When shooting in a studio or film set, it is essential to observe some key procedures and safety measures when filming with animals.
- Use trained animals for your shoot. Not a neighbours pet.
- Trained animals are used in greenscreen and studio environments regularly and will have experience in being around lots of people,
- This goes for the animal handlers too. Hiring a very experienced trainer will be worth its weight in gold.
They are used to the animals and will have previous experience in film production techniques. It is useful to send the handlers and trainers, in advance, specific production information detailing camera positions, timings, location info and any complicated actions the animals are expected to do.
- You may even find that they have some suggestions and approaches to handling animals which could save you logistical challenges and time as well as ensuring the safety of the animal too.
- All cast, crew and clients on the shoot must be fully aware that they will be coming into contact with animals.
The information provided should include a description of the action’s with the animal.
- If your specific shot will allow it, use trained personnel as extras and doubles on screen for the handling of animals.
If this is not possible then greenscreen suits can be a great way for the trainer to be on a greenscreen set with the animal. Just make sure the trainer does not cover, cross, or block the view of the animal from the camera.
- Rehearse with animals thoroughly. This small financial outlay will pay dividends on the shoot day. A trainer, the director and the animal will suffice.
It gets the director familiar with the animal so they are good friends on the shoot day and this will make life a lot easier. (Actors should be given every opportunity to familiarise themselves with the animals in advance too.)
- Consider what is reasonable for the animal to do. Would you be happy to do that!?
- When animals are working, maintain a CLOSED SET. Post “CLOSED SET” notices. Small sounds can spook an animal and they will be un-settled
- Any crew that is not vital the particular animal shot must be asked to leave for the duration of the shot (yes this may cause hierarchy issues but it will get the job done faster). That means human make-up artists, additional cast and extras being out of the Studio and on-call outside if needed. This means no petting…. You may not know how the trainer conducts their business and could affect the animals behaviour.
- NOTE: When using smoke for shoots then you must use a CO2 hazer. Water and oil based smoke machines can harm the animals.
Once mastered, green screen filming with animals offers an amazing world of possibilities and they can really sell a product or service very effectively. You will find some happy mistakes and unexpected takes that really make the piece come alive. The random nature and unpredictability of the animals behaviour can have great results. Just as much as it can be a living nightmare if these simple rules are not followed.
Remember: the main aim is to ensure the safety and well-being of the animal. Not just rushing to get the job done!
Sam Parkinson, Studio Manager at Camberwell Studios.