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'Megan Leavey' Tells Extraordinary Tale Of A Female Marine And Her Dog

June 8, 2017 1:41 p.m.


Gabriela Cowperthwaite, 'Megan Leavey' director

Pete Shilaimon, 'Megan Leavey' producer

Beth Accomando, KPBS arts reporter

Related Story: 'Megan Leavey' Tells Extraordinary Tale Of A Female Marine And Her Dog


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Megan Leavy is a veteran who worked with the bomb sniffing dog in the K-9 unit. Her story is a subject of a movie. That spoke with the director and producer.

Tell me how you first came across a story of Megan Leavey?

I learned through learning -- reading the script. I was curious about the female Marine experience how a female comes up and becomes a corporal in what she had to face in the wars. In the past, and never once came across the K-9 unit. So there were two things that I thought what an amazing opportunity to tell a story that you think you heard before but you haven't.

How did you become involved in this project?

Megan came to our office and told her incredible story to the other two producers on the project and the point of view of a female Marine was spectacular. I just thought it was fascinating. I think it was a story that our team wanted to tell.

How to doing the documentary work that was related in some respects how did that help you -- did you take a very documentary approach to the kind of people you hired and the kind of approach he took to actually shooting it?

Not the people we hired. But they all came from narrative feature filmmaking so what was interesting was schooling them on bringing authentic emotion. For me it was telling them that we've got to be agile. At the dog gives the performance, it's upon us to be rolling.

You did bring up the job. How do you go about casting a dog and making sure that your actress can work well with them. It seems like you need your training with bonding offscreen to match the one that is occurring on screen.

This dog was brought to us as like this is a dog. His name is Varco. I wanted him to feel terrified. Macon is a tough girl and she's going to be scared, then he should be scary.

It feels powerful when they do bond, which is interestingly very much how it happened with the real Megan and dog. He is a formidable beast. He is big and you look at that job and those teeth and you're like he is powerful and a predator. That said she had this respect like she would for a pro.

I heard the enemy likes to steal the dogs and strap bombs on them.

Since wrecks can break someone's arm with his teeth I'm not worried.

There was a scene where she was having to run across some desert and we were like firing and there was so much action going on. For the first time she was suddenly scared. So she started feeling like she was shaking and he sat down and turned around and licked her face and she was like now we are bonded. So it was a very sweet moment. Specs edge a beautiful relationship. We all fell in love with the dogs that we had on their. But Kate and Varco connected.

What did you discover which might you said you did not come across K-9 unit so what did you discover doing this film and researching it about that unit?

This was some of the most unsung heroes are never depicted heroes. I heard a Marine say that there in front of the front lines. Imagine that for a second that there is these lands that need to be cleared of all bombs before even your own troops can advance to do what they need to do. There is a dog in front of the handler that is doing this. That sacrifice is unfathomable and they been doing this since a revolutionary war. It is pretty powerful and I think that's what I discovered and that's what I felt was my responsibility to depict truthfully but give him a little credit where credit is due.

Please change his classification.

I understand why you're angry.

I'm not angry I am trying to give a war hero home for the last two years of his life.

I like how you dealt with her being a female Marine. It was not pushed to the forefront as being a issue film. The her things that she did were kind of downplayed and this was just a part of her daily life and she didn't seem -- it's not like this music moment.

A right. That is exactly -- honestly I think if that stuff worked very well I would do it in a heartbeat. I care about all these issues and what I've learned is sometimes with storytelling you have to have that discipline and stick with the relationship and if you see her doing things heroic it's like you are experiencing it and not being told it. I think that was something lovely about the script. It allowed for us to just kind of say she's not only a good Marine she is and elite unit and then other things feel earned and you are sensing the issue of being a female in the Marines. So I hope --

Thank you for coming in.That was Beth Accomando speaking with Gabriela Cowperthwaite and Pete Shilaimon about the film Megan Leavey that opens tomorrow.