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 kind of large African cattle). American Humane certified safety representative, Gina Johnson, said she’s never worked with most of the species seen in “Evan Almighty,” including badgers and hyenas, both potentially dangerous.
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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 said.
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 said, laughing.
Johnson is one of 10 full time American Humane certified safety representatives working on movie sets across the U.S. Another 25 representatives are part time in the U.S., as well as 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 guidelines, and guidelines that are appropriate for the health and well-being of 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 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 and Television Unit at American Humane, explained that concerns about animals in movies began in 1939 as a result of a horse plummeting from a cliff into the water below during the making of “Jesse James.”
“This was real, no special effects,” she said. “The stunt man lost his hat and the horse lost its life. American Humane led a public outcry.”
Since 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 around 1,000 productions a year.
However, not all movies are SAG; some are made outside the prevue 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 said that in a scene to depict an elk being killed, the director chose to tranquilize the animal. That’s a solution 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 said. “Perhaps using fake blood and then cutting to the animal lying down ” a behavior that can be taught.”
While the elk survived, sadly ” even today ” there are instances of animals that die as a result of American Humane not being there. This mostly occurs in films shot overseas.
By encouraging positive training techniques and watching over their well being ” animals are less stressed on the set, which makes life easier for directors. That goes for zebus in Evan Almighty to the 450 snakes used for the making of “Snakes on a Plane.”
While the actors and crew aren’t likely to fall in love with zebus, or large, powerful snakes, dogs and cats are often adopted. Jone Bouman, communications manager of the Film and Television Unit at American Humane, said that Halle Berry adopted the cat she co-starred with in “Catwoman,” and Robert DeNiro fell in love with the cat in “Meet the Parents,” and adopted him.
“No Animals Were Harmed” is a phrase which also assures a concerned public. These days, with dazzling special effects, it’s difficult to discern what’s real and what isn’t. Rosa said, “At least you know 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.
© Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services