American Humane Association’s Film & TV Unit recently conducted another training seminar for new, on-call Certified Animal Safety Representatives™ at our offices in Los Angeles. A select group of pre-screened trainees, some coming from as far away as New York, Florida, and even Canada, participated in this rigorous process in the hopes of joining our “stable” of on-set safety monitors.
Certified Animal Safety Representatives™ working for American Humane Association’s Film & TV Unit must have an extensive background in animal-related work. Some Safety Reps are vets or have been veterinary technicians, some have worked at shelters or as animal trainers, and others are experienced as zookeepers. Many hold advanced degrees in animal behavioral sciences, and 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 foundation upon which they can build their careers as on-set safety monitors for American Humane Association.
American Humane Association first set up a committee to investigate abuses of animal actors in 1925. Westerns and biblical sagas dominated the silent film era to that point, and horses were the most at-risk animals working in the movie industry.
In the popular 1939 film Jesse James, a horse and rider were sent over a 70-foot cliff into a raging river. The stuntman lost only his hat, but the horse was not so lucky: the animal broke its back in the fall and died. Universal outrage over this incident was the catalyst for a new relationship between the American Humane Association and several motion picture directors and producers. In 1940, American Humane Association’s Hollywood Office gained the authority to monitor any movie production that used animal actors. Over time, this oversight evolved to include any filmed media form, including television, commercials, direct-to-video projects, and music videos.
Based on the strengths of a candidate’s resume, an interview with both the director and the production manager of the Film & TV Unit program determines whether that applicant is a viable trainee. Once the trainees are selected, they participate in a week-long classroom course that covers:
1. The history of American Humane Association’s Film & TV Unit
2. How each department contributes to the fulfillment of the program’s mission
3. Extensive work with the Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media, a “living document” that is revised periodically to respond to the changing dynamics of filmed media
4. Intense role-playing exercises in which the trainees are presented with hypothetical situations that may arise on a set and are challenged to explain how they would ascertain all pertinent facts and resolve the situation
5. How to write comprehensive field reports documenting their on-set observations/interventions
While classroom lectures and role-playing dominate the initial week of training, trainees may also visit special effects labs and animal training compounds for a more comprehensive understanding of key components in the movie industry.
Trainees that demonstrate an aptitude for this very special kind of work continue on as apprentice Safety Representatives. They accompany our seasoned professionals on the set to better understand the dynamics of a production and to start proving their mettle as animal safety advocates. With time, experience, and demonstrated ability, those trainees will join the ranks of American Humane Association’s Certified Animal Safety Representatives.