Meet Filmmaker Dana Nachman | Guide Dogs for the Blind Skip to main content
Dana works with her crew during the filming of Pick of the Litter. She gives instructions to a puppy raiser who is working with a black Lab guide dog in training.

Central Bark Episode 19

Meet Filmmaker Dana Nachman

We are excited to have award-winning filmmaker and longtime GDB friend, Dana Nachman on the podcast! Dana was part of the team that made the Pick of the Litter documentary, and the Disney docu-series by the same name, that tells the story of GDB puppies on their journey to becoming guides. We take a walk down memory lane to share some behind the scenes details about POTL and talk a bit about Dana's latest project, Dear Santa, which has a fun and exciting connection to Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Theresa Stern: Today, I am super excited to introduce you to award-winning filmmaker and longtime guide Dogs for the Blind friend, Dana Nachman. Dana and I are going to chat a little bit today about Pick of the Litter, the series and the documentary, which was, of course, about Guide Dogs for the Blind, and also learn a little bit about her new project, Dear Santa. So welcome. Dana, we're so excited to have you here.

Dana Nachman: Thank you so much. How are you? I miss you.

Theresa: I know. We miss having you around. So tell everybody a little bit about your connection to Guide Dogs for the Blind, like how you got involved with doing Pick of the Litter and shows about GDB.

Dana: Sure. I just don't even remember what the first little nugget was, but I had heard about it somehow, probably from all the great marketing and press you guys do. My partner, Don Hardy, and I were so just excited to learn more about it. We worked at NBC Bay Area. It wasn't called NBC Bay Area at the time, whatever it was, the NBC station. My job was a special projects producer, so I got to really have a lot of ownership and pick of what stories I did, mostly features. So I pitched a story on it. I believe it was about the puppy raiser. Oh. No, no. I think the first one was about a graduation, and that ... I mean, you can't have a dry eye if you're at a graduation, and so we-

Theresa: No kidding.

Dana: Oh my God. I mean, so we did that, and then being there, we learned about, kind of a little bit about the process. I mean, of course, at the time, we thought we knew a lot about the process, but now we know a lot about the process. So we did another story. It was around the holidays, actually. I remember, because there was Christmas lights everywhere. Then, we had to hold it for a few months, and then it was really awkward that there was Christmas lights. But we did those about puppy raisers and what that job was.

Then, we did another one about a woman who had a guide dog. She worked at Guide Dogs. I don't even remember who it was, and she had some very interesting hobbies. We did one on them. So we just did a lot of stories. Whenever we could find an angle, we did a story. Then, we became, over the years, we kind of morphed from being journalists to being filmmakers, and there's always a lot of nuggets that we learned from being journalists. One that kind of stuck out was the whole process of raising a guide dog, and meanwhile, my mom had done a story in New York, a similar story about raising guide dogs from birth to if they make it for a newspaper in New York.

Theresa: Oh. Cool.

Dana: I thought that was a great idea, and I'm like, "That's an awesome narrative thread for a documentary." So we went over to Guide Dogs for the Blind, and we pitched you guys. You said yes, which was an amazing thing and put us on this amazing many-years-long trajectory to make both the film and the series.

Theresa: Right. Right. That's so cool, the connection with your mom, too. I think that's amazing.

Dana: She has very good ideas. My mom has very good ideas, like very-

Theresa: Yes she can. That's good.

Dana: Yeah. She does.

Theresa: So tell us about sort of making that documentary, and about the series, and what sort of the differences were for you.

Dana: Gosh. I had a very funny, funny experience this morning. So for another reason, I was looking up how many days we shot for the film, and I had estimated it was 40 days. But when I actually looked at it, it was 112 days.

Theresa: No way.

Dana: It was insane. It was, and just to give you a perspective, when we budget for documentaries and how we make them and plan, we plan for 40 days.

Theresa: Wow.

Dana: So that was crazy. We shot a lot, and then, for the series, we shot only 82 days. But we were around there, and probably to everybody, who's like ... They're like, "Wait. What did we get involved with? You guys are always around."

Theresa: Yeah.

Dana: So the process was really amazing, and it was really an interesting process to make the film. We made it over two years. I mean, wait, shooting, I think, for two years. Yeah. So then, it took longer to make the whole thing, and it was a really amazing process to watch, step by step, these dogs go from birth and the minute they were born-

Theresa: Yes, literally.

Dana: ... to these amazing helpers and these amazing animals and all the people in between it took to get them there. It was really awesome. So when Disney came calling to make a series based on the film, I mean, they were smart, because it's a great, great, great process. We did it again. But it was way different, because we were working with a big company. Both Don and I, just, basically, the reason we could do it the other way with a hundred and, what did I say, 112 days was because we were just kind of pop over, shoot for a couple hours. We were local. It was a little more casual, and then when Disney got involved-

Theresa: Brought in the big mouse, it all changed.

