The Underdog Documentary
The Underdog Documentary
The inspirational true story of Doug Butler—a dog mushing dairy farmer on the adventure of his dreams.
The inspirational true story of Doug Butler—a dog mushing dairy farmer on the adventure of his dreams. Read more
About this project
Since milking his first cow on Halloween evening of 1966, Doug hasn't left the family farm for more than a couple days. Now he's on the doorstep of the adventure he's always dreamed of...and you can help make it happen.
For forty years Doug has battled incredible odds to keep his family farm afloat. With large farms increasingly dominating the market, family dairy farmers continue to disappear—and with them much of Vermont's landscape and identity. Yet Doug fights every day and for the past forty years. He remains one of the last family dairies in the area. His secret? ...relentless positivity and determination.
When I first met Doug six years ago this perplexed me. In such a difficult and often bleak profession, where does one find the will to continue working 14-hour days? I am realizing a large part of that answer lies in his dogs. Whenever Doug is with his team the stresses of farming melt away—replaced with the love of Jackie, Toro, Freddie and the rest. Dog mushing is meditative...restorative.
Doug has mushed for close to forty years, but there is one race that has always eluded him...the Open North American in Fairbanks, Alaska. He has qualified before but never raced because, as a farmer, he is tied to the land. But this year Doug is completing another lifelong dream—passing control of the farm to his son, giving his aging body a unique window of time to head to Alaska and compete at the highest level in the world.
Our film will follow Doug on this journey from the farm on Munger Street to the race in Fairbanks—where every day he will be farther away from home and for longer than ever before. In forty years he has never spent more than a few days away from the farm, never been in a big city, never seen the ocean....
Doug has done more than his share for his community, and now he deserves to see the world outside of it.
You: "So is this, like, the Iditarod?"
Doug: "Hell no! This ain't no goddamn old folks home. I race for the speed, baby."
Doug is a sprint dog racer, a sport that requires different canine athletes than the tests of endurance seen at races like the Iditarod. It's a simple sport—place a sled, a driver, and as many dogs as you can handle on a snow-covered trail and let 'em rip. The best combined time over three races wins. And Doug has won...a lot. Over forty years he has become one of the most notorious mushers on the New England and Quebec circuits—known for his legendary stock of dogs and uncanny ability to drink Budweiser on the race course.
The dogs are as unique as Doug. They are Alaskan Husky, German Short-Hair Pointer crosses, "the perfect combination of endurance and speed." Proud mutts of different color, build and attitude, and Doug knows each one of them better than he does most humans.
"Doesn't matter how bad of a day you've had...when you come to see the dogs, they're always happy to see you."
Dairy farming has defined Vermont’s identity since the turn of the century, and it’s backbone—family farmers—is quietly disappearing. Furthermore Doug’s self-proclaimed therapy—sled dog racing—is a tradition with a similarly storied past but bleak future. By giving an in-depth view into Doug’s struggle to keep these traditions alive, this film will raise awareness of the need to protect and support small local farmers and offer a rare glimpse into the world of sled-dog racing, from a small farm in Vermont to the professional circuit in Alaska.
Doug is deeply invested in his land and local community, and we are striving to make the film reflect that. Central to our mission in creating this documentary is to build community in Addison County, Vermont. By fundraising, producing and touring the film locally, we hope to create something that is as much a celebration of the community as it is a product of it.
Over the past year we have developed several community partnerships with this goal in mind. Tommy is the filmmaker-in-residence at the Middlebury Town Hall Theater, a non-profit organization with a storied history in promoting the arts around Vermont that will be the site of the family and friends screening. This Fall, Middlebury College sponsored a pair of wonderful interns to help in the production of the film, and we look forward to a potential post-production intern this Spring. We have gained lots of local support and momentum from the agricultural community, and next week Doug has a class of elementary school students visiting the farm to learn about dog mushing and dairy farming.
The filmmaking team looks forward to partnering with more community organizations as the film is completed—helping to spread our message of the need to support local farmers like Doug.
Doug looks forward to continuing to teach folks about the traditions he knows so well and loves so dearly.
What You Support
All funds raised from this Kickstarter will directly support Doug's trip to Alaska and Tommy's ability to capture it. Below is a budget for the projected expenses on the 8,710 mile, 26-day journey:
- Gas both ways = $4,000
- Motels @ $100/night = $2,500
- Human food @ $75/day = $1950
- Dog food for 24-dog team = $1,500
- Vet care = $600
- Winter tires = $900
- Dog truck tune-up = $250
- Cold weather gear = $750
Total = $12,450
Local community members and businesses have generously supported a significant amount of the film's production to date. We need your help to push us over the finish line!
*A note about the financial structure of the film: the Middlebury Town Hall Theater is the project's 501(c)3 non-profit fiscal sponsor, however they will not be acting as such through this Kickstarter campaign. Their additional 4% administrative fee on top of Kickstarter's fee will make reaching our goal more difficult. If wish to donate and receive a tax deduction, you can do so outside of Kickstarter through this form on the Town Hall Theater's website.
Though the film and story have been forming for six years, production began in earnest last year. We will be filming through the race in March and then entering post-production. From April—December 2017 we will edit, score, sound design and color correct the film for an anticipated early 2018 release.
There will be a screening for friends, family and backers in Middlebury, VT in January of 2018 and a subsequent film festival tour, after which we will pursue widespread distribution.
Advanced Praise for the Film
"Town Hall Theater's mission is to celebrate local talent, so we jumped at the chance to support Tommy Hyde's vision and Doug Butler's skill and perseverance."
– Doug Anderson, Director of Middlebury Town Hall Theater
"Tommy Hyde is a gifted young filmmaker with broad interests and strong feelings for Vermont and the meaning of its agricultural roots and realities. I have seen his work and it has always struck me as intelligent and thoughtful. There is no doubt in my mind that he will accomplish a great deal in film, and I like his current project a lot."
– Jay Parini, Screenwriter
"Tommy's fascination with the amazing Doug Butler, farmer and sprint-racing dog musher, began in my class six years ago. I am delighted that Doug's story, one of grit and cultural significance, will be done justice in the form of a long form documentary."
– Peter Lourie, writer and photographer, Weybridge, VT
...for a daily dose of hootin' and hollerin!
Risks and challenges
At this stage, our biggest challenge is raising the funds to go to Alaska. The dogs are ready, Doug is ready, the film is ready—we're just missing the finances. If our campaign is unsuccessful, we will still be finishing the documentary and Doug will continue to fight to make it to Alaska one day. As he always says, NO stands for "next opportunity."
This is my first long form documentary, so the post-production and distribution process is new territory for me. However I am grateful to have a trusted network of documentarians, screenwriters, composers and film festival gurus who will help advise our team throughout the process.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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