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Stunt Work
Stunt Work with Animals
| Monday, 04.09.2018, 10:00 AM |   (35328 views)




Stunt Work


Grady Bishop


Scenes involving animals are potentially very hazardous. Animals can be unpredictable. Some animals, for example large cats, can attack people if startled. Other animals, for example horses, can be dangerous just because of their size.  Dangerous, untrained animals should not be used on Motion picture sets. 

 In addition to risks to the actors and crew, the health and safety of the animal should be a prime consideration.

 General Recommendations

 1. All personnel (camera crew, actors, etc.) should be informed in advance of the intention to use animals in a scene.  This notice should include the species of animal involved since many individuals can have severe, even life-threatening, allergic reactions to particular animals.  The set should be closed so that only essential personnel are present during scenes involving animals since animals are often intimidated by large numbers of strangers and noise.  The closing of the set should also be listed on the call sheet and a "Closed Set" notice posted on all stages where animals are present. 


2. The producer should notify the American Humane Association, American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (or other bona fide national organization incorporated for the protection of animals) of the intention to use animals in a scene, make the script available, and allow representatives of the organization to be present during filming.


3. Only trainers and/or handlers, and the designated actors, should be allowed to work with the animals.   There should be enough handlers to keep the animals under safe control (e.g. two handlers per large, undomesticated animal (for example, a mountain lion).


4. The trainer providing the animals shall ensure that all required inoculations, medical certificates, licenses, and medical safeguards are obtained.  Note that for wild animals, there often are no inoculations available.


5. An easily accessible area shall be available for the loading and unloading of animals.


6. On the set, animals should be provided with adequate space, rest, air, light, water, exercise opportunity, etc.  Bright lights and heat should be avoided, and signs of distress and overheating - such as panting, drooling, and rapid breathing - should dictate rest and a cool down period.


The animals should not be kept in cramped traveling cages.  All regulations of the Federal Animal Welfare Act and any applicable state regulations should be followed.  Animals should not be beaten or intimidated to obtain desired responses.


7. Animals, even untrained animals, should never be included in scenes that can injure them.  Deliberate killing of animals, use of animals as bait for cats or other carnivores, running over animals, etc. should not be permitted.  The opinion of the representative of the animal protection organization as to the safety of a scene (from the point of view of the animal) should be accepted.


8. Basic animal safety equipment should be available.  This can include fire extinguishers, fire hose, nets, and tranquilizing equipment. For emergencies with dangerous animals, (e.g. an animal attacking a person),
special tranquilizing guns should be used, not firearms.  It is essential to obtain the right tranquilizer and dose for the particular animal, in order to obtain a rapid knockout.  Veterinarians often are the only people who can legally obtain these tranquilizers.  All equipment should be checked to ensure it is in operating condition.  If the scene is complicated or potentially dangerous, a qualified veterinarian should be present.


9. Sedation or tranquilization of animals should only be done for the benefit of the animal, and upon advice of the trainer and a qualified veterinarian (except in an emergency).  Animals shall not be sedated or
tranquilized to calm them for a scene since this can make them unpredictable. Reptiles should never be sedated.


10. Scenery and props should be secured so they can't tip over or startle the animals.


11. A stunt coordinator having experience with animals shall be responsible for coordinating the stunt involving the animal.  The stunt coordinator and animal trainer shall be given the opportunity to discuss safety precautions with the performers and crew (including the parents and/or guardian of any children)  before the animals are on the set. 


These precautions include:


* maintaining a safe distance from wild and exotic animals

* no personal pets on the set while other animals are present

* no feeding of animals

* no running or loud noises

* setting of escape routes

* no alcohol or perfume near animals if the trainer thinks it would upset the animals

* no menstruating women on the set if the trainer decides it might upset the animals (especially large cats or bears)


12. Animals, their handlers, the stunt coordinator, and involved performers should be given sufficient time to familiarize themselves with the set and each other.


13. Live ammunition shall not be allowed on the set, only blank ammunition. The level of blank loads and explosives shall be determined by the stunt coordinator, trainer and firearms expert.  The animal handlers shall be given advance notice of gunshots or other noises, light flashes, or any other activity which could upset an animal.  Every effort should be made to exclude animals from the set during gunshots, explosions, etc.