Dana: Much less casual, lots of people, and on a much quicker timeline. They wanted to make it ... I believe we kind of got the green light in January, February, and they needed it done by July. So that precluded us doing it the way we had done it before, from birth through the process. So it was like we were halfway through the process when we started, and it was just pretty chaotic, but really interesting, as well. So we knew so much more. We had more institutional knowledge. We knew you guys much better. It was really fun to get a do-over in a lot of way.

Theresa: That's so cool. Yeah, and it is fun to watch both, because they're similar but very different. So it's kind of, it's a cool experience for the viewers, as well, I think, but-

Dana: I think so. I hope so. Yeah. I mean, I haven't heard. You guys probably know better, like feedback on which people like better.

Theresa: You know what? Everybody just seems to them both a lot, so ...

Dana: That's so nice.

Theresa: Was there anything that you were like, "Oh. Shoot. I wish they hadn't"? I imagine you are, I'm sure, part of the editing, but was there anything that you had to edit out just for time or whatever that was like, "Oh. Darn," like-

Dana: No. I don't think so.

Theresa: Yeah.

Dana: There's nothing really left that ... Not really, because we were so lucky, actually, on both the projects that there was no real ... Actually, the film or the show that I just finished, which I'll tell you about later, we had to make them 22 minutes and 26 seconds each episode.

Theresa: Oh jeez.

Dana: The line is really tough, to deal with that. Whereas this, because it was on a streaming service, it was supposed to be around 30 minutes, but it was okay if it was less. It was okay if it was more. I think if it went 10 minutes over, which I think the finale was going longer, we had to get approval to go long, but we got it. So we didn't have to do much.

The one thing I think we wanted to try to shoot, but I forgot why we couldn't, was more of the graduation classes, doing ... which I understand. It's annoying to have film crews at things. It could create some problems. But I think that was one thing I was interested in shooting, is more of the class, but maybe we could do that another time with another.

Theresa: Yeah. Definitely. Definitely.

Dana: Yeah.

Theresa: We need a third one, for sure.

Dana: Yeah. Yes. Let's do it. Let's do it.

Theresa: So you mentioned it. You have a new really cool project called Dear Santa. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Dana: Sure. So yes. I made a film that came out in 2020 called Dear Santa, and it was about ... Actually, and I think it was thanks to Pick of the Litter, so why I got it done. So I'll tell you about that. So it was an idea I had for about eight years before this, and it was ... I had read a book that my mom, again, got me see everything that-

Theresa: Go moms.

Dana: Yeah.

Theresa: Yeah.

Dana: Go Barbara. So she got me a book a bunch of years ago. She found it at the post office, and it was about what happens to all the letters to Santa after they're mailed. Every year, hundreds of thousands of kids send letters to Santa, and they go into the postal service. They get dealt with by Santa and others. So I had this idea when I read that book. I was like, "Oh. What an amazing documentary." But when I got it, I was still in my dark phase. I was doing a lot of very dark and depressing stuff, really.

It was funny. When I went, met my husband, he was like, "You're such a light person. Why do you do such dark things?" I was like, "I don't know why. I don't know." But I saw the light, and now I don't. And so I just didn't see a path for that kind of documentary. Then, after Pick of the Litter, when we got the green light, right around the time we were getting the green light for the Pick of the Litter series, I had already done a film called Batkid Begins that was a little lighter.

Theresa: Oh yeah. Batkid. Yes.

Dana: And so with Batkid, and then Pick of the Litter, and then the series happening with Disney+, I was like, "No. I think I have the credibility now to do a family type documentary, which is kind of rare." So I cold-called the United States Postal Service just like I cold-called you guys, and-

Theresa: Did you really?

Dana: Yeah, and they just-

Theresa: "Guess what? I have an idea."

Dana: Completely. Literally, that's what I did. It took several rounds of figuring out the right people to go to, and they said yes. And so we made that film in 2020, which was about certain letters that we found and then followed them till how Santa deals with them, how the elves deal with them, and all that. Then, that, when I made that, the funders of it said, "Hey. We really want you to do what you did with that Pick of the Litter movie. We want you to do that, as well, so a film and then a series." I said, "Okay. Let's just see how the film goes first."

Theresa: Yeah.

Dana: "See if [inaudible 00:09:37] like it, [inaudible 00:09:39]."

Theresa: "[inaudible 00:09:38] get ahead of ourselves."

Dana: Yes, and so it happened. So after we did that film, we were able now to make a series that's coming out in December for ABC and Hulu about the same thing, Dear Santa. I didn't actually mention, I think we should mention that you guys are featured in Dear Santa.

Theresa: Oh. That's right.

Dana: Yeah.

