No Animals Were Harmed
Concerns about animals on movies began in 1939 when a horse plummeted from a cliff into the water.
In Evan Almighty, no animals were harmed, though hundreds of animals were used in the movie, likely representing more species than any other motion picture ever made.
Species ranged from giraffes to zebus (a type of large African cattle). American Humane certified safety representative Gina Johnson says she has never worked with as many species as was seen in Evan Almighty, including badgers and hyenas, both potentially dangerous.
Of course, Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, Wanda Sykes, and the other actors weren’t on set exchanging lines with potentially dangerous animals. “If the scene required interaction with an animal – the actor was added (to the scene) later,” she says.
There was still plenty of human/wild interaction. In one scene, Carell worked with lots of birds. “Let’s just say he had a good sense of humor being under the birds,” Johnson says and laughs.
Johnson is one of ten full time American Humane certified safety representatives working on movie sets across the U.S.; another 25 representatives work part time in the U.S., as well as in other countries including the U.K., New Zealand, and Canada. A motion picture may not use the tag line ‘No Animals Were Harmed’ without an American Humane certified safety representative on-set, adhering to training and appropriate health and well-being guidelines for the animals.
On the talk show circuit promoting the movie, Sykes said, “The humane people there and the animal trainers said, ‘Now, don’t worry – this wild animal will be just fine. Just don’t look at the animal.’ I just kept looking away. I wasn’t going to have some animal say to me, ‘Are you looking at me?”
In TV interviews, Carrel said that he got into a “disagreement” with a baboon. “No question, after that day, I am sure the baboon called his agent and said, ‘I’m never working with that human again.”
Karen Rosa, director of the film & television unit at American Humane explains that concerns about animals on movies began in 1939 when a horse plummeted from a cliff into the water below during the making of Jesse James.
“This was real, no special effects,” she says. “The stunt man lost his hat and the horse lost its life. American Humane led a public outcry.”
From 1940, American Humane has worked in conjunction with the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) to oversee protection for animals used in movies, and eventually on TV, in music videos and all SAG productions using animals. That’s about 1,000 productions a year.
However, not all movies are SAG associated; some are made outside the purview of the union, and outside the U.S., though the public doesn’t necessarily know that. One example is Brokeback Mountain, a movie shot in Canada and without American Humane being invited on-set.
Rosa says that in a scene to depict an elk being killed, the director chose to tranquilize the animal. That solution is unacceptable to American Humane since there are inherent medical risks to tranquilizing an animal. “We would have made movie magic, rather than put any animal at risk,” she says, “perhaps by using fake blood and then cutting to the animal lying down – a behavior which can be taught.”
While the elk survived, sadly – even today – there are instances of animals that die because American Humane is not involved. This situation mostly occurs in films shot overseas.
When positive training techniques are practiced and the animals’ general well-being is considered, animals are less stressed on the set, which makes life easier for directors. It’s true for zebus in Evan Almighty to the 450 snakes used for the making of Snakes on a Plane.
While the actors and crew are not likely to fall in love with zebus or large, powerful snakes, dogs and cats are often adopted. Jone Bouman, communications manager of the Film & Television Unit at American Humane, says that Halle Berry adopted the cat she co-starred with in Catwoman, and Robert DeNiro fell in love with and adopted the cat in Meet the Parents.
No Animals Were Harmed is a phrase that also assures a concerned public. These days, with dazzling special effects it is difficult to discern what is real and what is not. Rosa says, “At least when you see ‘No Animals Were Harmed’ in the credits – you know the animals had a voice on the movie set.” Even the zebus were spoken for.
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"No Animals Were Harmed"
Steve Dale is certified by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. He's the author of "My Pet World," a syndicated newspaper column (Tribune Media Service), and he the host of syndicated Steve Dale's Pet World and the Pet Minute...