TRAVERSE CITY — Walter Rowen panted, not unlike a dog, after he sprinted around on aluminum stilts with furry paws at the bottom with two other similarly outfitted men.
“I’m 44,” said Rowen, who who to catch his breath. “I don’t have the cardio these young pups got.”
Rowen, who goes by the nickname “Who,” is a martial arts students and will appear as one of the seven dogmen in "Dogman 2: Wrath of the Litter," which is ramping up for production in September.
The project just received an incentive of $123,209, about 30 percent of what director Rich Brauer plans to spend in Michigan to produce the film, according to the Michigan Film Office.
Brian “Buzz” Wilson is one of the 39 part-time hires who will be involved in the film. He’s an inventor extraordinaire with proof of his ingenuity strapped onto the legs of three dogmen, which sprinted around his backyard on Friday. A fourth dogman discovered that two washers were missing from his dog stilts and decided it best not to trot.
The movie’s prequel, Dogman, was inspired by the original, bloodcurdling song of the legendary half man/half dog, created by WTCM production director Steve Cook. The movie suggests in the last few minutes that a litter might be on its way, Brauer said.
“Well, it was a bad litter,” Brauer said. “Every one of these puppies grew up to be a monster and they’re just bad, violent and horrible, and they need to be stopped. They’re seven-foot tall, a freak of nature, and they kill people. They just like killing stuff, like cats with blue jays.”
The movie will reveal the origin of dogmen — how they came to exist, Brauer said.
“It isn’t a weird, sexual, Benzie County thing,” Brauer said, refusing to elaborate further.
The first Dogman movie had a Hitchcock, edgy feel, offering up suspense, but never an actual dogman sighting in the flesh. West Coast film marketing folks urged Brauer to include dogmen in the sequel to make the movie an easier sell, he said.
Brauer went to Wilson to see if he could create stilts to give the dogmen a dog-like stance, without torturing the wearer.
“There’s a company in Australia that make the stilts, but they cost $950 and weigh twice as much,” Wilson said.
Wilson invested $70 in materials along with “hours and hours and hours” of time. He also designed the costume — what he calls “German shepherds on steroids.”
The dog costume involves several other components, including a mask, fur, and programming for the radio control operation of dog emotion.
“The guy inside is handling gross motor control, and the radio control operators are controlling the face,” Brauer said. “All the functions of eyes, ears, nose and eyebrows — snarl, smile, spit, steam — will be run by a team of radio operators.”
Seven martial arts students and instructors around town were chosen to perform dogmen roles, he said.
“They are all able to fall, and I wanted this to be a safe thing for the actors,” said Wilson, himself a former martial arts grand master before he fell off a roof seven years ago.
The movie -- Brauer’s eighth -- will take just 15 days to shoot and will be ready to show before Christmas.
“I shoot all my movies in 15 days and don’t work weekends or insane hours,” Brauer said. “That’s unheard of in Hollywood. Other movies, they beat up the cast and crew until they’re bleeding out of their eyes. I don’t do that and the cast always comes back because I respect them as fellow human beings.”