How the Hollywood actors' strike is hitting animal actors

The Washington Post has a delightfully adorable piece about the way that the Hollywood actors' strike is impacting animal actors. While non-human creatures aren't technically eligible for union membership, these brave beasts still aren't scabbing for the bosses, and that's what really counts.

Okay well technically the article is more about the animal handlers and trainers. But still, their concerns are legitimate. They offer a specialized skill, and their labor is being exploited by Hollywood executives — perhaps even more so, given that the non-human element. From the article:

The concerns of striking humans affect their animal counterparts, too. Human actors are trying to prevent studios from capturing their likenesses and using them in perpetuity via artificial intelligence, and this is something the animal handlers have been battling for years in the form of computer-generated imagery, or CGI.


Kelly Capponcelli manages a large ranch outside of Los Angeles with a variety of animals, including horses, pigs, Jack the water buffalo [from Tropic Thunder], and exotic birds, including flamingos. ("You can't really train a flamingo," she says. "You kind of have to wrangle a flamingo.") In better days, her reindeer would be working on holiday films right now.

"Christmas movies don't use reindeer as much anymore," she says. "Nobody has a budget anymore these days." The reindeer are spending their summer cooling off in her sprinklers.

"It's very, very sad, because there is an art to what we do. Just like there is an art with the actors," says Megan-Kate Hoover, an animal trainer based out of Cincinnati who worked on "Hillbilly Elegy." "I mean, can you imagine 'Homeward Bound' with AI animals? … You're going to miss the connection of what that animal can do to bring that scene to life, and to put the heart init." (Outside of the industry, advocacy groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals see AI and CGI as tools to eliminate the use of animal acting, which they allege is animal cruelty.)

And those paltry residual checks the humans have been sharing? The animals and their handlers have it worse. There are typically no residuals paid out to handlers and owners, even if the movie is centered on a trained animal as the main character.

"The dog's on the poster," Berloni says. "Zero. Zilch. Nothing."

It's not quite Animal Farm levels of communism yet, but at least we're on the way to getting rid of all the pigs.

Animal actors are on strike, too. These are their stories. [Maura Judkis / The Washington Post]