Theresa: Tell us a little bit.

Dana: Yeah. So we were shooting the series during COVID, and there was no letter-writing events happening anywhere. In the film, we got to go to post offices where kids were writing letters to Santa, and we didn't have any that we could go to. So we had to manufacture some. So I called over to you guys and basically said, "Any chance you guys have some kids you'd want to have a letter-writing event with?" You guys had best letter-writing event with kids in your K9 Buddies program.

Theresa: Oh. Cool.

Dana: They were so adorable, and they asked for such fun things.

Theresa: Oh my gosh.

Dana: Some of them had braille writers, which was so cool.

Theresa: That's awesome for people to see that. Yeah.

Dana: Yeah. It was great, and that, so that was great. Then, Jane, who works in your office, she got picked by Santa to be an elf.

Theresa: Oh. No way.

Dana: And so she is also featured. I won't tell you about the letter that Santa gave her, but she was an elf this year. I don't know if this was her first elfing year or not, but you guys can check in with her on that. But she was an elf, and so-

Theresa: So I need to get her a little hat?

Dana: Yes.

Theresa: With a little bell?

Dana: Yes. Yes.

Theresa: Awesome.

Dana: And so that is in one of our episodes.

Theresa: Oh my gosh. I have a feeling there's going to be lots of Kleenex needed for that one, too.

Dana: Yeah. It's really, it's very similar to Pick of the Litter. It's like, that people say in Thailand, I think, same, same, but different. It's a lot of people coming together to help someone else, and it's really touching. I mean, I think Guide Dogs for the Blind is different in that it's so much work. It's not like a one ... To raise a puppy and to do all the ... it takes so much, which not everybody can do for various reasons. I mean, the people who do it are saints, the-

Theresa: Yes. They are.

Dana: Yes. To do Operation Santa through the United States Postal Service really takes very little time, but it's the same thing, somebody just helping another person out.

Theresa: Right, and a huge impact, though.

Dana: Huge impact.

Theresa: Yeah.

Dana: The kind of pay it forward-ness of it and the thought that a lot ... Several people have said this, that they got a present from Santa and from people who helped Santa, and they never forgot it, and that down the road, 20, 30, 40 years from that, they sent somebody else help. We have a very compelling scene in the series coming up with some Holocaust survivors who helped a current refugee, and they said, "When we went to London after the Holocaust, and there was clothes that were given to us, we just couldn't believe anybody cared," and were just ... They remembered that all these years later and now are giving Christmas gifts to refugees.

Theresa: Oh my God.

Dana: Yeah.

Theresa: Oh. You're starting me tearing up. That's just amazing, and the, just to know somebody has your back. Right?

Dana: Yes.

Theresa: Yeah.

Dana: And a stranger, and you know-

Theresa: It's not somebody you know. Yeah. Yeah.

Dana: Totally, and the thing on the film, I mean on the series, well, both is they, sometimes, now, the elves can see what happened because of the film. But otherwise, it goes out into the world, and you'll never meet the person. It just goes in the mail, and it shows up at the house of the kid.

Theresa: Super cool. You've had these great opportunities to work with lots of diversity, and tell me what it feels like to be able to really spotlight some of these just incredible stories.

Dana: Oh. I mean, it's awesome. I think you guys know, because, right, this is what you do all day-in day-out. It's like being around inspirational people, being around people who are helpers in the world, who are doing right by the world, it just is such a better way to live. Right? So I feel lucky that all I'm doing is piggybacking on what you guys do every day and surrounding myself with it. So it's awesome. I mean, and it's funny. Because when I started doing the lighthearted stuff, I realized ... Even though I thought it was, the other films I did were really important, and I really stand by them, but hard to, it's hard to make them, and then not only make them.

Making it's not that hard, but then you have to go out and talk about them for years to come or forever to come. People always come back and ask you, years later, "Hey. What was God Dogs for the Blind like?" or, "Do a podcast for four years after." You constantly want to talk about it. So it's hard and depressing to talk about bad things all the time, whereas now, you could talk about good things all the time. So I think it's been a real awesome thing for me in my life, and I'm really thankful that places Guide Dogs for the Blind trust me with their stories. It's a hard thing to have films and TV shows made about you. It's scary, I'm sure. So I really appreciate the trust. Yeah.

Theresa: Yeah. No. You did an incredible job. You really did, brought out so many, even for me, somebody who's been involved with Guide Dogs for a long time, just bringing out some of the stuff that I don't get to see, and like you said, that amazing sort of connection that you have with somebody whose doing something. They don't know who it's going to. They're putting all this work and effort into something. They're not sure how it's going to ... But it changes the world, and I think that's ... You did an amazing job doing that.

Dana: Totally. Thank you.

Theresa: Yeah.

Dana: Thank you so much.

