Working with Animals

Working with animals in your next picture? Unsure how to proceed, but you want to do it right? Fear not, intrepid line producers! Contact the American Humane Association’s Film & Television Unit—the only animal welfare organization with on-set jurisdiction via a codified agreement with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). Since 1939, producers and filmmakers have turned to American Humane to ensure that the animals on their sets are treated humanely. Certified Animal Safety Representatives from the Film & TV Unit make animal safety during production their primary objective. If you care about the well-being of your animal actors and want your end credits to carry American Humane’s trademarked disclaimer, “No Animals Were Harmed”®, register your production early, keep us in the loop during filming, collaborate with our Safety Reps when they’re on set, comply with the Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media, and allow our Post Production staff to screen the final cut to corroborate all animal action. And remember, American Humane’s monitoring services are free of charge for all SAG domestic productions filming in the United States.

 
 

by Yvonne Milosevic, American Humane Association

 

Why Work With American Humane?

Producers and filmmakers work with us for many reasons—not just because their SAG contract obligates them to! Primarily, they care about animal and human safety. While instances of outright cruelty and abuse are rare, Safety Reps often find themselves educating cast and crew about the proper use—and limitations—of each animal species. American Humane not only acts as the animals’ safety representative, but this safety often protects the cast and crew members interacting with the animals—a vital element when working with venomous, delicate or exotic animals, or while shooting scenes with stunts and special effects. Also, producers know that budgets and time crunches can spell danger for human and animal cast members. Involving American Humane early ensures that these pressures don’t compromise the safety or care of the animals.

Also, filmmakers want our involvement because they care about the credibility of their productions. Controversy and bad press can affect a production’s success. American Humane spends hundreds of hours every year responding to rumors and accusations both on and off the set for the distribution life of a production. Unfortunately, accidents and deaths due to natural causes can happen, despite everyone’s best efforts. American Humane verifies what happened and serves as the professional, credible, and objective witness before the media, the industry and the public.

Another practical benefit of working with us: it helps promote the film. Ratings from American Humane can help increase the film's distribution and public appeal. Some distributors will not market a production without a disclaimer from American Humane, and television networks often require our sign-off letter before airing commercials with animals. For every film that earns the “No Animals Were Harmed”® End Credit Disclaimer, our Post Production staff writes a review that promotes the production and provides behind-the-scenes information regarding the animal action. Our website also includes exclusive interviews, profiles and feature stories with filmmakers and others who care about this interesting breed of actor.

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How Do I Register My Production and Work With American Humane?
Certified Animal Safety Representatives oversee animal action on the set, enforcing American Humane’s Guidelines and intervening on behalf of animal actors when necessary. The following steps outline how to earn the “No Animals Were Harmed”® End Credit Disclaimer. Following these steps does not guarantee your production will receive an End Credit Disclaimer or sign-off letter. However, not following these steps may jeopardize your production’s chances of achieving this important status.

Notify American Humane’s Film & TV Unit before filming begins
Call our Production Department at (818) 501-0123 if you’re using ANY animals. Remember, the Guidelines protect all animals—including insects—whether they are supplied by a professional trainer, historic re-enactor, props department, extra, or crew member. If leaving a message, state your name, the production title, and a phone number.

Complete your production information
Complete the Production Information Form. (PDF;184KB) 1 page Print and fax the completed form to (818) 501-8725. If you cannot access or print the online form, contact us to have a form faxed to you.

Send materials to American Humane
As soon as they’re available, send these required materials:
  • Full scripts
  • Crew lists
  • Full shooting schedules
  • One-line schedules/shot lists
  • Storyboards (for commercials, music videos, and still shoots)
  • Animal/Livestock Day-out-of-Days (if your production uses them)
Don’t forget to send revisions!

Keep American Humane in the loop during production
Keep us in the loop simply by including American Humane on the production’s daily call sheet fax batch. Maps and/or directions to location shoots are also required. American Humane must receive call sheets for all days when animals are present on set. Every effort will be made to assign an Animal Safety Rep to monitor your production. 

Read and distribute the Guidelines
Download, read, print, and distribute the Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media (PDF;356KB) to all cast and crew members who are involved in scenes with animals, including prop masters, explosive experts, and stunt coordinators. Call American Humane at (818) 501-0123 with any questions or concerns and to discuss the animal action. These Guidelines are a valuable tool; however, only an American Humane Safety Rep present on the set can properly enforce the Guidelines and ensure that production is in compliance. Remember: animal safety = safety for everyone on set.

Obtain all permits and waivers
Ensure that the animals working in your production have all necessary federal, state, and local permits as well as any other licenses that may be required by law. If you will be using animals NOT supplied by a USDA-certified animal supplier (e.g., an animal belonging to a cast or crew member), click here for instructions on how to obtain a USDA Exhibitor’s License Waiver. (PDF;680KB) 2 pages These waivers are only good for a one-time use, so if the animal will be used throughout production, an Exhibitor’s License may be required. 

See it through
Once you have locked picture of your film or television program, call American Humane to verify that your production is eligible for the End Credit Disclaimer and to arrange a screening. If you are producing a commercial/promo or other media, call American Humane to see if your production qualifies for a sign-off letter.

