The movie, “We Bought A Zoo,” was not the first to merge live wild animals into the movie’s production. In just about every movie released each year, there is a live animal working as a pet, as a part of the scenery or as one of the main characters. Despite the entertainment value, movie productions can pose a number of hazards for animals. To protect the live animals, the US Department of Agriculture and the American Humane Society have created guidelines that all movie productions must adhere to. These guidelines are in place to protect the health, safety and best interests of the live animals. Most of the guidelines are common sense applications. However, there are eight little-known facts about live animal protections on the set that the average movie-goer will not see on-screen.
There are No Real Animals in the Dangerous Scenes
Both the USDA and the Humane Society prohibit producers from using live animals in dangerous scenes. In fact, the Humane Society urges movie-makers to use CGI (computer-generated images), Animatronix and other substitutes for the animals. Some studios use taxidermy-preserved animals for dangerous stunts. These are acceptable substitutes, but the USDA requires documentation that the animal was preserved in a professional manner. The production can never place live animals in a dangerous situation.
Each Animal has an Advocate on Set
The Humane Society has certified representatives on every set to protect the live animals. The studio must supply the animal representative with some means of watching and listening to the production at all times. The representative inspects the script in pre-production and provides alternative shot ideas for those deemed unfit for the animals. The representative also ensures that the animals are fed, watered, rested and treated immediately for any illness or injury while on the set.
Extras Are Individually Responsible for Their Own Animals
Extras are sometimes allowed to bring animals with them on the set and in the scenes. The studio is not responsible for these animals, the extra is. The responsibility for feeding, watering, resting and transporting the animals falls on the extras who brings them. The Humane Society urges extras to leave their pets at home, as any untrained, uncooperative pet is immediately removed from the production by Animal Control professionals.
Animals are Legally Entitled to Certain Amenities
In addition to food, water and a resting place, live animals on the set are entitled to security, individual resting spaces and trained, certified handlers. Providing safety for the animals means ensuring that they are secure from other species and people. The studio security usually has this task. In addition, the people who cue the animals, train them for the production and those who handle the animals must be licensed and certified by the USDA, state and local agencies, including the Humane Society. Having competent handlers ensures that the animals are treated well when working.
Training is Mandatory
The guidelines set for movie productions prohibit untrained dogs on the set. The dog must recognize and act on basic commands. The dog must also behave around other animals, including those outside of his species. However, the production must allow adequate time in pre-production for the animals of differing species to acclimate themselves to one another.
Only Good Animals are Allowed
Aggressive, disobedient, and unleashed animals are prohibited from movie productions. Unruly animals become a problem for the local Animal Control workers who will take custody of the animal. Owners risk a fine, civil liability and more when the animals are allowed to act out on the set.
Wild Life is Off-Limits
When shooting in the wild, movie workers, extras and other staff are not allowed to alter, manipulate or touch the wild animals. Only Animal Control removes any wild animal that happens to walk onto the set. The movie production also can’t stop the natural behaviors of the wildlife, like spawning or hibernation. Doing so can result in civil liability and criminal consequences for the movie studio and the people working on the location set.
Shouting “Unauthorized Shot” Stops Production Cold
At any time, the Humane Society representative can shout, “Unauthorized Shot!” Those words stop the production without further notice. An unauthorized shot is any action or part of the production that violates the live animal guidelines or endangers the animals in any way. Movie makers have no option but to correct the problem once the Humane Society representative stops the action. Failing to do so can result in losing the movie.
Animal protection has become a significant part of movie productions. The best interest of the working animal continues to be of great concern as the number of live animals in the movies increases. These little-known facts are just a few of the many laws, rules and policies that everyone on the set must adhere to, in order have to a successful movie production with live animals.