Theresa: Yeah.

Dana: Yeah. No. I think it's awesome. I mean, I think people, if we have more of this, it's a great kind of leveler for all of what we see in the news that's so bad, and just, let's just keep spreading these good stories. Because there's so much good, and no matter who you are and who you are politically or whatever you're doing, a lot of people do great things. And so if we highlight that, we won't worry as much.

Theresa: It gives balance. Right? Lately, I've been calling the news the noise.

Dana: Totally. Oh my God. Yeah. So bad.

Theresa: So there's a little balance, which is good. So what's next on your plate?

Dana: I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to do first, but one thing I'm really excited about is I, for about a year now, have been working with the descendants of Emily Post the etiquette guru from the 1900s. So I have gotten the rights to tell her story, and we just signed with a big production company to do it together, which I have. We haven't announced yet, but we will soon. And so we're going to make the film, the definitive film about Emily Post, her story. She's a fascinating woman, not what you would expect. She wasn't all prim and proper.

Theresa: Oh really?

Dana: She divorced her cheating husband when nobody got divorced.

Theresa: Oh. Good for her.

Dana: Yeah. She was a bad you know what.

Theresa: Sassy.

Dana: Yeah.

Theresa: Yeah.

Dana: Sassy, and then her family has been carrying on her legacy for a hundred years. They just published their centennial edition of her book. So for a hundred years, they've been revising and revising, making it more modern. Now, they talk about pronouns, and what to do when there's like somebody brings a joint to your house to a party, and mansplaining, and tons of different things. And so they're walking the walk all these years later, and their quest to keep her legacy alive is kind of the through line of that film, and then just modern day etiquette and where we are in civility. And so I'm really excited about that. It's like whenever people ask me what I'm doing, we start talking on this thing about tipping, or da-da-da. It brings up a lot of fun things you could [inaudible 00:16:53] about and think about.

Theresa: Totally. Right. Can you pick up a chicken wing with your fingers, or do you have to cut it off the bone?

Dana: I think they would say yes. I [inaudible 00:17:01].

Theresa: Okay. Good. Good, because that's-

Dana: Seriously, like almost every weekend, I have something I want to know from them, and I have to stop myself from texting them all the time. Because I'm sure everybody they know does that. You know?

Theresa: Very cool. Very cool. Well, we were chatting before we actually started the show a little bit, and you revealed kind of a cool thing. Tell us a little bit about the project your son and husband might be getting into.

Dana: Oh my God. I'm so excited. So my husband and son went to their first Puppy Club meeting in Palo Alto on this Sunday, and they might become puppy raisers if we're so lucky to get approved. And so they learned about greeting behavior on Sunday. They came home and were telling me all about it, and it was like-

Theresa: Oh. That's so cool.

Dana: It was really awesome. So there's a guide dog in his math class at Mountain View High School, and so I think that that kind of opened the door for him. We're excited.

Theresa: Well, what's so cool is that at some point, somebody will ask him why he got into puppy raising, and I bet he'll somehow wheel it back to mom.

Dana: I don't know. They did say. I asked if it came up, and he said, "No. We're going incognito."

Theresa: Oh.

Dana: It was really funny. It was really funny. Yeah. I wonder how long it'll take.

Theresa: Right. I love that.

Dana: Maybe not at all.

Theresa: Oh my gosh. Well, thank you so much for everything that you're doing, really, for the world, bringing some really joyful stories to the world. Thanks for all that you've done to shed the light on Guide Dogs for the Blind, and I wish you the very, very best with your next project.

Dana: Thank you, Theresa. We missed you.

Theresa: I can't wait to see Dear Santa. Oh, and tell us how we can catch Dear Santa, because I definitely need to see that.

Dana: It's going to be on ABC. We don't have the time exactly yet, so they said we should check the local listings wherever you live. So they'll be around the country and then on Hulu after that, and so we're excited.

Theresa: Okay. So that'll probably be in December or-

Dana: Yeah.

Theresa: November/December?

Dana: Sometime after December 4th.

Theresa: After December 4th. Okay. Cool. Well, I'm definitely going to be tuning in for sure.

Dana: Oh. Awesome.

Theresa: Well, thank you so much, Dana, and very, very best of luck to you.

Dana: Thank you so much. You, as well. Thanks.

Theresa: Thank you for tuning into Central Bark, a podcast from Guide Dogs for the Blind. If you enjoyed today's broadcast, please hop on over to Apple Podcasts and leave us a five star review. Your reviews help more people find our podcasts and learn about GDB's life-changing mission. We also love it when you leave us notes. As always, if you have an idea for an episode or a question you'd like us to answer on our podcast, please send us an email at [email protected]. We love hearing from you. So head over to, where you can find recordings of previous episodes along with show notes and transcripts.

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