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It’s A Wrap! My Debut In The Marshall Movie


movie take sign

 “Rolling….quiet on the set….action!”

When Director Jay Kanzler shouted these words on the set of Marshall the Miracle Dog, it was my signal to get into character. Right on cue, I pretended to eat a garden salad and whisper gibberish to my acting companions Gina, Laura, and Julie. We were all extras in the diner scene, which was filmed at Cleveland Heath in Edwardsville, IL, a few weeks ago. This was our first experience working in a real movie.  Needless to say, I enjoyed every minute of it, even if we had to drive an hour from home to be on location at the crack of dawn so that we could hurry up and wait another eight hours until it was our turn to be on set.

Hey, that’s show biz. And it was worth it.

cleveland heath

Cleveland-Heath, a restaurant in Edwardsville,IL, was the location of the diner scene.


Being an extra in this movie, based on the book Marshall The Miracle Dog, was pure fun. I met some incredibly talented people and didn’t have to memorize any lines. For me, the hardest part was to find something “neutral” to wear, which sent me on a wild goose chase for a beige tshirt since everything in my closet is brightly colored with busy patterns. My teenage daughter told me I was “over-thinking” it, but I took my role every seriously.

set in diner

Cameras filming the diner scene–take 50!

Patty Vasquez and the girls

We’re the “extras,” having fun with Cyndi and Patti (in pink).

My job was to poke my fork into a piece of lettuce and make weird facial expressions, while reacting to the confrontation at the table in front of us. That’s where hottie actor Matthew Settle complained about his veggie burger to his gorgeous costar Shannon Elizabeth and the hilarious Patti Vasquez, who played the spunky waitress.  It takes all day to shoot one scene that maybe lasts a few minutes by the time its edited and hits the big screen at the movie theatre.  The lighting has to be just right;  the actors have to nail their lines; the props have to be in the right place; makeup, hair, wardrobe has to be continually adjusted; the crew has to walk on their tiptoes and not make any background noise;  and the director yells “Cut!” every time a construction truck drives by outside, and the scene has to be shot over again. And every minute costs money.

2 waitresses

Actresses Shannon Elizabeth and Patti Vasquez rehearse a scene.

I didn’t mind the waiting around. When else will I get the chance to appear in a real Hollywood movie, even if my role was to sit at a sticky table in the corner, chew a piece of wilted arugula, and drool over “Doc Henry” who wore tight jeans and a flannel shirt.

Matthew Settle in the diner

Enjoying lunch with hottie Matthew Settle, who plays the veterinarian.

As the co-author of the Marshall upcoming children’s book series, I was lucky to be invited to the taping of several movie scenes, which mostly took place on the other side of the river because Illinois offers a tax credit to filmmakers. Having the movie made here instead of Hollywood means a lot to Cyndi Willenbrock, whose book by the same name is coming to life in front of her eyes.

Marshall Bio-cyndi

Cyndi and Marshall celebrate their birthdays together on the set.

“From day one, our community has embraced Marshall and everyone has been so supportive. I wanted to keep the movie production right here and use as much local talent as possible,” said Cyndi, who makes a cameo appearance. “Thousands of people showed up for the open casting call, and when we needed extras in the baseball scene, our phones exploded with hundreds of texts and emails from people who wanted to be part of this truly amazing experience.”

Indeed, being a part of the Marshall movie is a highlight of my summer, even if I got lost every time I tried to find a location.  For example, the hoarder scene took place in Troy, IL at a remote, rundown farmhouse that some say is haunted. This ranch looked custom built for the movie—only it was the real deal with overgrown weeds, a rusty tin roof and broken wood planks on the barn. Even the wild turkeys provided a natural soundtrack with a loud “gobble-gobble-gobble” every time the director yelled “Action!”

wild turkeys

Wild turkeys provided sound effects.

marshall hoarder scene collage

The hoarder scene took place in this working farm in Troy, IL.

