POP SPOTLIGHT: Keith Hopkin, The Guy Who Created The Video “Dogs In Cars”

The creator of the short film 'Dogs In Cars" talks about how he took video of 13 dogs sticking their heads out of car windows, slowed it down, and became a viral sensation.
It has been called “Five minutes of pure happiness” and “utter joy.” And like so many other ideas that are viewed as genius in retrospect, Keith Hopkin’s short film ‘Dogs In Cars” is something so simple in its concept: Dogs, sticking their heads out of car windows to enjoy the wind and the view – slowed down, and set to music. The final product is beautiful, joyful, and incredibly clever. In this interview with Keith Hopkin we see how he put it all together.
But first, enjoy the video!

PGTW: Can you give me a little background about yourself? Do you make videos full time? Casually?
I’ve been making videos for fun for the last 10 years. I grew up watching a lot of MTV in the 80s and have always been fascinated with the film, television and the whole process it entails. I couldn’t afford a video camera when I was in high school but any chance somebody had one I would take advantage of using it. When the prices of digital cameras and computers started to drop I could finally afford to buy one and carry it around with me everywhere.
How did you come up with this idea?
For the past year I’ve been shooting a lot of video with my GoPro camera. Over the summer I mounted the camera to a VW Convertible and came up with this video . For the first time I could safely attach a video camera to the outside of a moving car and it looked almost like a Hollywood action movie. This opened up brand new creative possibilities for me. At this point I knew I wanted to shoot more videos with a car.

Most of my videos are short, simple vignettes. Lately I’ve been shooting a lot of pieces in slow motion. Everything just looks better and different. It gives you a few more moments to appreciate some of more simple things in daily life and in nature. A lot of my neighbors have pets.

What inspired you?
While driving my girlfriend’s parent’s dog Mia (the White German Shepherd in the video) around I decided to see what she would look like while speeding down the road. She looked so blissful and at peace. This inspired me to shoot more dogs in different locations. The landscapes seem to tell a story too. Any time I shoot new video I think about music I’ve been listening to and the images of cute love-able dogs in this state made me think of the music of The Pains of Being Pure At Heart. They’re friends of mine from my neighborhood and I really wanted to include their music.

And who doesn’t like cute pet videos? Here’s a video called “Birds” that was posted 3 years ago by vimeo user pleix. It features some great dogs “flying” through the air in slow motion. It’s hilarious and really creative:

Where did you find the dogs?
Four of the dogs are neighbors of mine in the building I live in. The rest are through friends and family. I also posted up a request of Facebook if anyone would let me take their dogs for a drive and I got a great response. Dog owners are really friendly.

Where and when did you shoot the video?
I shot the video from September 2011 through December. Any weekend afternoon that was convenient for the dog, or uh, owner 🙂 I would spend anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour with each dog. Footage was mainly shot in Brooklyn, Connecticut, Long Island and Upstate New York. It’s great to get out of the city and smell the fresh air. I think dogs feel the same way. They were more much more excited to be on the open road.

Did you always know that this would be in slow motion? Was that always part of the plan?
Yes. The intention was to shoot these moments in slow motion. So many things look great when you change the way we normally perceive them – an angle that’s really low or extremely high , slowed down or sped up – it makes you take a close look at things you normally take for granted. I had the chance to work with the Phantom HD camera on a feature shoot. This is a $100k+ specialty camera that is built for incredibly slow motion cinema. Before we wrapped I shot a short test with it but wanted to take it home with me forever. Consumer cameras like the ones that I use are slowly approaching this level and I can’t wait to get my hands on them.

These GoPro’s are really creating some amazing stuff. (I have one of the older ones myself.)
I have a few GoPro cameras including the recently released Hero 2. I’ve also stocked up on almost all of the mounting options. Jeff Campbell at Ambarella who makes the HD chip for the HERO, has been really great in sending the latest products to test out. I can’t wait to for the WiFi backing to come out – GoPro keeps putting out great tools to help in the creative process.

Were there any dogs that simply would not stick their heads out the window? Did any end up on the cutting room floor?
I wanted this video to be really authentic – I didn’t want to stage anything to get the shots. I had a tough time with Gracie who was not very eager to experience the sights and smells of her city that day. At one point her owner was outside behind the car trying to get Gracie’s attention while she pushed us down the road. There’s not a lot of Gracie in the video because I can’t drive stick.

Which dog just couldn’t get enough of it all?
Pinky, the English bulldog was the last dog I shot and the most excited. I think she really wanted to jump out of the window!

Any moments that didn’t make it into the film – but were funny nonetheless?
I had to pick the best shots for each dog but there was definitely some drooling that I decided to cut.

Was there anything about the whole experience that surprised you?
I thought for sure that ALL dogs were equally excited about the breeze of a moving car so I was a little surprised when some were not very enthusiastic. Gracie, what can I do to please you!

