed this exchange. The costumed trainer then held a clean white cloth very briefly near the dog's muzzle. An off-camera trainer then cued the dog to lie down and "play dead." The dog was never inside a sack and the vehicle was not actually moving.

For a shot in which Beethoven rolls over just in time to avoid being crushed by a big sign, trainers cued the dog to roll over while crew members controlled the sign, which was on a pulley system. The large syringe was a prop.

When the bichon frisé bites Sal's (Stephen Tobolowsky) leg, a costumed trainer stood in for the actor. A trainer riled up the dog in a playful manner and cued the dog to "get" the costumed trainer's leg, which was baited with food. Then Beethoven trips Sal with his leash and drags him around the building. This scene was filmed in separate shots. The dog pulled a lightweight dummy and the actor was digitally added in later.

Puppy Action

For scenes involving Beethoven's puppies, several Saint Bernard puppy siblings were introduced to the adult dogs and all were given ample time to become comfortable with each other.

For a shot in which the puppies chew on shoes in the closet, treats were placed around the shoes and the puppies were cued to eat the treats, making it look like they were chewing the shoes.

For the scene in which the puppies are in a basket inside the movie RV, the basket was lined with a soft sheet. The lizard in the shot was computer-generated. For the shot of Eddie taking a puppy out of his bag and setting him on a chair, a trainer placed the puppy inside the softly lined bag immediately before filming, and the actor was instructed on how to gently remove the puppy.

Cat Action

Sal holds a fat cat during the auditions. A trainer handed the cat to the actor for this brief and mild scene. Then the cat falls from Sal's arms and onto the ground, running out of camera range. For this shot, the well-rehearsed actor gently tossed the cat onto stunt pads. Trainers then cued it to run out of camera frame. The cat and dog were never on the set at the same time.

Lizard Action

A computer-generated lizard is seen throughout the film. The only time a real lizard was used was whenever Eddie picked it up off the ground or off a prop, held it in his arms or moved it in a cage. The actor was well-rehearsed for this mild action.

Animals Seen in Cages

In Sal's warehouse, several exotic and miscellaneous animals, such as a vulture, orangutan, alligator and monkey, are seen in cages. For this scene, trainers placed the animals in their cages. Trainers used a "bait stick" with food on the end of it to cue the animals to look in certain directions and react in certain ways, such as growling. As an extra safety precaution, the serval (wildcat) and the alligator were each filmed independently of the other animals.

In Eddie's animal room, several animals, such as a raccoon, skunk, possum and hamsters, are in and around cages. The cages were comfortable and free of hazards. For the shot in which Eddie feeds the raccoon a carrot, the actor simply allowed the raccoon to grab the end of the carrot and then let go. The snake was fake. For one brief shot, a trainer placed the dog playing Beethoven in a "sit-stay" position in the center of the room, and all uncaged animals were removed from the set.

The raccoon seen between two cars was computer-generated.

Farm Animals Seen Outside

Several farm animals, such as alpacas, mules, pigs, chickens and a tortoise, roam the yard. For this scene, trainers stood nearby while the animals were either penned in a corral or allowed to roam freely on the enclosed set. When Eddie walks by some of these animals, he feeds them a bit of their usual food.