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Who Ensures That "No Animals Were Harmed in the Making of This Film"?

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GARY HERSHORN/Reuters/Landov

That’s the work of the American Humane Association, who actually trademarked the phrase. The AHA first set up a committee to investigate abuse of animal actors in the early 20th century, when the horses used in many Western films were at risk for injury on the set. During filming of the 1939 movie Jesse James, a horse and its stuntman rider were sent over a 70-foot cliff into a river. The stuntman just lost his hat, but the horse broke its back and died. Spurred by public outrage, the AHA gained - through an agreement with the Screen Actors Guild and the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association (now the Motion Picture Association of America) - the authority to monitor all animal action and care on movie sets.

Through a combination of filmmaking guidelines, certified on-set safety reps and detailed production reviews, their Los Angeles-based Film & TV Unit ensures the welfare of animals used in movies, TV shows, commercials, direct-to-video projects and music videos.

Guidelines

The AHA outlines their standards of animal care in their “Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media.” The guide contains some things that seem obvious - “productions should only use animal handlers who are knowledgeable about the species of animal to be used and familiar with set protocol” - and some stuff that’s less so - “no alcohol shall be used around animals at any time,” and, “when appropriate, non-skid boots on livestock shall also be used.”

Non-actor animals, such as unscripted animals that appear in the background of scenes and pets brought on set by the cast and crew members, are also assured water, food and other things to keep them comfortable. Even feral or stray animals that wander onto set get the AHA’s protection: the guidelines state that animal control should be called for removal, rather than the animal just being chased off by a production assistant.

On-Set Reps

On-call Certified Animal Safety Representatives drawn from candidates with a background in animal-related work, like veterinary technicians, animal trainers and zookeepers, are the Film & TV Unit’s boots on the ground. They work on the set to monitor the care and treatment of animals, and work with animal trainers, set designers, propmasters and actors to ensure the guidelines are met.

For 2010’s True Grit, for example, a safety rep worked closely with the production for several scenes involving the horse ridden by the character Mattie Ross. For a scene where the horse swims across a river, numerous safety precautions were taken. Trainers prepared four horses, all specially trained and well-rehearsed at swimming, for the stunt. They cleared the river of debris and had four safety boats ready and waiting in the river to quickly pull the horses out if anything went wrong.

Another scene, where the horse is ridden to exhaustion, collapses and is then killed, was carefully shot over the course of three months. Multiple horses were again used, and all were taught to “collapse” safely on a mat. The safety rep ensured that the animals were on the ground for only as long as they were comfortable. For the rest of the ground shots, a fake horse took the live animal’s place so the human actors could continue the scene without stressing the horses.

Movie Night

Eligibility for the “No Animals Were Harmed” disclaimer is finally decided once principal photography and production are done. The AHA screens the finished product prior to its release to make sure the animal action depicted in the final cut is what the safety reps actually saw on set.

The certification “No Animals Were Harmed” doesn’t always literally mean that no animals were harmed during production, though. A production earns the certification if it meets or exceeds AHA's guidelines for the care and handling of its animals. If an animal is injured or killed while AHA guidelines were being followed, the production can still get the certification and use the disclaimer in the film and its promotion.

Don't Believe Everything You Read in the Credits

Some movies have used the “No Animals Were Harmed” disclaimer without earning it and without permission from the AHA. When this happens, the AHA sends studios and distributors connected to the productions a cease-and-desist letter that demands the unauthorized disclaimers be removed from the theatrical and DVD releases of the movies.

