Follow Me is a weeklong series about personal brands, for better or for worse.
When New York–based couple Bryan Reisberg and Alex Garyn got a corgi puppy, Maxine, in 2016, they did what most of us would do: They created an Instagram account for her. Being film buffs, they chose the handle @madmax_fluffyroad (at the time, Mad Max: Fury Road was cleaning up in awards season) and captioned all her photos with movie quotes. Then Reisberg, who is a filmmaker and creative director, made a short video about Maxine that went viral (“Yes, she knows she has a fluffy butt”), and followers piled on. Three years later, Maxine has her own agent (yes, really), does endorsement partnerships with brands like BMW, Amazon, and Polaroid, and gets invited to fashion shows and movie premieres. Here, Reisberg talks about Maxine’s rise to stardom, what it’s like to spend weekends Photoshopping her ear, and how her fame has changed their lives.
Did you create Maxine’s profile with the intention of making her famous? It looks like you put a lot of work into it.
I work in a creative field, so when we got a puppy, it seemed only natural to try to do something funny and unique for her. Our first video that went viral was something I made with a buddy in Brooklyn on a Saturday, just for our own amusement, and people went apeshit over it. When we started getting DMs and celebrity followers, we were like, “Wait … our dog has fans?”
Do people recognize her on the street?
Yes. It’s very sweet. They’re like, “Oh my God. Is that Mad Max: Fluffy Road?” They very rarely make eye contact with me and just go right for the dog. It happens a lot on the subway, when she’s in her backpack. My office allows pets, so I take her to work with me most days.
What’s your strategy for getting content?
I’ve gotten a little psychotic about it, which is kind of unhealthy. I obsess over the quality of photos and videos. I’ll go out on a weekend and take 2,000 pictures of Maxine in the park, and then I’ll come back and go through them with my wife and find one that looks good and then I’ll notice that Maxine’s right ear is back instead of up. And then I’ll spend 45 minutes Photoshopping the ear. I also stress over having the right movie caption for the quotes. It’s totally collaborative with my wife, and we’re always trying to raise the bar. If we get a fun idea that’s difficult to do but sounds cool, I’ll go a little crazy trying to make it happen — like Photoshopping Maxine into movie posters. It’s fun, but I’m definitely not casual about it. This weekend, I think I spent nine hours trying to figure out how to replicate the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood poster with Maxine in it. The movie posters take a lot of work.
Where did you get the idea to do captions with movie quotes?
I would find it difficult to give a unique and creative “voice” to an animal that doesn’t really talk. That’s somehow too weird for me. And I’ve always been someone who quoted movies a lot. My wife and I do it all the time. We’ll be grocery shopping and my wife will randomly be like, “You know, Greg, you can milk anything with nipples” — you know, from Meet the Parents. There’s a movie quote for any situation. With the dog, it’s fun to look at a photo of her and say, “What character would she be here? Oh, she’s acting like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. Or she’s Regina George.” Also, people relate to movie quotes. They know the reference and feel in on the joke.
This may sound like a weird question, but how has it affected your identity, personally?
Oh boy. I think about that a lot. When I’m on the subway and I don’t have her head resting on my shoulder, I just think, Who am I without this dog? And also, What’s going to happen when this dog dies? What kind of turmoil will my life be in? She’s a big part of my life. But I understand that this is a temporary thing. She’s only 3 years old, so there’s a lot of time left. I try to keep it in perspective. Like, when we have kids, we’re going to be able to tell them that we did some weird stuff when we were younger.
Would you ever want it to be your full-time job?
No, I think that would drive me nuts. I don’t think I’d be able to sleep at night if I had to chase a bottom line every month. We’re doing this because we want to, not because we have to. That said, I know some pet influencers who have made this a full-time job, and it’s incredibly impressive. But I already put a lot of pressure on myself to make fun stuff, and if I attached the need for money to that, I can see it going downhill.
But you do make some money off this, right?
Yes. Maxine has an agent. I feel like such a knob whenever I say that, but after she got about 40,000 followers, it became necessary. I don’t know how to deal with contracts and usage rights, and I feel very uncomfortable speaking about what we think this is worth, so having somebody else to do that is nice.
What kinds of partnerships will you do, and what do you turn down?
We turn down a lot of stuff, mostly if it doesn’t mean something to us. We try to do stuff that we actually use. We did a job for Amazon and Furbo a little while ago, because it was for a product we have in our home. We also did some stories for these CBD treats that Maxine likes. We did a project for Dyson because we really wanted a new Dyson. We were like, “Maxine, let’s get a Dyson!”
Besides getting free stuff, how else has this boosted your lifestyle?
If you’re any sort of celebrity, then people want something from you, and that’s a nice feeling — to be valued. We get access to things and people we wouldn’t normally meet. For example, the comedian John Hodgman wrote a book recently called Medallion Status, and in it there’s a story about two famous corgis. I posted something about it on Maxine’s Instagram, and then John messaged me and invited us to an event he was doing at Symphony Space. So my wife and I brought Maxine, and we got to hang out in the greenroom backstage with John and Elizabeth Gilbert, who was moderating the talk. To be in the same space as these very talented, successful people just because you have a famous dog — that’s cool.
But does that ever have a negative side, when you feel like people want to associate with you only because you have a famous dog?
Yeah, but I don’t care. I know the exchange, and I’m not insecure about it. If we get invited to a party, I know it’s not because of me. I know it’s about the dog, but that’s fine. She makes people happy. This is just a weird, fun ride, and we’re excited by the novelty of it all.
Do you ever have stage-parent moments with her?
Oh yes. I am a full-on stage mom sometimes. When we took her to the Isle of Dogs premiere, there was a red carpet with actual celebrities and lots of photographers, and we had ten minutes to get her picture taken. At the time, we didn’t have a lot of followers, and we were pretty new to that scene. I was watching the owners of these other dog influencers, and they were real pros — they could just walk onto the carpet, unclip the leash, and stand back while the dog sat there and smiled. I was like, “Wow!” I really wanted Maxine to have a good moment, so I was on another level of stressed out. She is well behaved, but it’s just not her personality to ignore 100 flash bulbs. When it got to be our turn, she just wouldn’t sit, and she kept running up to the cameras. That’s part of who she is, and we wouldn’t want to train the crazy out of her. But in that particular situation, I was just trying to keep from having a meltdown.
Has this affected your day job at all? Does it raise your profile at work?
It’s certainly a valuable part of my skill set. I take her to work with me every day, and when clients come in, people at the office love telling them, “Oh, see that dog? She has 260,000 followers.” Social media is part of the agency’s job, so it’s a positive thing to have her around, I think.
Do you ever get criticized by people who accuse you of using your dog to be famous?
We don’t get much of that, but I understand where those people are coming from. My wife and I have this philosophy: We started the account because it makes us happy, and we continue the account because it makes other people happy. And as long as Maxine is happy too, then it’s great for everyone. Some other pet accounts will parade the dog around a lot, but that’s not us. We’re not big on costumes or unnatural situations. We let Maxine take the lead, and I photograph it.
What do your friends and family think of all this?
At the beginning, my parents and a lot of other people were like, “Oh, this is such a millennial thing to do. Get offline and go do something more important.” But now that they’ve seen what it’s become, they take it seriously. They know it’s not just a hobby.