Scenes involving horses are a standard part of many types of films, especially the perennial American Western.  Riding horses, however, is a major cause of accidents in motion picture production.  These accidents can result from accidentally falling off the horse, a falling stunt that goes wrong, or injuries to people around the horses.  The following recommendations are in addition to the general ones for animals discussed above.


1. There should be one horse handler or wrangler for every three action horses.


2. It is crucial that the horse chosen for the scene is trained for the type of activity that will occur.  Ordinary riding stable horses may be suitable for scenes involving simple riding on level ground. 


3. For galloping, crowd scenes, or other unusual activities, you need specially trained horses.  For crowd scenes (e.g. mounted police in a riot scene), horses trained to be around moving people should be used.  Actual trained police horses are commonly used.  Use of untrained horses has resulted in injuries to crowd extras in such scenes, just from being hit by a moving horse. 


4. If activities such as having the horse deliberately fall are involved, only trained stunt horses should be used.  Horses must neither be deliberately tripped, nor should pitfalls be used to accomplish falls.


5. Even normal riding can be hazardous under certain conditions.  Riding horses quickly over broken terrain, for example, is very risky since they can stumble in holes or even break a leg, and result in a thrown, injured, or killed rider.  The riding route should be carefully scouted, and safe routes chosen.


6. Horses shall be properly shod for the terrain being used for the scene (e.g. street, dirt, etc.).


7. Hitching rails shall be securely fastened so the horses cannot pull them loose (e.g. sleeve installation).  On a stage, the hitch rail should be bolted or rigidly fastened.


8. If the scene involves an ordinary horse ride with no unusual features - e.g. no galloping in unusual terrain, no falls, no trick riding, no unusual sounds or lighting effects - then stunt doubles are not needed.  The riding actor, however, should be an experienced horse rider, and be familiar with the type of saddle being used.  If the scene calls for galloping, the actor must have galloping experience. 


9. For horse stunts involving unusual features, experienced stunt riders are needed.  Stunts involving falling off horses or dragging behind a horse are potentially very hazardous since you do not just worry about the fall but about being injured by the horse. Quick release stirrups, special harnesses and fake camera shots are some of the ways this can be accomplished.  Even when such precautions are taken, things can go wrong.


In 1977, Jim Shepard was killed during the filming of "Comes a Horseman", when he got tangled in the ropes in a scene where he is shot off a horse and dragged.


10. All personnel in the vicinity of horses have to be careful.   Remember a horse can weigh as much as a ton or more.  They can be very unpredictable, jumping at sharp noises, the sudden appearance of a rabbit, or a person quickly moving.  Horses can also bite and kick people when upset. 


The temperament of the horse should be an obvious factor in selection, but even good-natured horses can react negatively if startled. Another concern around horses is to be careful not to get stepped on, as even experienced horse handlers have found.


Venomous Reptiles


Venomous reptiles such as rattlesnakes and other more exotic varieties need special precautions to prevent or treat bites. A good special effects house can make pneumatic snakes and reptiles as an alternative to live ones.  The following are precautions required if live venomous snakes or reptiles are used.


1. The snake should be milked the same day to remove most of the venom.


2. The proper antidote (anti-venom) for the particular reptile on the set shall be available.  The location of the anti-venom shall be printed on the call sheet.


3. If a live, poisonous reptile is to be used near people, where there is a chance of being bitten, medical personnel qualified to administer injections and trained in the use of anti-venoms shall be present.


4. Only essential personnel shall be allowed within 50 feet of the reptile.


5. Proper protective equipment shall be provided for all personnel working close to the reptile.  This can include barriers, gloves, adequate leg guards, etc.


6. Carbon dioxide (CO2) bottles must be on hand.

7. The snake handler shall have a snake pincer.

Grady Bishop is a 2nd Unit Director / Stunt Coordinator and member of DGA / SAG / AFTRA / Teamsters 399 Hollywood. He is the President and Owner of Extreme Stunt & Driving Team, Inc.

He can be reached at

Grady Bishop

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