The story of Noah is one of the earliest and most poignant tales of the vital interconnectedness between man and animals: a story about how every animal on the planet survived solely because man brought them in and protected them from God and Nature…
I have no problem with CGI—in many cases it can do things live animals cannot; although I might hesitate to watch a movie in which all the animals were CGI, as I find such portrayals have less heart and are less interesting. And I would likely avoid any film released in partnership with HSUS. But neither of these is the issue I want to discuss herein:
Paramount and HSUS have suggested that by not utilizing live animals, they did those animals a service—they prevented them from being forced to work on this project. This assertion I vehemently dispute. They did these animals a grave disservice—not only did they deprive them of the joy they would have experienced during production, but they prevented them from earning considerable money that would have made their lives, and the lives of other animals, better.
I have been privileged to spend hundreds of days on sets with thousands of animals of nearly every species imaginable. I have collaborated with many of the trainers and companies in North America. And almost without exception I have observed happy, healthy animals having a great time. From the animals’ perspective, they get to spend several weeks going somewhere interesting and comfortable, and playing a great game in which they get lots of treats and praise. They shove each other in the morning trying to get into the vehicle to go to set, and they wag and smile the whole time they are there. No question, there have been some much-publicized exceptions in which accidents or horrid people have caused harm to animals, and I have no doubt there are some unscrupulous animal trainers still in the industry that should not be used, but there are few industries with as much oversight and better track records than modern animal training. If any one of you doubts that the animals love this undertaking, try an experiment—cut up a few hot dogs, grab a few toys, and take your dog into the back yard and spend ten minutes playing with him and teaching him a new trick. Then tell me whether the animal seemed miserable and exploited, or ecstatic and delighted. Almost every animal loves the game of learning and performing tricks, and those who prefer other activities are not “forced” as they simply would not be successful in film-work.
Some will point out that as an animal trainer I have a fiscal incentive and a perspective that make it unlikely for me to be objective. In truth, I made a much better income in my prior career than I do as an animal trainer–I do this because I love animals. I love spending my days with them, bringing them joy, sharing them with the world in film. I do this because I experience every day that animals can have lives with humans that are very bit as rich and full as any they could have in the wild. The idyllic wild is a myth–it never really existed and it certainly does not today. If most species are going to survive this century, they are going to do so within man’s ark, with our devotion and affection.
Animal trainers spend nearly all the money they earn on their animals. It might be nice if we lived in a world in which work was not required, and we could all just lounge around, but we do not. Each of us works to survive, the lucky among us having a great deal of fun doing so. Every wild animal “works” very hard almost every minute of their generally short lives to find food and stay alive. Movie animals generally perform a few hours per year, have a great time and never even know they are “working.” In exchange they get pampered lives that are far longer and more comfortable than almost any other life on the planet. They are kept safe and healthy. They have optimal nutrition and clean water. They are given enrichment, companionship, games, medicine. They are kept free from parasites. They are loved and cherished and their every desire fulfilled. There are very few humans or animals on the planet that have it as good as movie animals.
This life of safety, comfort, and joy is financed by the film industry. When productions elect to not use live animals, it is just like their electing not to hire any other department—it means loss of opportunity and income for those animals.
Paramount and Darren Aronofsky have every right to not use animals in their movie. But let’s be honest—choosing not to have animals in your production does not benefit animals, it harms them.