Animals used for Entertainment...
I was contacted by a lovely fan last week named Amanda, telling me that she is just about to graduate with a degree in Digital Media Production. Awesome! And has one last paper to write. She has a great interest in animals and their welfare and chose to write it on the ethics behind animals in film, (what a topic…) and asked if I could give her my opinion for her paper.
Absolutely Amanda and congratulations on graduating!
This was a quick, off the top of my head write up for Amanda but an adviser recommended I post it.
Animals used for Entertainment.
Animals being used as a resource for entertainment value is a subject of great controversy as the animals are often exploited and abused, put in situations and environments that cause the animals great discomfort and harm, and ultimately go against the animals’ natural behavior. Many animals are taken from Mothers as infants and many are captive bred specifically for this use… The negative result is usually always the same for the animal. Incredible stress, depression, illness, insanity, and death.
Seeing certain wild animals out in nature isn’t easy for people so being able to see wild carnivores for example such as big cats, bears, canine etc., in the media or live can be thrilling but in what light are these animals being filmed? We watch films and see men on horses during war scenes and the horses crashing to the ground with the rider. A scene that film companies script into their shows as a ‘must have.’ It is quite clear that in many of these films they are not using CGI… Are those horses ok? Doesn’t take much for a horse to be put down and its life ended. There are agencies that hire out their animals for film and TV with animals trained especially for this. I personally am ok with putting animals on camera however there is a very fine line that can be crossed of what is ethical... An example of a shoot I did with a black bear comes to mind. I had three scenes I scripted to do with a Bear called Little Bear at a wildlife sanctuary. However, she was no little bear. She was an adult. So, I had to bond with this bear which I did for 3 months prior to the shoot. I went through the scenes with her so she got used to it but without any stress whatsoever put on the bear. Each scene was about 45 secs so I needed to get my lines out while the bear was with me. How did I accomplish this? Food! Craisins and Jerky on this occasion. Soon as action was called, Little Bear would walk to the first craisin station and simply enjoy her treats. Once in frame I would reel off my lines aiming for 2-3 takes. Then I would move to the next station. Here I wanted her to stand up on a tree so I could talk about why Bears stand up on their hind legs like us bi-pedal animals. An action used in TV & Film to show great threat and fear from a bear which is false. Bears stand on their hind legs to get more information. Not to chase you down, and use their hook claws, to turn you into a blood sprinkler!! Ha ha ha… Sorry. I took that line from my scene. So, how could I accomplish this I asked myself. What I did was drill holes in a tree in the enclosure at the right height and stuck jerky in them! Sure enough it worked perfectly and she walked over stood erect on the tree lapping up the jerky with her amazing tongue. Smarter than your average bear indeed. Ha! Quite the site to see this very tubby huge bear in that position.
Bears usually eat very slowly one small piece at a time. They truly savor every piece. It might be different in the wild. But an amazing spectacle to see from an animal so large. You would think the opposite.
When it came to the 3rd scene with her we had some camera issues and lost some time. Normally she would only be out for a short period of time but this extended it and I could see she was getting tired. Bears and other animals forced to live out their lives in captivity due to habituation with humans, injury, etc. rely on the interaction and support of their carers. It’s an imperative requirement. I did a final scene with her where we just walked together side by side and I talked. It was the moment I knew we had become friends and we trusted each other. It’s an amazing feeling to receive that from an animal. The scene was never used but it was something I won’t forget. Even though Little Bear could keep on eating…she was getting tired so we stopped. We got enough but didn’t get the last scene as planned. For me it was no questions asked we stopped immediately. I love animals dearly and am very sensitive to their state of mind and behavior. There are trainers with the animals on big movie sets but they are also being paid BIG money to get their animals to perform scenes the directors want. What is asked of most of these animals most of the time are basically circus tricks. Do you think they would take the animals well-being into mind? The sad thing is that the many of the animals put in these situations have already passed that point… Their natural behavior driven from them. These animals are pushed to behave a certain way with food, but also sadly fear and punishment…
Many animals actually are pushed to insanity. Those kept in zoo’s, circuses, test subjects... A psychological condition called Zoochosis. The animals become so depressed, lonely, and desperate that they pace back and forth in the enclosure, they repeatedly circle, they sway from side to side, they will cause injury to themselves on purpose, and reach greater stages of insanity.
Every day we as humans are faced with choices and in most cases…we choose the right thing to do. Decisions that come from an ethical and moral stand point. When a decision involves another person, most people are usually considerate and respectful of their needs and wishes. Why would it or should it be any different for an animal? And remember, we are animals too… What’s hard to believe is that many of the people choosing to put animals through this ‘hell’, are actually kind and respectful of their fellow humans.
Humans are made of the same stuff. Each of us unique unlike anything else in the universe. There is only one of you! Our immaterial essence, the immortal soul...something I believe all animals have. We were each given intelligence, some more than others… but each with the ability to know right from wrong. Yes, we all have trials and trauma’s we have to go through in life. And many are faced with unimaginable circumstances. We are tested at every turn…
On a deeply emotional personal note I will say, that for the past 20 years I have watched an evolutionary thing happen. Justice is gradually making its way to the surface for each of these innocent animals… Thanks to people with hearts in the right place, and beyond all odds have gone to exemplary selfless efforts to be a voice for the animals, who have none... Extraordinary victories for animals on a global scale. Circuses forced to close down, Seaworld accepts reform for captive animals, progress in banning fur sales, animal testing, trophy hunting, glue traps, elephant rides, puppy mills, stricter policies regarding the use of animals in television and film, an estimated 950 Million people world-wide are on the Vegan animal free diet, and this is just naming a few…
I often think about what it took for these victories… The sacrifices. The animals that suffered, and those that died at the hands of specific people... There are so many that it is difficult to mention one above the rest. But if I had to choose one… it would be Tilikum the Orca at Seaworld. Such gratitude for those that documented what happened to Tilikum and the other Killer Whales, as well as the other marine mammals.
We don’t speak the same language as animals but as the chosen stewards of this planet it is our responsibility to see that all life forms are treated with kindness and respect. And appreciated for who they are and what they were created for, each with an intrinsic part to play, in the Earths’ ecosystems and our lives. Let us not interfere with nature and the lives of animals. And simply let them just…be.