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

iStock / Fly_dragonfly
iStock / Fly_dragonfly

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.

What’s the Difference Between a Pirate and a Buccaneer?

geniebird/iStock via Getty Images
geniebird/iStock via Getty Images

Talk Like a Pirate Day is returning to port on September 19th and you can bet your boots that a few celebrants will be using the terms pirate and buccaneer interchangeably. Most people do. Nevertheless, these two words aren’t actually synonymous.  

Four hundred years ago, if you were a seafaring thief, the label that you received said a great deal—mainly about whoever it was doing the labeling. Anyone who called you a "pirate" probably hated your guts. But those who cited you as a “buccaneer” might have had a very different attitude. Within certain contexts, the latter group may have even embraced you as a national hero.

Time for a swashbuckling semantics lesson. In article 101 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), piracy is defined as "any illegal acts of violence or detention ... committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship." UNCLOS also states that, to be considered piracy, a crime must occur within international waters. If the event in question takes place within a particular country’s territorial waters, the aggressors will be deemed armed robbers rather than pirates.

Historical definitions tended to be a lot broader. During the 17th and 18th centuries, England regarded piracy as any criminal act committed on the high seas or below the low tide mark around shores, rivers, and estuaries. Hundreds of years earlier, in the year 100 CE, Plutarch—a noteworthy Greek scholar— talked about pirates as anybody who attacked a ship or maritime city without legal authority.

Just what did he mean by “legal authority?” Plutarch was probably alluding to warships. Nowadays, these are generally owned by national governments, but this wasn’t always the case. From medieval times through the early 20th century, it was common practice for a nation at war to recruit private vessels to assault its enemy’s ships, steal their goods, and plunder their ports. Mariners who engaged in such state-approved mischief were called “privateers.”

Usually, a privateer vessel was allowed to operate under a license that was granted by the country it served. Dubbed the Letter of Marque, this document laid out a code of conduct and payment policy for the crew. (Privateers almost always got to keep a percentage of whatever they took.)

Essentially, privateers were independent contractors, acting as hostile, government-commissioned, seafaring mercenaries. Therefore, they technically weren’t pirates because real pirates didn’t behave in accordance with any national laws or regulations. But the dividing line here was pretty blurry. Many privateers eventually became pirates and vice versa. Also, a captured privateer would sometimes be tried as a pirate by the country he or she was victimizing.

This brings us back to buccaneers: Throughout the 16th through 18th centuries, Spain more or less controlled the Caribbean. However, in the 1600s, she started to get some not-so-friendly competition. By the middle of that century, settlers from various other European countries—including England, France, and the Netherlands—had colonized parts of the Leeward Islands and Hispaniola. Among these newcomers, transplanted Frenchmen were especially common. The Gallic colonists would frequently smoke their meat over a wooden platform that they called a boucan. Thanks to this cooking technique, the frontiersmen were given the nickname “buccaneers.”

Before long, many turned to piracy. Because of Spain’s huge colonial presence in the Caribbean, buccaneers more or less exclusively targeted Spanish ports and ships. This turned plenty of heads across the Atlantic. In an attempt to cripple Spain’s empire, the English, French, and Dutch began issuing Letters of Marque to buccaneer vessels.

Eventually, the word buccaneer came to possess its current—and very specific—definition, which is: “any of the piratical adventurers who raided Spanish colonies and ships along the American coast in the second half of the 17th century.” (Told you it was specific.)

The most famous buccaneer of them all was undoubtedly Sir Henry Morgan. Little is known about his early life, although most historians believe that he was born in Wales at some point in 1635. Nearly 20 years later, he set sail for Barbados as a member of an expedition that saw England seize Jamaica from the Spanish.

Morgan quickly emerged as a leading buccaneer, and as England’s most ruthlessly effective privateer. In 1668, he seized the heavily guarded city of Porto Bello, Panama, holding it for ransom until the Spanish coughed up an amazing 250,000 pesos. Three years later, Morgan raided and sacked Panama City, which promptly burned to the ground. Such exploits did not endear him to the Spanish, but in England, Morgan was a widely beloved figure. Knighted by King Charles II, he was made Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica in 1674. Following his death on August 25, 1688, Morgan received a grandiose state funeral, complete with a 22-gun salute.

