American Humane Film and TV Unit: Working with the Animals

American Humane

American Humane’s Chris Obonsawin, rep for “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore” and Britney pup.

This is the only place in the world that A-list actors are not considered stars. Sound the music. On center stage, you’ll find the working animals. Although not divas, these pets have helpers who nourish them, protect their rights, and ensure that they are not harmed in any way in the making of the film. And at the end of each film, it says so in writing.

Every legitimate film and TV show employs animal safety reps from the American Humane Film and Television Unit (not to be confused with the American Humane Society). In L.A., there are 11 fulltime reps, and 24 are on call throughout the country.

Based in a homey office on a nook in Sherman Oaks, the employees are happy. “Where else can you hang out with your pet all day?” asks Communications Director Jone Bourman. A Sherman Oaks resident, she is as unique as the spelling of her first name. Her pooch Twigden, a terrier-Lhasa Apso mix, along with Lampchop, a four-year old poodle-terrier mix; Suzy, the newest addition (her mix is questionable); Daisy, a three-year old mini-greyhound/ dachshund mix; and others, all shelter rescues, take charge of the office.

Currently, they’re working on a New Mexico production of Cowboys and Aliens, with Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford. Says New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, “It’s a classic American West tale with a high-tech science fiction twist.” The film is directed by Jon Favreau, and we’re told that Stephen Spielberg, Ron Howard, and Brian Glazer are producing. Robert Downey Jr. was attached, but had to bow out when Sherlock Holmes 2 came up.

They’re expecting lots of animals in Pirates of the Caribbean 4 with Johnny Depp and the newly-engaged Penelope Cruz.

But the agency’s most challenging upcoming project is a film from the bestselling book Water for Elephants, with Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson.

“Dozens and dozens of exotic animals will be used: elephants, tigers, leopards, dogs, horses, lions, llamas, and pacas.” The book takes place in the 1930s with a Depression-era traveling circus.

The buzz is that residents of Fillmore noticed circus trains and wagons from the movie, painted with the words “Benzini Bros. Most Spectacular Show on Earth.”

Summer theatrical releases that the office oversaw include Angelina Jolie’s Salt and Nicolas Cage and Alfred Molina’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice. “That filmed in New York with lots of animals.”

Opening at the end of this month, is the Warner Brothers sequel to Cats & Dogs, called Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. Filmed in Vancouver, it’s with Bette Midler, Neil Patrick Harris, and Sean Hayes.

Upcoming in October is Walt Disney’s Secretariat. “It’s an amazing film. Our crew is in awe.”

Another big one is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. “Jan Caputo, our safety rep, has spent 10 years of her life on the Harry Potter films. We sent her over [to England] in the year 2000 for a little film and she didn’t come home for 10 years! I still haven’t seen her! She broke all records for a safety rep on film.”

The Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit, also shot in New Mexico, opens on Christmas Day with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. Bourman tells us that it’s a safe bet that most films having to do with horses are produced in either New Mexico or in Louisiana.

Sue Facter writes about all things A-list. Her credits include USA Today, People, Los Angeles Times, TV Guide and publications worldwide.