Unauthorized use of the disclaimer isn’t going to fool the whole audience, though. The AHA provides the disclaimer and/or a rating for each production they work with on their website. The rating system goes like this:

Monitored: Acceptable — Safety Representatives were not able to monitor every scene in which animals appeared. However, American Humane Association oversaw significant animal action filmed in compliance with our PA-FILM-guidelines. After screening the finished product and cross-checking all animal action supervised during production, we acknowledge that the filmmakers have cooperated fully with our process.
*
Monitored: Special Circumstances — Production followed American Humane Association’s PA-FILM-guidelines and cooperated with the protective measures enforced by our Certified Animal Safety Representatives™, an accident, injury or death involving an animal occurred during the course of filming. A full investigation revealed that the incident was not a result of negligence or malice on the part of the production or animal suppliers.
*
Monitored: Unacceptable — Production failed to adhere to our Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media or disregarded animal safety leading to improper animal safety and directly caused the injury or death of an animal.
*
Not Monitored: Production Compliant — Safety Representatives were unable to directly supervise the animal action due to limited resources and/or scheduling conflicts. The production complied with all registration requirements, however, submitting a shooting script and relevant animal scheduling information, and provided a pre-release screening of the film as requested by American Humane Association.
*
Not Monitored — The production did not seek monitoring oversight from American Humane Association’s Safety Representatives during filming. We cannot attest to the treatment of the animal actors or know whether our Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media were followed.

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Why Do We Dive With Sharks But Not Crocodiles?
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Why do we dive with sharks but not crocodiles?

Eli Rosenberg:

The issue is the assumption that sharks' instincts are stronger and more basic.

There are a couple of reasons swimming with sharks is safer:

1. Most sharks do not like the way people taste. They expect their prey to taste a certain way, like fish/seal, and we do not taste like that. Sharks also do not like the sensation of eating people. Bigger sharks like great whites enjoy prey with a high fat-bone ratio like seals. Smaller sharks enjoy eating fish, which they can gobble in one bite. So, while they might bite us, they pretty quickly decide “That’s not for me” and swim away. There is only one shark that doesn’t really care about humans tasting icky: that shark is our good friend the tiger shark. He is one of the most dangerous species because of his nondiscriminatory taste (he’s called the garbage can of the sea)!

2. Sharks are not animals that enjoy a fight. Our big friend the great white enjoys ambushing seals. This sneak attack is why it sometimes mistakes people for seals or sea turtles. Sharks do not need to fight for food. The vast majority of sharks species are not territorial (some are, like the blacktip and bull). The ones that are territorial tend to be the more aggressive species that are more dangerous to dive with.

3. Sharks attacked about 81 people in 2016, according to the University of Florida. Only four were fatal. Most were surfers.

4. Meanwhile, this is the saltwater crocodile. The saltwater crocodile is not a big, fishy friend, like the shark. He is an opportunistic, aggressive, giant beast.


5. Crocodiles attack hundreds to thousands of people every single year. Depending on the species, one-third to one-half are fatal. You have a better chance of survival if you played Russian roulette.

6. The Death Roll. When a crocodile wants to kill something big, the crocodile grabs it and rolls. This drowns and disorients the victim (you). Here is a PG video of the death roll. (There is also a video on YouTube in which a man stuck his arm into an alligator’s mouth and he death rolled. You don’t want to see what happened.)

7. Remember how the shark doesn’t want to eat you or fight you? This primordial beast will eat you and enjoy it. There is a crocodile dubbed Gustave, who has allegedly killed around 300 people. (I personally believe 300 is a hyped number and the true number might be around 100, but yikes, that’s a lot). Gustave has reportedly killed people for funsies. He’s killed them and gone back to his business. So maybe they won’t even eat you.


8. Sharks are mostly predictable. Crocodiles are completely unpredictable.

9. Are you in the water or by the edge of the water? You are fair game to a crocodile.

10. Crocodiles have been known to hang out together. The friend group that murders together eats together. Basks of crocodiles have even murdered hippopotamuses, the murder river horse. Do you think you don't look like an appetizer?

11. Wow, look at this. This blacktip swims among the beautiful coral, surrounded by crystal clear waters and staggering biodiversity. I want to swim there!

Oh wow, such mud. I can’t say I feel the urge to take a dip. (Thanks to all who pointed this out!)

12. This is not swimming with the crocodiles. More like a 3D aquarium.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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