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Working with animals on set: some shoots require actors of the non-human variety and it’s important to know how to prepare differently for these types of productions.

Telus Mobility uses animals in most of their advertising
Telus Mobility uses animals in most of their advertising

Animals seem to be the request of the week here at Keywest and we’ve found ourselves searching for ways to get a hold of a variety of creatures. We quickly realized that preparing for these productions is completely different from the regular day to day shoots we’re involved in. For example, it’s not always that easy to find the animal you’re looking for, and some animals are significantly harder to come by than others… I’m sure you can imagine that animals such as dogs and cats would be easier to obtain than something more exotic, like a lion.

When working with animals on set, you need to be willing to give up the element of control that you’re so accustomed to having. Although many are incredibly well-trained, animals simply do not cooperate as well as humans do. First of all, make sure you find a reputable animal wrangler – you’ll want someone around who not only knows what they’re doing and has done it for years, but it also extremely comfortable/familiar with the animal involved. This will not only help things go smoother, but put your mind at ease… especially if the animal is dangerous.

We all know that time is money… therefore, the longer you spend on set the more it costs you. Animals take up a great deal of time so be prepared to spend the extra money if you need to have them around. Every scene you shoot will take much longer with animals so it is important to factor the cost of extra time into your budget. Keep in mind that animals have no notion of linear time and they aren’t particularly concerned with how much money their bad behavior is costing you – they also need lots of breaks and time between complicated tasks.

Flexibility is your best friend when it comes to having animals on set. In some situations, the animal may not be able to perform the task as exactly written in your script or predicted in your vision… this is where you’ll have to be flexible and compromise. In some situations, you may even find yourself re-writing new scenes in order to incorporate the animal’s strengths and create a better looking production.

Check out some professional advice on #WorkingWithAnimals from Dale Launer, scriptwriter for Blind Date, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, My Cousin Vinny, and many more:

“I had written a scene for my film that involves a chimp,” says Launer. “He’s supposed to imbibe this potion and then come through a wall. I had trainers there, who told me the monkey could do this all in one shot. I had a very flimsy wall and we set everything up. But as we tried to do a take, it was clear the chimp just couldn’t be coaxed to do what was written. So, after some thinking and discussing, I realized, if I broke up the shot into pieces, a hand here, a leg there, I could make it appear as though the chimp came crashing through this wall. Still, it was a fairly complicated scene. I had two trainers working on either side of the monkey and it took a while…I did find out that the chimp could smile broadly, on command, at any time. So I wrote a scene that could use his smiling gift to maximum effect.” Source

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