Getting animals to dazzle on screen is a wild job
By SUE MANNING
LOS ANGELES (AP) - For animal trainers on film sets, the job can be wild. Getting snakes on a plane takes a bit of heat or light, but cajoling a bear to perform for the camera can require buckets of fried chicken.
Casey the bear, seen in "Back to the Future" and "Evan Almighty," had that diva-like demand written into his contract. KFC was his favorite, and it had to be fresh. Sometimes, on remote locations, it would take a 90-minute drive to get to the nearest fast food outpost, his trainer said.
The story is among those in the book "Animal Stars," a behind-the-scenes look at how trainers get species from badgers to bears to safely do what dazzles. Set for release Sept. 25, the book is co-written by the head of the American Humane Association, whose entertainment unit is the industry's only sanctioned animal welfare program. The book celebrates the unit's 75th anniversary this year.
The group will come on set for a fee to ensure animal safety. If all goes well, it allows the familiar tagline "No animals were harmed in the making of this film" to roll in movie credits.
But for another animal welfare group, the efforts are not enough. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says it opposes the use of live animals in film and television work. And if animals appear on camera, there are ways to make the work more humane, said Kathy Guillermo, a PETA senior vice president.
"A behaviorist would be very helpful, and somebody who can enforce the law should be there, too," she said about film sets. The American Humane Association recently required all of its on-set representatives to be veterinarians.
The book features quotes from actors and directors like Quentin Tarantino, who says animals need an advocate.
"They need somebody saying, 'No, it's too much.' 'They're too tired.' 'It's too scary for them.' 'Something could happen,'" the "Django Unchained" director said in the book. "You can do amazing, eye-popping things. You just need the time to train the animals and get them ready so they don't get hurt."
Trainers like Nicholas Toth also offer their insights. Toth divulged that besides Casey's KFC fix, the bear refused to leave his trailer if it rained.
It's a bit easier for Jules Sylvester, a snake wrangler and herpetologist for nearly 45 years whose 18-foot Burmese python was the star of "Snakes on a Plane." He also provided 450 other snakes.
Snakes can't exactly be trained, he says, so if you want them to move in a certain direction, you work with light, height and heat.
The book features a poignant passage about a monkey on the set of "Night at the Museum" and actor Robin Williams, who committed suicide last month.
Williams preferred to spend time between takes with Crystal the monkey, trainer Thomas Gunderson wrote. When the monkey's scenes wrapped, Williams and the rest of the cast gave her a big card and a cake.
"Laughter filled the soundstage when I let her dive headfirst into the dessert," Gunderson wrote.
Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of the American Humane Association who co-wrote "Animal Stars" with Linda and Allen Anderson, said the last decade has been largely free of animal accidents on set.
In one high-profile incident, three horses were injured and had to be euthanized during production of the HBO series "Luck," a racetrack drama starring Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, in 2011 and 2012.
The association recommended shutting down the set after the second death, The Associated Press reported at the time. Filming resumed after new protocols were put in place. Despite the guidelines, a third horse had to be euthanized and HBO agreed to end production.
"We estimate, including everything from cockroaches to horses, that we protect over 100,000-plus animal actors a year," Ganzert said.
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