Day in the life of
Talent Director – Paula Stewart
I’m Paula Stewart, director of The Animal Talent; a casting agency supplying ethically trained animals to film, TV, and creative media productions.
I’ve been working in the entertainment industry for 20 years and my career has spanned music, TV, celebrity, and film.
Although my job title and name of the business don’t sound particularly filmic. At The Animal Talent, we play an integral role in supplying the film industry with highly trained animals. When you think about it, most of the films you have ever watched have an animal appearing at some point, never mind the films specifically about animals… We animal casting agents play a bigger role in films than you may think!
When a film producer or director requires an animal for a production, it’s our job to provide the correct animal for the brief. This could be a cat that can paddleboard, a dog that can skateboard, or a parrot that talks. And that animal needs to be reliable, able to do the skill in front of a huge crew, loud noises, on a film set in front of cameras, with the key factor that the owner (or animal handler) will have to be behind the camera and not next to the animal! When you really break it down, it’s much harder for the animal than it sounds.
Our role is also to ensure the safety of the animal, the crew on set, and the handler. We must provide risk assessments, be responsible for the ethical training of the animal, and ensure correct handling on and off set.
Just last week, we filmed with a snake for a shot that will be shown on screen for 2 seconds, but the filming procedure itself took over 4 hours. The training and handling of the snake took several years and the booking process took several weeks; again, a much bigger task than many people appreciate.
Our day to day work is several hours at the computer, completing bookings and liaising with our clients (i.e. the animals’ owners and the handlers). We also spend a lot of time promoting our business to film and TV producers so that they know how incredibly talented our animals are.
Other than our office work, time on set with the animals is wonderful. We get to see them in action, performing the skills they have been practicing in play and training at home.
And the BEST bit of the job, of course, IS the actual training and spending time with the animals! In honesty, it’s the animals’ owners that put in the hard work with their pets, doing the daily training, exercise, feeding, and everything else; we, as their agency, work our hardest to ensure that their talents are recognized, just as with human acting agencies.
- Working with animals – what’s not to love? We work with every animal, from cats and dogs, spiders and snakes, to hamsters and rabbits.
- Meeting incredibly interesting people. Sometimes this is the celebrity talent we are working with on set, sometimes it’s the film crew who always have amazing stories and amazing talent.
- Getting to spend time in different, interesting locations. From day to day, we can go from working at home, with our animals and their handlers doing some training or preparing for shoots, in a photography studio, or on a film set. Sometimes that film set is out on location in different cities, so travel is a real bonus.
- Promoting ethical work with animals – it’s our entire mission at The Animal Talent. That means positive, reward-based training that has zero negative impact on the animal. We endeavor to educate through our methods so that pet owners worldwide can see how positive training can be so impressive. You would be surprised how many animals on our roster originated in rescue shelters; there’s nothing we love more than seeing a rescued pet turn into a glamorous actor!
- Seeing the end result – I had a cat play Jenga for me on set once. Seeing the facial expressions of the film crew on set was priceless. When the shot reached audiences, I couldn’t have been more proud.
- Always learning – we’re constantly retraining to learn new methods of working with animals as science and handling knowledge improves. Continued professional development is required and it’s fun to learn more about the animals we work with. It’s certainly not a boring job.
- Getting emotionally attached – It’s so easy to get attached to the animals we work with and it affects us greatly when they pass away. The one comfort we can take is that they are immortalized forever through their work.
- Long hours – The office work alone is a 9-5 job; filming days for us humans can often run over 12 hours plus the travel time, and when you’re on set, you have to concentrate, so you can’t answer emails; you have to do them when you get home.
- It’s a niche business – As there aren’t many companies that work in this field, the competition between animal casting agencies is rife. Whilst there is always enough animal filming work to go around, there is pressure to be the best and work with the best animals. In doing this we should never lose sight of our ethics.
- People pleasing – The key to getting ahead is caring for our animals, their owners, and the film crew all at once; it’s sometimes hard to juggle pleasing everyone when each person (or animal) has their own agenda. We ensure the animal always wins!
audition and interview performers to select most appropriate talent for parts in stage, television, radio, or motion picture productions.