And, yes, that rum was named after him. Clearly, buccaneering had its perks. 

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Why is Friday the 13th Considered Unlucky?

iStock
iStock

Today, people around the globe will feel uneasy about getting out of bed, leaving their homes, or going about their normal daily routines, all because of a superstition. These unfortunate folks suffer from paraskavedekatriaphobia, a common neurosis familiar to us all: the fear of Friday the 13th. But just where did this superstitious association come from, and how did it catch on?

The truth is that no one is absolutely sure where the idea that Friday the 13th is unlucky originated. Donald Dossey, the founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, suspects the fear can be traced back to a Norse myth about 12 gods who had a dinner at Valhalla—the fabled hall where legendary Norse heroes feasted for eternity after they died—that was interrupted by a 13th guest, the evil and mischievous god Loki.

According to legend, Loki tricked Höðr (the blind god of winter and son of Odin, the supreme god in Norse mythology) into shooting his brother Baldr (the benevolent god of summer who was also a son of Odin) with a magical spear tipped with mistletoe—the only substance that could defeat him. Thus the number 13 was branded as unlucky because of the ominous period of mourning following the loss of such powerful gods by this unwanted 13th guest.

For whatever reason, among many cultures, the number 12 emerged throughout history as a "complete" number: There are 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 Gods of Olympus, 12 sons of Odin, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 Jyotirlingas or Hindu shrines where Shiva is worshipped, 12 successors of Muhammad in Shia Islam, and 12 tribes of Israel. In Christianity, Jesus was betrayed by one of his 12 Apostles—Judas—who was the 13th guest to arrive for the Last Supper. Surpassing the number 12 ostensibly unbalances the ideal nature of things; because it is seen as irregular and disrespectful of a sense of perfection, the number 13 bears the stigma of misfortune and bad luck we know today.

WHY FRIDAY?

Friday joins in the mix mostly because all of the early accounts of Jesus’s crucifixion agree that it took place on Friday—the standard day for crucifixions in Rome. As Chaucer noted in The Canterbury Tales, "And on a Friday fell all this mischance." Yet perpetuating Friday as an unlucky day in America came from the late 19th-century American tradition of holding all executions on Fridays; Friday the 13th became the unluckiest of days simply because it combined two distinct superstitions into one. According to the Oxford University Press Dictionary of Superstitions, the first reference to Friday the 13th itself wasn’t until 1913. (So despite actually occurring on Friday, October 13, 1307, the popular notion that the Friday the 13th stigma comes from the date on which the famed order of the Knights Templar were wiped out by King Philip of France is just a coincidence.)

The repercussions of these phobias reverberated through American culture, particularly in the 20th century. Most skyscrapers and hotels lack a 13th floor, which specifically comes from the tendency in the early 1900s for buildings in New York City to omit the unlucky number (though the Empire State Building has a 13th floor). Some street addresses also skip from 12 to 14, while airports may skip the 13th gate. Allegedly, the popular Friday the 13th films were so-named just to cash in on this menacing date recognition, not because the filmmakers actually believed the date to be unlucky.

So, is Friday the 13th actually unlucky? Despite centuries of superstitious behavior, it largely seems like psychological mumbo jumbo. One 1993 study seemed to reveal that, statistically speaking, Friday the 13th is unlucky, but the study's authors told LiveScience that though the data was accurate, "the paper was just a bit of fun and not to be taken seriously." Other studies have shown no correlation between things like increased accidents or injuries and Friday the 13th.

And Friday the 13th isn't a big deal in other cultures, which have their own unlucky days: Greeks and Spanish-speaking countries consider Tuesday the 13th to be the unluckiest day, while Italians steer clear of Friday the 17th. So today, try to rest a little easy—Friday the 13th may not be so unlucky after all.

Additional Source: 13: The Story of the World’s Most Popular Superstition.

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