In its first-ever chance to be part of Deadline’s Contenders Television event, Disney+ chose its original movie Togo to highlight in its panel session, with director-cinematographer Ericson Core, writer Tom Flynn and star Willem Dafoe joining a virtual panel to discuss the imposing logistics of mounting this true-life family adventure about an extraordinary sled dog and his master as he leads a team in a harrowing journey to deliver much-needed serum in 1925 in Nome, Alaska.
In this case, Dafoe explained it was important to use real dog actors, not CGI versions, since most of the film was done with practical action in actual challenging locations. “The animals are there because we want them to be animals. You have to be patient and we were pretty loose with it,“ said Dafoe. “The sled dogs are very athletic, very trained. I had to really learn from them.”
He said he had to form an almost telepathic connection with Diesel, the lead dog actor. Core, who operated his own camera much of the time, said that was a reason he shot it the way he did. “I was incredibly close to him, and there was a close intimacy because of that. The personal journey was what we were after and it made a huge difference,” he said.
Flynn said the film was so authentic there was virtually nothing that didn’t happen in real life. “There is very little of what you see in the film that was made up by me,” he said.
In that regard, Dafoe said he was warned to keep it real. “I was told if you ever dump the sled, if you ever crash, just do us a favor and just hang on. These dogs love to run so much that if you lose the sled they’re gone for a good long time and it can be dangerous for them.
‘So I must admit I did crash many times,” he added, laughing, “but I can brag and say I never did let that sled go once.”
Check out the panel video above.