For me, this particular dog scene was a real adventure that started before I even got there. I was only a few miles away and had to roll down my window and ask a couple strangers for directions. Finally, a sweet old lady with a grey bun offered to personally escort me in her Black Ford Fusion, so I followed her down a long dirt road until we eventually spotted all the trucks, tents, and equipment set up at the end of a neighborhood.

old barn

Actor Bill Chott, the hoarder’s husband, brings Marshall to the ranch.

Even though I wasn’t in this scene (although my son’s denim shirt was), it was my favorite one to observe because I got to play with all the dogs in the cast. And they are a bunch of characters, from the small-but-mighty, two-pound Yorkie named Zakary to the 140-pound English Mastiff named Ben, who plays a four-legged bully in the movie, but in real life is a softie.

marshall-bigdog with zakary

Movie dogs Ben and Zakary.

These specially trained movie dogs come from a full service animal company called Paws for Effect in Los Angeles, and their owner Debbie Pearl drove a dozen of them across country in an 18-passenger van with the seats removed.

“We had so many dogs to choose from, so after reading the script I tried to pick a good variety of shapes, sizes and looks,” said Pearl, who carries a long pole with a treat on the end to get the dog’s attention. “Plus we wanted dogs that would go with the flow of things, be able to work together when food was around in some of the scenes on the floor and would be kissy for the attack scene.”

Debbie and dogs at hoarder shoot

Debbie and her adorable canine crew.

ellie holding jami

My new buddy Jami, a hairy terrier mix and snuggle bug.

ellie, cyndi, marie

Meeting Marie Harbers, from Love on a Leash, who originally trained Marshall to be a therapy dog.

They say the hardest movies to make involve young children and animals, but Debbie make it look effortless. By the way, most of her dogs are rescues, which makes them even more special.

“Our dogs are rescues from either the shelter,  a rescue group, or dogs that we have found wandering the streets or in the desert (people dump dogs out by where my ranch is in California). I believe that no dog should be homeless, I mean, no other animal is so devoted to man! So once we adopt the dog, we start the training process to get him ready for the big screen,” she said.

marshall-zakary and big dog

Marshall meets a new friend, Zakary.

One of the most dramatic scenes in the movie (and there are soooo great moments) is when Marshall (played by a loyal Labrador named Max), knocks open the barn door with his big paw and helps all his doggie friends escape.

max learning to limp

Max learns how to limp like an injured dog.

Now here’s a little behind-the-scenes secret: Cyndi fills in as Lauren Holly’s stunt double and gets knocked on the ground by the dogs, who appear to attack her. What the dogs are really doing is licking Cyndi all over because she has meat flavored baby food smeared all over her face and clothes. Gross, but it works!

cyndi in wig for hoarder scene

Stunt double Cyndi wears a braided wig and my son’s denim shirt for the hoarder scene.

Lauren with Lucas and Bill

Actors Lauren Holly, Lucas Carroll, and Bill Chott at the farm.

The next week, on a scorching summer afternoon, I headed to Leclaire Baseball Field, in Edwardsville, IL, to watch them film the baseball scene. It was a long, exhausting day for these ballplayers, while the blue sky, white clouds, and charming homes along the tree-lined street provided another perfect setting to film the movie.

ballplayers in dugout

In between takes, I noticed how the crew followed the lead actors with big umbrellas to protect them from the sun and provided chilled water bottles and frozen custard to cool them off. Meanwhile, the extras sat under a big tree and ate pizza and popsicles in the shade. Nobody complained. We were all so happy to be a part of this family film. Besides, now I have a new appreciation for the nameless faces of the extras who are in the background of movies.

Stay tuned for my upcoming blog that profiles some of the main cast members who are originally from St. Louis and are now on their way to becoming Hollywood movie stars!

To get an idea of what it was like to film the hoarder scene,  watch KSDK’s Leisa Zigman meet the dogs in the Marshall movie, right here!

Also, follow updates on the Marshall movie, book, and other happenings right here at www.marshallthemiracledog.com.

 Movie Poster