Have you always dreamed of seeing your pet on the big screen? Maybe a feature film, or a television commercial. Do passersby remark on your pet’s unique appearance or great personality?
Looks are a great asset, but are not all that’s needed for your pet be a successful animal actor.
Personality is also a great asset as an animal actor must be willing to work around many different people and often other animals, too. Animal actors must be outgoing, friendly and accepting of other’s movements and sounds.
When considering an animal for any production the first requirement is training knowledge. All animal actors must be well trained, conditioned and distraction proofed. From the largest elephant to the smallest mouse, they must be well prepared to work a specific pattern, respond to specific cues and to work in a high distraction situation.
When a producer is looking for a specific species or breed they will contact an animal actor agency. It is the agent’s job to provide exactly what the producer requests and to insure that the animal chosen can perform the specific behaviors desired for the production.
Let’s say the producer wants a large dog that can perform sit and down stays, speak on cue and hold a leash in his mouth. The agent will send pictures and/or videos of several different breeds and list the animal’s capabilities. Most producers will choose first by appearance, but a close second is the animal’s knowledge.
Producers and directors prefer their productions to flow smoothly. They often believe that working with animals is as difficult as working with young children. However, if they hire a professional animal actor and handler, this is rarely the case. In fact, everything is so well choreographed that scenes can be completed in very few renditions; with most mistakes done by the human talent, should they be part of the scene.
The extent of the animal’s training repertoire is the biggest aspect of keeping costs and frustrations down when working on a production. The fewer repeated takes of any one scene means less cost of film and crew time. It also means less stress for the animal and others involved.
In general, a canine actor should be able to perform the following, off leash, regardless of distraction – and this includes being touched or held: sit/stay, down/stay, come when called with stopping along the way to sit or lay down, stand/stay, speak, hold objects, carry items, fetch items, go to a specific location on cue, wear clothing such as hats and glasses. Licking on cue is a nice extra, as is lifting a leg. The more a dog knows the more marketable they are to an animal actor agent.
Cats should be able to perform sit and down stays, go to a specific location on cue, allow holding/carrying and come when called. It is rare that they are asked to perform anything other than these behaviors.
Even rodents must learn to go to a specific spot, hold steady for a period of time or chew. While rats and some of the larger small mammals, such as rabbits can be conditioned to perform patterns, there are some that must be constantly baited with food. Even though this is basic handling, the animal still must be conditioned to perform in a strange environment.
Exotic animals used in productions receive lots of training preparation. It is far too dangerous to bring in a large cat, wolf, elephant or camel that is both unfamiliar with a production set and not trained.
So, while having an attractive, personable pet makes you fantasize of seeing him or her on television or in the movies, you may want to first consider training him to perform the behaviors suggested. Then take your pet to many different locations and work with him so that he learns to respond on cue regardless of distraction.
When your pet is ready contact your closest animal actor agent and sign him up.