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How to accomplish great things: Dream Big

Rebecca Rodriguez is passionate about two things: making movies and saving animals. This was clear within maybe five minutes of meeting her recently at Pix Patisserie in North Portland.

The independent filmmaker from La Center, WA, was explaining how she’d managed to construct a business model that simultaneously helps animal shelters raise money and get a feature-length Hitchcock-esque whodunit in the can. While nonprofit fundraising is not a frequent ingredient in filmmaking, Rodriguez is cooking up a homegrown business model that just may result in enough fundraising cake to go around.

Rodriguez grew up in Sacramento, CA, aspiring to be an actress and to save animals. When the young naval officer she married was assigned to Guam after graduating from flight school, she followed him. Once on the Pacific island she tried to fit into the narrow role of an officer’s wife but she kept finding herself distracted by the conditions of the local dog population. “I can’t just sit here and put on fashion shows,” Rodriquez remembers thinking. So she dropped out of the Officers Wives Club and started Guam’s first humane society: Guam Animals in Need (GAIN). It was 1989, and there were an estimated 40,000 dogs on the island. She was 21 years old.

For a twenty-something facing that much responsibility, Rodriguez made an important realization. In her own words she says, “I didn’t know what I was doing but I knew enough to ask.” The closest humane society was in Hawaii, so Rodriguez visited to learn about their operations. Back on Guam, getting the fledgling organization off the ground wasn’t just an uphill battle, it was an upcliff battle, she says. For example, to start a volunteer program at the underfunded and under-staffed shelter required working with the Guam Senate.

GAIN had come a long way when Rodriguez left three years later, in 1992. “I was hoping I had laid a decent enough foundation, that the group would continue” she says of her soul-changing experience. “It really beat me up, but at the same time it gave me a great deal of confidence in my ability to help animals.”

After returning to the mainland, Rodriguez searched for her niche in the animal advocacy establishment. For two years she worked at Oregon Humane Society as an animal care supervisor, and then moved to Seattle and worked as program manager for an animal fund. By 1995 she was disenchanted with the overwhelming crisis of pet overpopulation in the U.S. and decided to focus — for awhile — on her other dream: acting.

After studying for a year she started to land paid acting gigs and began writing screenplays. After attending the 2000 Sundance Film Festival she returned to Portland and, three weeks later, shot two short films in two days. One of them, Soul Collectors, was selected to debut at the 2000 Seattle International Film Festival.

After one year Rodriguez was director of a collection of short films showing at festivals all over the world. In 2004 she made Coming Up Easy, her first feature-length film, which won the Best Feature Award at the 2005 Reel Women International Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Her current project could help change the way indie films are made and hopefully will raise funds for animal shelters all over America.

The low cost of moviemaking has resulted in a high volume of independent films on the market, so nowadays getting them distributed is a tall order. This, along with a struggling economy, makes it near impossible for indie filmmakers to raise funds. But Rodriguez had an idea. “Wouldn’t it be cool to find an audience for a movie before I made the movie?” she thought. So she wrote Good Dogs, a fictional screenplay about an investigation into the disappearance of an animal shelter worker, which would hopefully appeal to a dogloving audience.

But that was only part of the solution. After writing the script she created a patent-pending process called Box Office Blocks where the same people who would go see the movie in theaters can pay the approximate cost of two theater tickets and help fund the production. The five-minute process starts by visiting iamagooddog.com and selecting the future placement your own pup’s 40x40 pixel picture (or dog-related logo, if you want to combine a little art funding with some cheap advertising) on the Website.

Once the purchase of your piece of e-territory — that your Louis the Leg-lifter won’t pee on — is complete, you get a certificate of recognition from the United Alliance of Canine Companions (signed by Monster and Fern-a-delic the canine Ambassador and Secretary, respectively) and a downloadable copy of My Dog’s Gone Wild (a perfect film for the canine cinephile). And that’s just the immediate swag. Everyone who buys a Good Dog Block receives a DVD of Good Dogs upon completion.

After the film’s world premier in Portland, Good Dogs will be available by license to animal organizations everywhere so they can present public showings as fundraising events. “It’s fun, it advances the arts, but most importantly, it will help animals,” says Rodriguez, which — besides making great movies — has been her goal all along.

Jake Faris
Spot Magazine

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