Pets in TV and Film

How and why pets feature in the world of TV and film media.

When was the last time you turned on the TV, streamed Netflix or went to the cinema and didn’t see an animal? Serious question!

Cat featured in a film strip

Have a think about what shows you’ve seen where an animal wasn’t involved in some shape or form. Because pets and animals form such an integral part of human life, they’re integral to the media we consume.

We see pets in TV shows and films, we see animals in film and music videos, indeed there are entire documentaries and series dedicated to animals and pets.  These shows may just contain a pet that is incidental to the plot or the feature, or it may be that the animal is the central character.

If you’re a director or producer of any popular show, we’re willing to bet that at some stage of your career, you’re going to have to work with animal talent.

For those who aren’t animal lovers (apparently such people do exist), fear not! We don’t expect you to do deep sea diving or climb a mountain to encounter our trained animals. Here at The Animal Talent, we’ve got your back.  Our aim is to make the process as seamless as possible for you and remind you that animals bring joy to our lives.

Any animal, large or small, warm blooded or cold blooded can bring emotions to our screens.

Puppy watching TV in the home

TV Pets

Where would the Dingles of Emmerdale be without a dog? Fans of the soap loved Alfie the wolfhound so much that there have been several press articles about him in the likes of Radio Times, Digital Spy and Hello Magazine. Alfie worked on the set of Emmerdale for an incredible nine years.

Remember the outrage, anger and sadness that came from the murder of Grey Wolf at the ‘Red Wedding’ in Game of Thrones? And when Sansa’s dire wolf, Lady, was ordered to be killed? What about all those emotions when Jon had to say goodbye to Ghost, his dire wolf? These scenes were integral to the plot and were performed brilliantly by the Northern Inuit Dog actors.

Sometimes, pets are incidental to the plot of a TV show and are utilised in the background to make families appear more real and more human. Animals really do have that effect! Take Lady Di, the bulldog and Dave, the tom cat in EastEnders, Schmeichel the Great Dane in Coronation Street and Neighbours even featured a sheep named ‘Casserole’.

Finally, we have shows such as Britain’s Got Talent and America’s Got Talent where dogs, cats and even pigs have wowed audiences. Two dogs went on to win BGT with their owners: Ashley and Pudsey, and Jules O’ Dwyer and Matisse.

We see a lot of dogs primarily on UK TV shows and we’d love to see more cats and other pets too as that would truly reflect the animal landscape of the UK. Are you the show writer that can make this happen? Talk to us about how wonderful cats, rabbits and reptiles would be to feature in your next episode.

red squirrel stand on a rocking chair watching tv

Animal TV shows

A nation of animal lovers, there are very many TV series dedicated to the subject on UK screens.

One of the much loved shows is Supervet featuring Noel Fitzpatrick.  Another is Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs.  What is special about both of these programmes is that they are so emotive.  As a viewer, we connect with the heart wrenching stories surrounding the animals and the humans that love and care for them.  We find ourselves desperate for positive outcomes in the real life storylines and we become emotionally involved just watching the shows.  These shows are not only brilliant viewing, they’re informative and educational too; the best of all worlds.  It’s easy to see why TV producers are so keen to cover real life stories following animals.

This is very much expanded into wildlife shows and documentaries.  Take Countryfile for example, which is so popular that it even has its own magazine and has been on our screens since 1988.  Presenters of such programmes and docu-films have become legendary; David Attenborough has become famous worldwide due to his love of animals and his knowledge of natural history. 

While wildlife programmes present a large variety of animals, it’s interesting to note that many of the TV programmes on UK television are still centered around dogs.  According to PDSA stats as of 2020, a quarter of the population are cat owners.  As for exotic pets, the Pet Food Manufacturers Association cited that in 2017 there were 1.4 million pet reptiles and birds, and 15-20 million indoor fish in the UK. In 2020, there are 1100000 pet rabbits and guinea pigs living in the UK. 

These figures highlight the fact that the UK is highly invested in all sorts of wonderful animals; we’re truly an all-animal loving nation.  Here at The Animal Talent, we’d love to see a wider variety of pets on our screens.  If you’re a script writer and interested in featuring alternative animals, talk to us and we can offer our specialist advice.

Dog watching TV

Film Pets

Are you a director or a producer working on a film where pets are required?  Maybe the animal is a sidekick to one of the feature characters, like Harry Potter and his owl, Hedwig. Sometimes that pet is an integral part of the plot, such as with Tom Hanks and his Dogue de Bordeaux in the 1989 classic, Turner & Hooch

Maybe the animal you’re working with is incidental to the plot and just mentioned or seen in the background of the featured action.  A good example of this type of animal actor is Toto, the Cairn Terrier that was in Wizard of Oz.

Sometimes, even animated films work with real life animals in order to capture, understand and imitate real life actions of the said animal.  For example, in 2019, our founder, Paula Stewart, worked with Disney in capturing footage of Persian and Selkirk Rex cats in order to establish animations of movements of these breeds.  This footage was then used to animate the characters in the cartoon film, Flora & Ulysses.

In all instances, you need to work with professional animal actors, just like you need to work with professional human actors.  The animal must be prepared, be capable, and most importantly be comfortable, with working on set in a pressurised environment.  We all need to be mindful that film sets work on tight budgets and tight deadlines.  Therefore, you need to work with animals that are trained to work in this capacity. 

Communication with the agent, the animal handler and everyone involved with working with the animal is absolutely essential.  It’s important that the animal that has been cast for the role has had adequate training in advance.  We should also always ensure that there is a minimal crew on set at the time of filming so that the animal has as few distractions as possible when working.  Our professional animal handlers and agents can guide you through this process so that you get the best possible results on filming day.

If you need to source a well trained and confident animal actor for a film, please contact us.

Animal Films

When the animal is the main feature of the plot, such as Beethoven, the St Bernard, or Babe, the pig, the animal must be prepared and happy to work several days in a row for multiple hours.  In these cases, it is essential to take advice from our animal handlers who will tell you when the animal needs to take a break or have a rest.  Working with our vets (hyperlink to vet page) you can be assured that the animal is being cared for correctly and ethically. 

This is hugely important in any case, but particularly in films such as the Nativity film series that feature very many animals.  Please be mindful that not all animals can work together; it would be folly to put a mouse and a cat in the same film studio at the same time!

When you work in an ethical environment, you’re allowing the animal to really express themselves and ultimately, you will capture better action and those shots that will really make your film sparkle.  It is the precious moments of animal ad lib that really create the magic!

Looking for the animal star for your next film? Look no further. Contact us here.

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