“Never work with children or animals” is the famous quote from W.C. Fields. He was referring to child actors and animals in a film setting and it was inferred that they would steal the scene, and heaven forbid if you combined the two. No matter what, it would be hard work.
Well it doesn’t have to be stressful at all, and as we have plenty of experience in filming with all sorts of animals, we have a few top tips to share with you.
1. KEEP IT NATURAL
A location shoot on a farm where the animals live day-to-day is not only a simpler and often more affordable option for producers, but it is much kinder for the animals as well. They get to remain on home soil and be handled in familiar safe surroundings, with owners they are used to. They will very likely behave better that way too.
In a planning process, it is often the case that a location is decided on first and then the animals are hired in later. A producer might not think that a perfect location can have the perfect animals already there and while it might not always be possible, it certainly can be.
As an example, when Mother (a top London creative agency) needed to hire 4 dairy cows for their tongue in cheek music video to launch tech start-up ‘Elvie’’s new breast pumps, they initially considered hiring in the cows to a favourite studio in Central London. Each cow was £1,000 to hire, and each would be moved to the opposite extreme of their natural environment. Price and logistics made them re-think. After speaking with us next, they saw how a “studio set” could be created on a farm, and combined with a herd of dairy cows on tap, the financial and welfare benefits were enormously better.
Court Farm in Kent was hired for the Elvie shoot. It’s a dairy farm with a super-film friendly farmer in charge and open to all sorts of creative challenges (dancing dairy cows being one!). Click Here to see the finished results of the ward-winning TV commercial all filmed on a farm.
But what if you add children into the mix too? Well, it doesn’t have to be a disaster! That’s if the client, Farm Locations and the owner all work together as a team to plan and deliver the best setting to host it all.
Horsenden Farm in Kent was the chosen location for a Monsoon Childrens fashion shoot, taking place across 2 days. The combination of offering a gorgeous old farm yard and barns, along with a huge variety of animal species, as well as an easy-to-navigate setting for children and chaperones, laid the foundations for a good location. Add to that some well-organised owner supervision, where a small locations team (including our very own Jo) meant for a safe structure to host filming with animals and children together.
Horsenden offers a variety of animals including horses, ponies, sheep, cattle, dogs, cats, pigs and chicken. And when the producer had a late request to add a donkey and a rabbit in to the wish-list, the owner helpfully sourced those from their neighbours just down the road.
The production budget did not carry the additional financial burden of sourcing and hiring in the animals separately . The animals were included within the core location hire and supervision fee, where an owner team was in charge of all animal handling.
For more on the Monsoon photoshoot, see our Blog Post Here.
2. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE
Don’t feel constrained until you approach us with your brief. We like to start with an “anything is possible” belief, however let’s be realistic – we don’t have a giraffe or an elephant on a farm (but we do have camels! more on these later).
We also have the space on farms to create epic scenarios.
For example, when we received a request by US rapper Travis Scott’s production company for a flock of 1000 sheep to all be in one lump together to swirl around an airstream caravan, most farmers just couldn’t provide. But we knew someone who might. We didn’t have anyone on our books who could meet that requirement but we did source a farmer who could. To make it work, 4 farm hands (including our Jo) and 7 border collies brought the sheep together and kept them together for a long enough period of time, whilst the video was filmed.
This wasn’t actually the first time we were involved in a sheep stunt and we’re becoming quite familiar with them now. Another brief for a comedy show, where a child chased sheep down a valley and various funny scenarios ensued (the show is still in production so cannot reveal too much), meant for us working some magic on a small flock of sheep at South Farm, inside the M25.
Although our animals are not film-trained like an animal hired from an experienced animal hire company, our owners spend their days with these animals and know how to get the best from them. Anything is possible if the production team and owner work together to understand the risks and rewards, and to set the scene to provide the most comfortable environment for filming with animals.
We also have a handful of farms where the commercial animals, including cows, sheep, have been trained and tamed so that they will stand by a model without moving away. We also have a wide spectrum of farms with horses and ponies, several of which are unfazed by children’s antics around them.
So where did our reputation for sheep wrangling start? It was with Jeremy Clarkson in fact, back in the day when he hosted the Grand Tour, and one of the Amazon Prime’s episodes centred around a huge stunt sequence called “Farmkhana”, with a week of filming at Hare Farm. In his Subaru Impreza, Clarkson rounded some sheep up, herded them to a pen and then shut the gate by spinning his car so the boot caught the gate on its turn to shut it! It was also the first and only time when we have been in receipt of taxidermied sheep and plastic life size cows, sourced by Clarkson’s production company. We continue to this day to get asked “Did Clarkson really kill sheep?” in that episode.
3. THERE’S MORE THAN THE OBVIOUS PIGS, SHEEP & COWS
When thinking of filming with animals on a farm, you might instinctively visualise the traditional cows, sheep, pigs and chickens. However, there’s a vast variety of animal life available for hire which opens up so many options for filming and shoots.
For example, Animal Farm – just a 15 minute drive from Elstree Studio and the new Sky Studio in Borehamwood – is home to a fantastic array of shoot friendly farm animals, including donkeys, miniature ponies, alpacas, guinea pigs, ducks and rabbits, as well as the more traditional farm animals you might think of. Animal Farm is used to hosting school visits and so the animals are comfortable with being handled by strangers and intermingling with groups of people, are friendly and easy to work with.
Another farm, Pond Farm – just over an hour’s drive away from central London – is run by a farmer’s daughter who rescues unwanted animals. It’s home to a lovely old angora goat, a gentle mule, a border collie and an array of guinea pigs, peacocks, bunnies, sheep, lambs, pigs and piglets. Pond Farm is teeming with animal life and all set within a characterful farmyard and 50 acres of traditional grassland fields.