I’m a big dog lover myself (as anyone who visits this site regularly would know!) – but I have to ask – did you get bitten by any of them?
They were all super friendly dogs (and super friendly owners! thanks guys!)

So … do YOU have dogs??
I actually don’t have a dog right now. It’s a huge responsibility in the city. But thankfully I have enough friends with dogs!

Did you always suspect that the video would go viral?
Well, I watch a lot of videos online and pet videos are almost always popular. I haven’t really seen many videos like this and as I was putting this together I thought to myself, “How could anyone not like these dogs??!”. That with the great music from my friends The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. I thought for sure people would like it. I premiered it at Charlie’s home during a dinner party and everyone loved it.

When did you realize that this was getting noticed? Was there a moment that you suddenly realized – whoa – people are responding to this?
Within the first 8 hours of making it public and sending to a few friends I started getting way more likes and plays than any of my other work. When the numbers started doubling every couple of hours I realized it must be getting spread pretty far. I got asked to do an interview for a TV station when it hit 8k and by the time we had recorded it over Skype hours later it was had been viewed by over 14,000 people. As I was heading to bed my friend thought it would be at 24k by morning – but it hit 25k by midnight just an hour or two later. As of Wednesday night just after midnight EST it has been seen by almost a quarter of a million people. (editor’s note: It’s now also on YouTube, so the numbers keep going up!)

Would you say this has been the project you’ve gotten the most buzz on? If not, what did?
This is definitely by far the most attention I’ve gotten on any of my projects. I had a video featured on YouTube back in its very beginnings, won video contests with “Gleaming the Cubicle” and “Lemonade” and more recently worked on “Free Cab Rides” with comedian Mark Malkoff – who’s famous for bringing a goat into an Apple store and living in an Ikea for a week – which up until now had been the most buzz I’ve gotten. I’m really thankful to everyone who’s been passing “Dogs In Cars” along. The best part is just reading the comments from people all around the world who feel it has uplifted their day and brought a bit of joy into their lives. Thats’ what filmmaking is all about – taking people somewhere and making them feel more alive.

I know Mark – he’s great! We did a segment on The Early Show about his time in the bathroom. He’s hysterical.
Was there ever a project where you really bit off more than you could chew? That was almost impossible to achieve? (anything funny here?)
There are definitely a few! The “Free Cab Rides” video linked above was a really big project. We trailed Mark in a cab for an entire day while shooting all of the action inside and out. It was a real cab, running a real taxi meter, and all the real unrelenting Manhattan traffic you get in the afternoons on a weekday. Mark was getting tweets and facebook messages from people asking him to get picked up all around the city and I thought it would never end. He’s great to work with and kept everyone smiling but a shoot like that gives you a lot of respect for the amount of sweat that goes into the short commercial clips you see everyday. With about 4 cameras and over 40 hours of footage it was a daunting task to meet the deadline but we were able to push out the finished 3 minute clip in under a week.

I try and get a video in every year for the annual Doritos Crash The Super Bowl contest. I didn’t think I was going to get my latest one in on time but managed to squeak by. (Here it is!)I had to rush home after the filming and edit, then submit the following night to meet the deadline – still waiting for the results to be announced…I was asked to do a video for a punk rock band and thought it would be a great chance to try out the new GoPro 3D rig. I had to learn all about how to line up the video and edit it so as not to give the viewer a headache – it required a lot of trial and error with the equipment and in post production. It was a pretty crazy shoot involving beer soaked bicycle riding and the first and probably last screaming underwater 3D toilet bowl shot i’ll ever do. It certainly makes for a great story and it was all worth it when the band premiered it at a live show in front of an cheering audience all wearing old school red and white 3D glasses. What’s a punk rock video without beer and a toilet bowl shot– all in GoPro 3D!!!!?!
Are you always thinking of the next thing? Has this inspired you to do anything different that perhaps you hadn’t thought of before?
I usually have around three simultaneous projects I am working on. Sometimes it’s a video contest that is coming up, a music video or an experiment I want to try. Any time I go out of town I bring a few cameras. You never know when something might inspire you.I’d definitely enjoyed working with the dogs and am really motivated by the response working with animals has gotten me – I did a bionic chipmunk video that makes people chuckle. I’m considering what else I could do along the same theme working with some new techniques. I’ve begun playing around with multi camera setups to do time-slicing which is really interesting. I did a test jumping around a farm with a water hose. I’d like to get more cameras and work with more sophisticated editing software that can handle that much video.
What should people do to follow your work?
You can see what I’m up to next by following me on Twitter and liking me on Facebook. I’m always up to something and love to hear from everyone out there.
For more pop profiles, follow @BrianBalthazar on twitter!

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