15 Facts About Best in Show For Its 20th Anniversary
Based on a thin outline written by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy, Best in Show was an improvised mockumentary about five entrants in the fictitious Mayflower Dog Show. Featuring the likes of Guest, Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Fred Willard, and Jane Lynch, the movie was the second in the streak of Guest-directed improvisational comedies considered to be the standard of the genre, after Waiting for Guffman (1996) and prior to A Mighty Wind (2003) and For Your Consideration (2006). Here are some facts about Best in Show, once you stop naming nuts.
1. Eugene Levy wasn't sure how to make a dog show funny.
Christopher Guest—portrayer of Nigel Tufnel in This Is Spinal Tap (1984) and Count Tyrone Rugen of The Princess Bride (1987)—and his wife, actress Jamie Lee Curtis, had two dogs, leading the writer/director to make frequent trips to the local dog park. "There were people there with purebred dogs, with mutts and so on, and as I mingled with them I started thinking that this might be an interesting idea to explore in a movie," Guest said in the film’s official production notes. In mid-1998, Guest called Levy with the idea and was told no. Levy was nervous about the third act, not knowing how to make a dog show funny.
2. The narrative outline for Best In Show was only 15 pages long.
Levy explained the outline and the major improvisation it left room for: "Our outline gives a very solid blueprint to the actors so they know how to get from point A to point B, but how they do it is largely up to them.”
3. Christopher Guest and his Best In Show cast did their homework.
Along with Levy and producer Karen Murphy, Guest spent months attending and researching dog shows. He attended the annual Westminster Dog Show, on which he based the movie's fictional Mayflower Dog Show. The principal cast all had classes with their respective dogs and Earlene Luke, an all-breed professional handler. The usual eight-week course of Luke’s was compressed into five intensive days.
4. Best in Show's filmmakers had to create their own dog show.
No actual dog show would allow Best In Show's creators to film on site, so they had to create their own dog show.
5. One of Best In Show's canine stars was fired.
On account of “misbehaving,” a new poodle was hired to portray Jennifer Coolidge's beloved pooch. Meg and Hamilton Swan (Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock) initially had a pointer dog, but this was changed to a Weimaraner. When their characters had a pointer, Posey and Hitchcock decided their characters shopped at J.Crew. When they got the Weimaraner, they shopped at Banana Republic. Posey shopped for beige and tan clothes because, as Posey explained, “Weimaraners just look so delusional and lost."
6. Jennifer Coolidge modeled her Best of Show character, Sherri Ann, on a former employer.
When Jennifer Coolidge first arrived in Los Angeles, she was employed as a babysitter in Beverly Hills for a Sherri Ann type, whom the actress described as a “very feminine, very phony” woman. She considered portraying someone like her old employer as “kind of revenge.”
7. Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock prepared for their Best In Show roles at Starbucks.
Since their characters met at a Starbucks (two different ones, technically), the actors would hang out there figuring out their characters. Guest allowed Posey and Hitchcock to work with the set designer and go through the Sharper Image and Frontgate catalogs to work on the Swans’s home.
8. Michael Hitchcock wanted his Best in Show character to have Chandler Bing's hair.
Hitchcock figured that Hamilton Swan would think he looked like Friends's Matthew Perry, so told the hairstylists to make his hair look like Perry’s hair during the then-current season of the hit NBC sitcom.
9. Parker Posey's pill-taking and pot-smoking was cut out of the film.
Because the drug use might have earned them an R or PG-13 rating, it was taken out; Hitchcock claimed he played Hamilton as uptight partially due to his character not liking Meg’s smoking. Also cut was Harlan Pepper (Guest)’s obsession with beach balls.
10. Best In Show was shot on Super 16mm film.
Mostly with handheld cameras. It was later blown up to 35mm for theaters.
11. There was 60 hours of footage shot for Best In Show.
It took Guest eight months to edit it all down to 89 minutes. A lot of the used takes were first takes.
12. Fred Willard's Buck Laughlin was based on baseball announcer Joseph Garagiola.
Guest sent Willard tapes from past Westminster Dog Shows and asked him to notice the musings of former professional baseball player and broadcaster Joe Garagiola, who had hosted the most prestigious dog show of them all from 1994-2002, despite, as Guest pointed out to Willard, taking “no effort” in learning about dogs. Garagiola himself said he had seen Best in Show in an interview with CNN. “I think he used some lines I wouldn't use, but he's a funny guy and, hey, we all have our tastes. I didn't particularly like the show. I thought the satire went over the top.”
13. Jim Piddock had to study up on dog breeds so that he'd sound knowledgeable as Best In Show's Trevor Beckwith.
So that he'd sound knowledgeable about dogs and dog breeds, Guest gave Jim Piddock—who portrayed dog expert/commentator Trevor Beckwith—a book called The American Kennel Club, which Piddock read for an hour every night while working on a BBC show he co-created called Too Much Sun. He described the book as “not interesting reading.”
14. Fred Willard only spent two days on the Best In Show set.
Willard and Piddock reviewed all of the footage of the dogs for four hours one day, then shot their hosting sequence from dawn to dusk the next so that Piddock could return to England. Murphy said she never saw Guest laugh as hard as he did when watching Willard perform as Buck Laughlin.
15. Best In Show changed Jane Lynch's life.
Jane Lynch met Guest when she did a Frosted Flakes commercial with him. Months later, she was asked to join the Best in Show cast as Christy Cummings. “It opened up a bunch of doors for me,” she told The A.V. Club. “I felt like I fell into a way of working that really suits me. That was another one of those happy accidents that I could’ve never planned for, and it changed my life, really.”
This story has been updated for 2020.