Throughout any year we find our farms coming forward with new life on them. For example, calves, kids and lambs in the spring and chicks and ducklings throughout the Spring and Summer. This new life can bring new opportunities for filming with animals.
While on the subject of the variety of animals available for filming on a farm, we should also mention the wildlife. Cherry Farm was the location for a documentary on a real bug’s life, following the life of bees and other wildlife that are found on the farm (the show is still in production so we cannot reveal too much).
Lastly, as we mentioned earlier, we might not be able to provide you with a giraffe or an elephant but we can provide you with a Camel (or 9!) if you need one. Camel Farm, in South Warwickshire, is home to nine camels (a mixture of one and two humps) who are very used to being filmed and photographed across a wide variety of events in the UK. Camel Farm is also home to horses, cats, chicken, pigs (in the Summer months), tortoises and dogs (including a dachshund and a labrador).
4. THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN HIRING ANIMALS FOR FILMING
There are things you will need to think about when hiring animals for your film or photoshoots – not just to ensure the safety, well being and comfort of the animals but to ensure you reduce the risk to your actors, models and crew. Here are our eight best tips.
i. Are the animals already on location or will you be arranging them separately and bringing them to the location?
When an animal is already on location, there are no movement licenses or additional housing rules that apply. However when bringing them in as visitors, certain government legislation (via DEFRA) requires movement licenses and rules to abide by.
ii. Does your public liability insurance cover you?
Check your PLI cover as regards working with animals. And if talent will be riding a horse (as opposed to just standing next to it) you’ll need additional rider insurance to cover yourselves.
iii. Is a vet needed on location?
It depends on the type of work any animal needs to do and how ‘qualified” any handler is in managing the health and safety risks. What if something happens to one of the animals during filming? What if an animal becomes sick or hurts itself? Some large productions’ insurance companies insist on hiring a vet too.
iv. Are your models or cast comfortable around animals?
It is important to ensure your talent are relaxed in their role alongside the animals. Make sure you have cast any models or actors with them knowing upfront what animals they will be close to. It’s hard to hide a frightened face if a model is forced to hold a chicken, and we need to ensure everyone’s safety comes first.
v. How long do you need the animals for?
Farm animals tire quickly when not doing their normal thing. Hot weather, big groups and bright lights can add to their impatience. Work with the owner to see how best to schedule your day, where best to shoot with them, and if and when to rehearse. A tech recce can be a good opportunity to practice any scenes if the scenario is more challenging than the typical.
vi. Do not run! (unless it’s part of the script)
Keeping calm around animals is of vital importance so walk slowly (except in the instance when an actor has to chase sheep down a valley which we created last year!). Bright lights, big groups, sudden movements, getting too close – they can all spook the animals, and they can then cause danger.
The No. 1 rule? Always do what the owner or handler tells you. Follow the guidelines. They are the expert and they know their animals.
vii. Collaborate with the Owners
Keep in mind that in the main, farm animals have not been reared as pets. It is important therefore to work with the owners and ensure the owners are around at all times when including the animals in your shoot.
Keep in mind too that animals can be difficult (who has heard of a stubborn mule?), and being patient is key. Some filming has to adapt a little from what the creative team have first in mind – how could you ever get a dairy cow to dance with a breast-feeding human? Filming with animals works well when the environment is calm and the team follow the lead of the owner.
viii. It’s not always ideal to use the animals on the farm
Sometimes, a certain grey stallion is pivotal to a shoot and not the range of horses already stabled there at the farm.
Sometimes a certain animal has to be hired in and that’s OK of course. In fact, on a farm there’s an immediate understanding as to how to host animal visitors and farmers will have the space and infrastructure to make them comfortable when there. Depending on the species and duration of filming, there might well be paperwork and rules, e.g. movement licences, to abide by. For example, cows cannot be brought in and out of a farm in a day. Just ask your animal hire company, they should know or ask us and we can help you.
5. FARMS WITH GREAT EXPERIENCE IN FILMING WITH ANIMALS
We have a vast variety of farms that have extensive experience in filming with animals so get in touch if you’re looking for something in particular. However, here’s a list of some of our most popular (and some you’ll even find some within the M25).
Sheep farmers and hosts to Jeremy Clarkson’s The Grand Tour, Ted Baker, Carhartt, and Lula Japan, all with sheep as a key “prop”
Vicky the owner has featured in documentary filming about bugs on the farm, by including her animals alongside the wildlife. She also raises ducks, and two little yellow ducklings have featured in a few fashion shoots. Her chicken and ponies are also a draw.
Stunts involving sheep, many a shoot involving their vast array of horses (including a whole herd of shire horses), handled by super film friendly Molly the owner. She also has chickens, goats and a handsome ornamental turkey.
Lizzie the owner rescues unwanted animals and so her animals become very tame like pets. She has a super obedient collie dog, piglets all year round, and will devote her time to any shoot to include as many of her animals as possible!
The dairy cows have been the major draw here, with the owner Philip and his cows being featured on Celebs on the Farm, being the main icon of a British Tatler feature and modelling in TV commercials for Kelly’s Ice Cream and Elvie Breastpump.
The owner has large numbers of horses and ponies roaming the valley and 3 pet lambs which have featured on many shoots.
Chart Farm’s alpacas have drawn photo shoots and music videos, and ITV’s The Masked Dancer was filmed amongst the cows.
For more information on how we can help you film with animals get in touch with us on 07802 979348 or email us at [email protected]