A Dog’s Purpose producer Gavin Polone says that a leaked video of a scared dog on set being forced to go into churning water, while appalling, doesn't tell the whole story.
In a column in The Hollywood Reporter published on Monday, Polone said rehearsal footage of the entire day shows the German shepherd "not only unafraid of the water, but desperate to jump in."
"In fact, he had to be held back by the trainer from going in too soon," he wrote.
He believes the dog was “spooked” after being asked to film the scene from different, unrehearsed vantage point. When the dog didn’t want to do the scene from the new position, the crew changed and went back to the original position where the dog “was comfortable and went in on his own.”
Polone also noted that a CGI dog was used for more dangerous looking stunts, including the footage used in the movie trailer.
Amblin Entertainment and Universal Pictures said in a statement after the video leaked that while “we are all disheartened by the appearance of an animal in distress,” they have been assured that the dog was not harmed throughout the filmmaking.
The leaked video, shot at a pool outside Winnipeg, Canada, in 2015, shows the German shepherd struggling to avoid going into the water. The can dog can then be seen going under water as someone yells “Cut it! Cut it!” as a handlers rush in.
The American Humane Association (AHA), the group that is responsible for ensuring the safety of animals on set, suspended the monitor assigned to the movie that days and has said it is investigating the incident.
But Polone, an animal activist who told BuzzFeed News last week he was “horrified” when he saw the video on TMZ, decided he needed to conduct his own investigation since he wasn't on set that day.
While he called the TMZ video "highly misleading," Polone acknowledged in his THR column that it was inexcusable that the dog was made to go in the water, and that his head was submerged for about four seconds.
But he also questioned the release of the video days before the film's release, suggesting the videographer held onto it for months to up its value to a potential buyer, and criticized PETA’s call to boycott the movie.
Lisa Lange, a senior vice president at PETA, issued a statement in response, accusing Polone of trying to spin "alternative facts" in the lead up to the movie's opening on Friday.
“Those who made the movie want it to succeed, but even the film's producer, Gavin Polone, admitted that the incident should not have occurred, so for him to offer alternative facts about what countless people have now watched and condemned is a form of spin that even the best filmmaker couldn't pull off," Lange said. "Perhaps it's easy to dismiss being submerged underwater when you're not the one desperate for air, but for the dog, it was undeniably a terrifying experience. Blaming the whistleblower who filmed the ugly incident is a cheap and cowardly response. TMZ did a public service by releasing the footage."