Lions and tigers and bears….or in our case, chimpanzees and trained dogs. Working with trained animals naturally complicates a video shoot, so here are a couple of things to keep in mind as you venture into the wild:
1. Hire a professional trainer and an animal with the experience to deliver the results you need for your client. Somebody may say “oh, my dog/cat/gorilla/snake is really cute and he can do it”. Don’t bite. There is nothing worse than having an expensive crew standing around while that adorable, untrained beast can’t or just won’t deliver…a big waste of money and major egg on your face with your client.
2. Never underestimate the critical nature of advance planning and pre-production — especially when you’re working with animals. The trainers and the animals need time to prepare and practice your requested behaviors — the more the better.
For Willy, a chimpanzee we used in a series of spots for Sega, he needed to learn to manipulate a Wii remote and “play” a game with our humans. We sent videos of the actions we wanted him to perform to his trainer weeks in advance, along with several test remotes for him to practice with. He also had to shake some maracas, but that seemed to come more easily to him.
Willy arrived with his trailer and 2 trainers and was definitely our VIP (Very Important Primate) on set. We introduced him to the actors and made sure he had a chance to play and explore between takes. (His trainer likened it to working with a 4 year old, which as a mom, I could relate to very directly). The shoot went off without a hitch and you can check out a few outtakes at the end of the sample on our website.
3. Listen to your trainer. There is a reason they are successful and are hired time and again. Advice your crew members in advance as to any specific requests/cautions.
As an example, recently we worked with Derby and his trainer Stephanie from Bow Wow Productions for a Del Monte pet treat web spot. Derby had a tall order. He had to pull off a series of “people tricks” — like mowing the lawn, picking up his toys and checking the mail. At Stephanie’s request, we made sure that the crew and client did not engage with our tail-wagging talent until after shooting was complete. This was hard because Derby, being a young dog, really want to play!
We also minimized the number of people on set with only essential crew personnel so that Derby could keep his eyes on the two trainers. We set up a huge monitor off set for the client so they could see everything as it unfolded while maintaining an extremely focused space for Derby to work in.
The spot turned out great and everybody got a chance to snap a photo with our star once shooting was complete.