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Entertainment Animals - Movies And Television

aha filming acceptable rating

Animals have been performing in movies and television shows since those media were invented. (See Figure 7.1 and Figure 7.2.) During the filming of the 1939 movie Jesse James, a horse was killed when it was forced to jump off a cliff for a scene. Public FIGURE 7.1
A still from the movie Billy Rose's Jumbo, featuring Jimmy Durante. The Kobal Collection. Reproduced by permission.
complaints led to the formation of the film-monitoring unit of the American Humane Association (AHA). The AHA opened an office in Los Angeles in 1940.

In 1980 the AHA was awarded a contract with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) to monitor the safety and welfare of animals appearing in movies and television shows featuring SAG performers filmed in the United States. The Producer–Screen Actors Guild Codified Basic Agreement of 1998 includes a provision that producers must notify the AHA prior to using animals on a set and provide AHA representatives with access to the set while animals are being filmed. This applies to movies, television shows, commercials, and music videos that include SAG performers.

The AHA reviews scripts and works with animal trainers and production staff to ensure that animals are not harmed during filming. The AHA monitors hundreds of productions each year in the United States. The AHA's contractual authority does not extend beyond the United States. However, producers sometimes invite the AHA to oversee animal filming at foreign locations. The AHA has no oversight authority on non-SAG productions, such as reality shows and documentaries. The AHA has publicly criticized the television shows Survivor and Fear Factor for incidents in which animals were killed or injured by the shows' contestants.

The AHA guidelines are laid out in the document American Humane Association Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media. The guidelines cover what filmmakers and crew should do prior to and during production to ensure animal safety. These guidelines cover the treatment of animals present during production, whether they are performing, off-camera, or even visiting the set. The basic guidelines are listed on the AHA Web site.

In addition, there are general guidelines that deal with working conditions, feeding, watering, performance of stunts, safety, costumes, makeup, special effects, housing, transportation, and veterinary care. There are also species-specific guidelines for dogs, cats, birds, fish, insects and arachnids, horses and livestock, exotic animals, apes and monkeys, reptiles, and wildlife.

The AHA rates movies based on their adherence to these guidelines. Ratings for more than 2,000 movies are provided on the AHA Web site (

Prior to July 2004 the ratings given were "Acceptable," "Believed Acceptable," "Questionable," "Unknown," and "Unacceptable." An acceptable rating means that the AHA supervised animal treatment during filming and found it to be humane. The questionable rating means that AHA monitors witnessed some questionable practices during filming but that no animals were harmed. An unacceptable rating means that animals suffered "deliberate cruelty" during filming. If the AHA does not actually supervise animal treatment during filming, it assigns ratings of believed acceptable or unknown. A rating of believed acceptable indicates that the AHA does not believe that any animals were mistreated during filming based on interviews with cast members, review of scripts, and screenings of the film. If AHA is unable to obtain or verify any of this information, it issues an unknown rating.

In July 2004 the AHA changed its rating system as follows:

  • Monitored Acceptable—The AHA monitored the film and ensured that no animals were harmed during filming. The AHA received a copy of the script and the schedule and reviewed them during pre-production. AHA was provided with on-set access whenever animals were used in filming.
  • Monitored Unacceptable—A segment not authorized by the AHA was filmed that resulted in animal injury or death. FIGURE 7.2
    Cast members Tommy Norden, Brian Kelly, and Luke Halpin with dolphin star Bebe, who played Flipper on the 1960s television show of the same name. AP/Wide World Photos/NBC. Reproduced by permission.
  • Not Monitored: Met Production Expectations—The AHA was unable to directly supervise the filming of animal action due to "resources and/or scheduling conflicts," but the production complied with all AHA requirements. The AHA received a copy of the script and the schedule during pre-production. AHA was provided with on-set access whenever animals were used in filming. A pre-release screening of the film was provided to AHA, as was additional documentation when requested.

Only films that have received an "acceptable" or "monitored acceptable" rating are permitted to show the AHA's endorsement line: "No animals were harmed during the filming of this motion picture." This message appears on screen during the closing credits. In 2005 the AHA Web site listed more than 1,000 movies that have received this endorsement.

The AHA Web site also describes in detail how particular animal scenes were filmed in dozens of movies. Usage of deceptive camera angles, body doubles, fake blood, computer graphics, and other tricks is described.

In 2001 the Los Angeles Times printed an article that was critical of the AHA's role in overseeing animal filming (Ralph Frammolino and James Bates, "Questions Raised about Group That Watches Out for Animals in Movies," February 9, 2001). The authors claimed that the AHA provides too little oversight and is reluctant to criticize the major movie studios, which fund its work. The AHA's budget comes from a fund that is overseen by producers and the SAG. The article notes that this fund included $1.5 million in 2001, and disputes claims by the AHA that its observers oversee filming of approximately 850 productions each year. The authors said that a review of internal AHA documents showed that "the number of films monitored is considerably fewer." The AHA employed only nine full-time observers and twenty-five part-time observers during 2001.

The article also listed particular productions from the late 1990s in which animals were injured or killed during filming, yet which still received an endorsement line or acceptable rating from the AHA. These include the movies The 13th Warrior and Simpatico, as well as an episode of the television show Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. The article claimed that AHA employees complained about these productions and were frustrated by the lack of response from the organization. According to the authors of the article, at least one AHA employee has accused the AHA of "caving in to the studios on major investigations."

The AHA issued a press release in response to the article in which it defended its actions. It blamed the specific incidents listed in the article on "tragic accidents" and unauthorized use by movie studios of the AHA endorsement line ("American Humane Association Statement Regarding AHA Film and Television Unit," February 9, 2001).

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