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What If I’m an Independent Filmmaker or Filming Internationally?

At this time, American Humane is not funded to monitor non-SAG independent productions. Such filmmakers are always encouraged to register their productions with us, and if interested, may enter into a fee-for-service contract with American Humane, explained in greater detail below. This contract does not guarantee the film will earn the “No Animals Were Harmed”® End Credit, however, as the disclaimer is awarded solely on the basis of the animal treatment during production.

American Humane applauds productions whose commitment to the humane treatment of their animal actors extends beyond our borders. However, current funding restrictions necessitate that international productions pay a fee for American Humane’s monitoring services, as well as other travel-related expenses for our Safety Reps. Fees are generally based on a per-hour fee structure. When a production has intense animal action over an extensive period of time, however, a per-production cost structure may be applied. Monitoring of productions outside the United States is selective due to staffing, financial, and resource constraints. Based on circumstances and location, foreign productions may be covered by a Certified Animal Safety Rep or by an American Humane-approved Partner Field Representative. Currently, we have Certified Safety Reps in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada.

If you plan to film abroad and would like more information about American Humane’s oversight on your set, call (818) 501-0123 and speak with the Production Manager.

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What Exactly Are the Guidelines?
American Humane’s Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media are a series of safety regulations designed to ensure the comfort and well-being of all animal actors. The Guidelines are periodically amended to address new issues and ever-evolving technological advancements. The 2005 revision followed more than a year of intensive evaluation, alteration, updates, and, in some areas, large expansion by American Humane’s advisory panel of recognized authorities, including veterinarians, national animal welfare leaders, film industry professionals, and primatologists, as well as experts on other species. To obtain the spiral-bound Guidelines book, either call or e-mail us with your mailing information.


Our Safety Reps undergo extensive classroom and field training to fairly and comprehensively apply the Guidelines where appropriate. Because American Humane’s Film & TV Unit is the only animal welfare organization with access to productions for the purpose of monitoring the safety of animal actors, no entity or individual can enforce compliance with the Guidelines without the written approval of American Humane.

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What Qualifications Do Certified Safety Reps Have?
Certified Animal Safety Representatives working for American Humane’s Film & TV Unit must have an extensive background in animal-related work. Some Safety Reps are veterinarians or have been vet technicians, some have worked at shelters or as professional animal trainers, and others are experienced as zookeepers. Many hold advanced degrees in animal behavioral sciences. Several Safety Reps are also certified as Humane Officers and Investigators in their own communities, where they respond to any situation in which an animal needs help. Safety Reps may have species-specific expertise, or may be generalists with knowledge of an array of animals. But one thing they all have in common is a strong academic and practical foundation which they utilize as safety monitors for American Humane.

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Does American Humane Recommend Animal Trainers? What Should I Look For?
We cannot make any recommendations regarding specific animal trainers or suppliers. Whenever you’re working with animals, a good approach is to choose trainers with years of experience—not “mom and pop” type suppliers with a limited industry track record. To locate a listing of professional animal handlers, you can search in the LA411. Or, browse our online movie reviews to see which animal handlers frequently provided their services for films that have earned the “No Animals Were Harmed”® End Credit.


In any case, you should find out how long they’ve been in the business, with which species they have expertise, and what are some of the highest profile projects for which they’ve supplied animals. No matter which company you choose, American Humane will work collaboratively with production and the animal trainer(s) to ensure a safe, efficient environment for everyone.

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What Are American Humane’s Greatest Challenges?
Until recently, almost all American films and television programming came out of the Hollywood studio system. With an industry concentrated in a small area, monitoring animal action on the set was far from the complex logistical process we often face today. New technologies, new formats and the globalization of filmed entertainment have generated a slew of unforeseen challenges to the Film Unit’s animal welfare oversight. Most reality shows, as well as independent and international films, do not fall under our SAG contract, making our ability to monitor the use of animals in those venues extremely limited.

Non-SAG, independent productions reportedly increased a staggering 98% from 2003 to 2004. Meanwhile, foreign and international – a.k.a. “runaway” – productions pose additional challenges for American Humane because the attitudes, customs and standards regarding the treatment of animals can differ greatly from those in the United States. To address these challenges, the Film & TV Unit has worked in close cooperation with international experts and humane organizations in Canada, Europe, Australasia and Africa. In many cases, the Film & TV Unit must rely on trainers and producers who voluntarily contact American Humane for advice and support. Though keen to step in when needs arise, our limited budget and jurisdiction inhibits our complete involvement on film projects in other countries.

Ultimately, the American Humane Association’s Film & TV Unit has set a goal to accrue more financial and staffing support to expand its coverage of foreign productions and non-SAG projects. We must rely on public donors and other sponsorships to make possible our efforts in this area. The road ahead may appear fraught with barriers, but American Humane is heartened by the sheer number of consumers that now demand greater accountability from entertainment suppliers, and of producers who have shown a growing awareness of animal issues and concern for animal care.

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Contact the American Humane Association with your next production using Animals. They will be glad to help!

 

American Humane Association
Film & Television Unit
15366 Dickens Street
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403 Phone: 818/ 501-0123
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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When contacting the American Humane Association, please be sure to tell them you read this article at LineProducing.com. Thanks!

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