A Day in the Life
Friday 11th June 1999

A Kodiak Bear

This was on a British Gas commercial in 1990, the closest I've ever been to a bear without any form of barrier. The Maltese guy is off to the right, and the wool can be seen at the bottom of the picture (see text below). The second closest occasion of being face to face with a bear without barriers, was actually two bears - cubs. We were walking on a family holiday in British Columbia in 1980, up a trial leading to the summit of Saddle Mountain near the Kootenays where there was a fire lookout point. I was walking ahead on the trail, turned a corner and 50 yards ahead - two bear cubs. I turned round smartish, quietly and softly, and rejoined the group. We carried on walking, only making lots of noise - they'd gone by the time we got back to where I'd seen them. I never saw mum, but she wouldn't have been far away, and I stayed with the group for the rest of the walk. In an alternative universe I'd not have been a writer - I would have been a statistic.

A day in my life, for Friday 11th June 1999. Gives one a clear insight into how animals are treated in movies - and for entertainment in general. I hope its different now.

"...Outlaw films was the production company today, serving a Turkish production company that needed a black panther in one of their TV commercials. The Turkish director spoke very good English but the DOP Hakan, none at all. Loader's name was Alistair Pringle - an excellent name - and the grip Toby Plaskitt. Roddy was operating who does a lot of big movies and was commenting on how a lot of grey (camera) operators have a huge amount of experience but no-one likes to use them as they know when things aren't going to work and are penalized for trying to make it easier for the director - who frequently knows far less than them.

There aren't any panthers that you can film in Turkey, hence their trip here. Chipperfield's animals supplied the large cat, but were at pains to point out that they were nothing to do with Mary Chipperfield, who only recently narrowly escaped a prison sentence for beating a chimp with a stick. They built a cage as we waited and lit, a cage with a special panel that allowed you to poke the camera through. The set was all chroma blue and flat lit with a tiny amount of backlight to try and get a small sheen across the cat's flanks. We were told that women crew members had been asked not to do the shoot three days either side of their cycle, as cats have a keen sense of smell.

Once prepared they wheeled the box in which they kept the panther up to the cage and opened the double doors, the two handlers inside armed only with a pair of bamboo canes each and a bucket of chicken pieces. So with the cat being prodded around and shown bits of chicken, it did all that could be reasonably supposed of it, and they didn't seam to maltreat it in any way, other than putting it in a cage in the first place.

Back in 1990 I did a commercial for British gas with Roger Lyons. We filmed in the Canadian Rockies and had a large Kodiak bear on set to rear up on action, behind the actor. They used a wool barrier to keep the bear enclosed, as he didn't know it wasn't electrified, and they gave him marshmallows as a treat. The two keepers were a small Maltese man who was nut-brown and stripped himself to the waist - so he could be easily recognised, apparently - and an older American who used to train the animals for all those Disney true-life adventure films. He said he had been the animal trainer on 'The incredible Journey', so, ever curious, I asked him how they did the sequence where the cat ran the rapids.

    'How'd we do it? Heck, we just sent the cats down, one after another...'
    'Sure. Musta lost twenty or so. One Siamese looks much like another'

I think - I hope - he was pulling my leg.
    The director was not keen on dragging it out any longer than he had to, and after moving the camera couple of times ad getting walking shots, and growling shots, and pawing shots. We wrapped at lunch so I came home early...."

C Jasper Fforde 1999

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