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Animal Actors Are a Different Breed of Stars

Published on: July 20, 2012

From Mr. Ed, the Talking Horse, to Anrold Ziffel (the TV-watching pig) on Green Acres, animals appearing on the silver screen have been entertaining us stupid humans ever since the early days of movies and TV. The Little Rascals and Petey, a bulldog with a ring around one eye, Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, Benji, and the talking bulldog in Men in Black all have played their parts well. Sometimes they’re even the star of the show. How do they do they act so well?  According to animal trainers specializing in the movie, film and  advertisements, it’s all about positive reinforcement and LOTS of training– sometimes up to months in advance of a shoot.

Take, for instance, the scene in Men in Black movie in which Tommy Lee Jones violently shakes a pug.  Prepping animals for a shoot means getting them used to the noise, the lights and the need to re-shoot scenes again and again. Two identical pugs were used in the movie, and both had been trained for two months to teach them that the shaking was just a game. According to the American Humane Society (AHS), which supervised the action, both pugs wore a special harness under their sweaters to protect them. The AHS monitors the treatment of animal actors both on and off the set to ensure their safety, especially if a scene could be stressful to the animal. There are several prominent animal actor agencies that provide a variety of mammals, birds and reptiles for productions.  Animal Actors of Hollywood (animalactors.net) is one.

For private pet owners who audition their pets for parts, a camera ready dog can earn $200 to $300 a day. More exotic animals, like an elephant, cost $5,000 a day. But grizzly bears are the top of the animal-payment pyramid and cost up to $20,000 a day.

PETA’s position: There is no reason to use wild animals as actors when animation, blue screen, computer-generated images, and other advanced technologies can produce realistic substitutes. PETA advocates the use of these alternatives and encourages entertainment-industry professionals to pledge not to use great apes in their work.

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