What do you get when you combine more than 150 hours of filming, multiple visits to 11 states, more than 38,000 miles of travel via plane or car, and film footage of more than 64,000 rabbits and interviews with numerous rabbit enthusiasts? You get a documentary entitled Rabbit Fever! At least that’s what you get when you’re director, writer and producer Amy Do. But that’s only part of the story behind how the film Rabbit Fever got made.
Do caught the “rabbit bug” as a child when she owned Dutch rabbits. Years later when she was in film school at USC, she chose rabbit showing as the subject of a film short for a class. That decision took her on an eight-year journey that will be fully realized when the full-length documentary Rabbit Fever enters the film fest circuit. It already had a preview screening as a work-in-progress at the San Francisco Documentary Film Festival in October 2009 and was also previewed at the American Rabbit Breeders’ Association annual show and convention in November 2009.
Do gave a talk about creating Rabbit Fever at RabbitCon, the rabbit convention that was held concurrent to the ARBA show. She explained her introduction to rabbit shows, and her fascination and admiration for the people who participated. The 20-minute short she created for her class earned praise, but Do knew she needed a lot more footage if she wanted to make it a feature.
She filmed show sequences at five different rabbit shows — a local show in California in 2000, the national ARBA show in San Diego in 2001, and the national ARBA shows in Kansas, Rhode Island and Indiana in 2003, 2004 and 2005, respectively. It was at the Rhode Island show in 2004 that Do found her main story for the documentary — the Royalty Competition in which youth rabbit enthusiasts compete to be rabbit king or queen. The competition is intense.
“I actually interviewed and shot quite a bit of people during my coverage, and I ended up just focusing on the kids and adults that I found the most interesting and/or were consistent with their passion for the hobby,” Do said. “Sometimes I got lucky and randomly found someone interesting who didn’t mind being on camera — i.e. Jenna — and other times I would look through old footage and see the ‘up-and-comers’ who I knew would do well in competition the next year — i.e. Jessica.”
Once Do chose who to focus on, she visited them to capture scenes of their home life and interaction with their rabbits. These scenes balance out the story, and shooting them also gave Do one of her most memorable filming experiences.
“Visiting Joe Kim in Vernonia, Oregon, was quite the experience,” Do said. “It was my first time visiting a small town where everybody knew your name and your business. I stopped into a coffee shop and people already knew who I was: ‘Oh, you’re the girl who is doing the movie on Joseph Kim.’ Then, I went next door to an art gallery and the owner would say, ‘I just got a phone call about you.’ I thought it was hilarious.”
But Do wasn’t satisfied with just footage at the show and at home, so she added a bit of animation.
“Documentaries can be so dry and serious sometimes, and I wanted Rabbit Fever to be more fun and whimsical — it’s about rabbits!” Do said. “I wanted little chapter headings to distinguish each character for the audience, to let them know that this competitor would be someone to follow during the competition in the second and third act of the film. They sometimes say that pet owners usually look like their animals, so I thought I’d have fun with that idea and make the ‘rabbit people’ look like the species that they raised. I worked with my animator, Jonathan Ng, to develop a humanoid version of the rabbits, and I couldn’t be happier with how they came out.”
Filming, editing, working with artists to create the movie poster and the animation and even finding a musician to write an original song are just some of the tasks Do took on.
“I also did most of the motion graphics in the film and I’m pretty much handling all of the business side of things,” Do said. “That’s the nature of indie filmmaking — wearing a lot of hats.”
With so much footage, Do had to make tough decisions about what things to leave in or take out. Her visit to the Bunny Museum in Pasadena, California, and her original short are two parts that didn’t make the final cut. Do hopes these might be seen as DVD extras in the future.
In the long process of creating the film, Do maintained focus on the story. She said that all audiences really want is a good story. With Rabbit Fever, they get it.
Rabbit Fever became available on DVD in September 2012 at the Rabbit Fever website.
Excerpt from the annual magazine Rabbits USA, 2010 issue, with permission from its publisher, Fancy Publications, a division of BowTie Inc. To purchase the current Rabbits USA annual, click here>>