THEY tell you never to work with children or animals. The director of
Cane Toads, Mark Lewis, and his documentary crew discovered why the hard way
while making The Wonderful World of Dogs (to be shown at the Dendy from November
The animal was a British bulldog. Lewis explains: "We walked into the room
and the first thing it did was run into me, head-butting me squarely in the
It did the same to another crew member, and butted a third, who was
cowering from attack, in the head.
They ended up filming from behind sandbags piled in the corner of the room
But animals sell products. They add reality to country practices and make
Melbourne cul-de-sacs a touch more neighbourly.
So if you need a cat to type on a computer, an echidna to chase the
thousand ants crawling over a semi-naked actress or a 12-week-old golden
labrador puppy to frolic through a television series, where do you go?
The wrangling business works primarily by word of mouth, although horse
and other animal handlers do advertise in the film and television handbook The
But those in search of more exotic beasts have to approach organisations
like the Featherdale Wildlife Park, which supplies Fatso the wombat to A Country
Neighbours needed a golden labrador puppy. They went to Luke Hura.
Hura is one of about five full-time domestic animal trainers in Australia,
and he and his wife have run Luke's Canine Actors agency in Melbourne for the
past 10 years.
He owns five working dogs and six cats, the best known being Neighbours
He won't discuss how much Bouncer or any of his other animals are paid,
claiming that "it's an embarrassment to a lot of people because the dogs get
paid more". But he says the dog is worth between $100,000 and $200,000, at
Hura's income is equally divided between film and advertising work. The
past two years have been the busiest, he says.
"Years ago they were happy for a dog to sit in the background and just be
there. Now it can get difficult because it's often the actor getting pushed into
the background," he says.
He spends half of his training time on obedience and teaching commands,
the other half making the animals look good on camera.
He says "cowboy" wranglers don't get very far, but is still concerned that
animals in the industry seem unprotected, citing one case where an animal was
drugged for screen work.
"No one knows whether the animal survived because it was not done by a
vet," he says.
There are, in fact, regulations in NSW and Victoria designed to protect
animals in film and television from head-in-the-sand cheque-in-the-bank
merchants. Codes of practice were drawn up after a court case following the
filming of The Man From Snowy River II.
"The charges involved overuse of a mare that turned out to be pregnant,
and the killing of that mare with an axe," says Richard Hunter of the Victorian
RSPCA. There was no vet or operational firearm on the set.
The makers were cleared of charges of cruelty and aggravated cruelty to
the pregnant mare. According to Hunter, the subsequent legislation has had
But the RSPCA in NSW still gets several complaints a week about screen
animals, according to David Butcher, executive director of the NSW RSPCA. He
says many are unfounded, but some, like a number of video entries to Graham
Kennedy's Funniest Home Video Show, are of "considerable concern".
Butcher believes the codes of practice should be national; at the moment
people have only to cross a State line to avoid them.
Sydney-based commercial maker Ron Windon finds it difficult to believe
that anyone would hurt the animals they use.
"I don't know of anybody who would treat animals unfairly," he told The
Guide. "There is too much at stake (financially)."
He estimates that 100 of the 1,500 commercials he has made since 1972 have
featured animals, from camels to cockroaches. Time wasted on animals that don't
perform is money down the drain on commercial shoots, he says, and he avoids
"If you trust trainers and owners you get nowhere," he says, prefering to
rely on common sense and "animal psychology".
Windon was responsible for the Drontal wormer courtroom ad, which used 25
cats and dogs in costume.
Casting took a month, four times longer than it usually takes to cast
actors, and filming took three days.
There is no set payment for animal actors. One Melbourne agency told The
Guide that people negotiate "from a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of
thousand, depending on what's involved and who is handling it".
The minimum Windon says he will pay is about about $800.
Diana Nuttall of the All Star Animal Agency provided most of the animals
used on the Drontal commercial. She owns 25 cats, three rabbits, a parrot, three
budgies, two miniature horses and some King Charles spaniels.
She charges from $80 to about $300 for a day's work, but says she doesn't
think of herself as an animal trainer. "I can (just) get animals to do what I
want," she says.
Mark Lewis got the 10 dogs he needed for The Wonderful World of Dogs by
looking through dog photos. By striking a deal with a dog food manufacturer, he
got them "pretty cheap".
He, too, tends to bypass trainers. "I was the only Cane Toads wrangler,"
he says, describing how he used to make them perform by "tickling them on their
"The only difference with working with dogs is that you can't fit as many
of them into the back of a truck as you can cane toads," he explains.
His next film will be about bugs. Will he get a bug wrangler?
Lewis laughs. "No, I think I'll do this one myself."