Seventy Years Of Protecting Creatures Great and Small
Jone Bouman takes her job very seriously. When it comes to animal safety and well being on a shoot, be it a student film, a commercial, a music video, or a big budget feature, American Humane Film and Television Unit is there every minute any animal is required, no matter how large or small.
"We are the voice for that animal. We’re committed to ensuring the welfare and safety of that animal at all times," said Bouman. "By ensuring their safety, we also ensure the welfare and safety of the cast, the crew, and the entire production."
This year, American Humane Film and Television Unit begins celebrating its 70th anniversary. American Humane Film and Television Unit has been in service for as many years as the major studios, and longer than all the television networks. This organization works in tandem with SAG and AFTRA: any type of contract shoot, including student and experimental, is required to have an American Humane Animal Safety Representative for every day the animals will be on set, regardless of species.
"We are there for any SAG and AFTRA contract work, even student films. We do not charge a fee for our services anywhere in the United States," said Bouman. "Although it is the responsibility of the production staff to notify us of their needs, we also do a lot of research: reading the trades and production listings, to discover what upcoming productions will be using animals. If a production hasn’t gotten in touch with us, we will do our best to get out there to them."
American Humane’s headquarters is in Colorado , with two additional branch offices: the public policy office that deals with legislation and policies on the congressional level is located in Washington , D.C. The Film and Television Unit office is located in Los Angeles . In addition to office staff, there are eleven full time and roughly two dozen certified animal safety representatives located throughout the country and Canada . The animal safety representatives come from diverse backgrounds. Current representatives include equestrian specialists, humane officers, and a primatologist. Each animal safety representative has the ability to work on any type of set, however, they all have animal specialties and a very strong understanding of the workings of a production set, be it in a studio or on location.
American Humane’s process begins by reviewing the production’s script and analyzing the animal action it contains. Once there is an understanding of what will be required of the animals, a determination of how many, and which animal safety representatives would best suit the production’s needs, is made. For instance, Universal Picture’s “Evan Almighty” had a high volume of animals and animal types utilized during shooting. Ten animal safety representatives rotated throughout the shoot, with at least two representatives on set each day.
“When we are on a set, we do our best to be collaborative. We’re not there as police; we really want to help you get that shot,” said Bouman. “We don’t want to ruin your horse stampede. We just want to ensure the safety of the animal and everyone involved. We want to give you that seal of approval called ‘No Animals Where Harmed.’ People look for it, and when they don’t see it, they can get upset.”
The ‘No Animals Were Harmed” end-credit disclaimer is awarded to a film that has full supervision and in which the animal safety and well-being were ensured. Once a production has wrapped, a few final steps are necessary before this seal is bestowed.
"Screeners are needed once a film is locked,” said Bouman. “We also need the notes from the animal safety representative on all facets of production. We match the notes taken by the rep while on set with what they see on the screen. If there is an animal that appears that was not included in the production notes, that might indicate that they didn’t have a safety rep on set at that time, in which case we can no longer attest to the animal’s safety.”
Once a production is finished, Bouman becomes the production’s best friend. In addition to answering any questions that arise, she utilizes the public relations process to reach out to the communities associated with the respective type and breed of the animal, and inform them that the production performed within the best practices for the animals. This helps attach a positive message for a core demographic.
”During ‘ Beverly Hills Chihuahua ’ we worked with Disney to send a message about spaying and neutering pets,” said Bouman. “Disney also sent out a great message to parents, encouraging them to do research on breeds before acquiring a family pet. With ‘Marley and Me,’ Fox worked on a national shelter adoption campaign that received coverage from major media outlets nation-wide.”
Over the last ten years, there have been a few changes in national and international incentive policies that affect American Humane’s role on set. A greater number of productions have begun shooting overseas. Overseas shoots sometimes take advantage of loopholes regarding having American Humane on set to ensure safe conditions for animals. Yet, in many instances, this is where American Humane may be most needed. American Humane is currently working on expanding their international presence.
Additionally, as incentive packages increase statewide, less experienced animal trainers and wranglers are employed by productions. Animals are brought on set unable to accomplish the tasks a production has retained them for. Many of these animals are unable to handle the stress of a set, between the lights, sounds, scents and activity, or the introduction of other animals. A great educational tool that can help crew to become aware of, and understand the safety requirements American Humane ensures while on set,. are the “Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media” document available from American Humane’s Film and Television Unit..
“For instance, perfumes and a tiger, or any exotic animal, can’t be mixed,” said Bouman. “American Humane can oversee the situation, and watch over the set. We feel it is important to have animals on film as long as they are safe and treated humanely. They remind people every day that we share the planet with these other species. Animals should enrich a story. It’s important to remember that they do exist and deserve our care and compassion.”
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