September 30, 2016 at 8:57PM

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Animal Safety for non-acting animals on set (fish tank interfered with sound)

I was working for a few days on an indie feature film recently and I am concerned about something that happened that I witnessed amidst a busy set. I wish to remain anonymous. I am wondering if there is a model for dealing with these kinds of situations.

Our crew was recording sound on location. The location owner had a fish tank with live fish inside. Someone turned off something on the fish tank, I believe whatever it is that circulates the water, because they did not want the sound of this device to interfere with recording sound.

The device on the fish tank was eventually turned back on, I think maybe even intermittently throughout the shoot, but some people noticed that one of the fish was "swimming funny." As I recall, it was sort of swimming on its side.

The next day, I was clearing out the location, and the location owner told me that one of the fish had died. I believe it was the one that had been "swimming funny." It seems like our crew's actions led directly to the fish's death.

I am upset and disturbed that I was a part of a production that disregarded the life of this fish. I want to work in an industry that values and respects all life. Can you advise if any action can now be taken in regards to this incident? Or advise on steps I can take to prevent something like this from happening on other productions I work on in the future?

I reached out to the American Human Association, who I understand is in charge of giving out the "no animals were harmed in the making of this film" status to movies. But I read about it a bit and it seems like that statement is in reference to animal actors, which would not apply to this fish. I also don't know if they investigate or care about indie productions.

Any thoughts? Have people run into this particular issue before with a fish tank's electronics interfering with recording sound? If so does anyone have tips on how to deal with that particular situation? It seems to me like something that people must run into somewhat often.

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Did you read some articles about "Mad Max: Fury Road"? Some critics say while the production in Namibia they would have destroyed the living space for hundreds of lifeforms. This is happening all the time in the big Hollywood industry of film. But they still get the "No animals where harmed"-stamp.

Because it's so easy to get that, the production companies don't care much more than that. An animal must be hurt while production while it's in front of the camera on set so the film will not have that stamp. But if the animals where harmed while a production break it's no big deal for them.

I know. This sounds cruel and inhuman. And it is. I think it's wrong how the film industry handles that.

The only thing we as film makers and responsible for all the damage we cause while we do our job (and anywhere and any time on our life) can do is to care for every life form, no matter what it is, that might be in contact or influenced by us.

I highly recommend making this also a part of your preproduction. What animals can/will be around when we film? How could they interfere with us and the other way around? If you have some person to carry on for safety on set make him also care for the safety of any and every life form on and around set.

Nobody should be harmed while you make some great film. Other kinds of art also respect that. Why should film not do so as well?

October 1, 2016 at 3:08PM, Edited October 1, 3:10PM

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Eric Halbherr
Director, DP, Editor, Creative Storyteller
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Thanks Eric, I agree. Does anybody else have relevant information/experience related to this? Mostly interested in suggestions on how to deal with a fish tank that makes noise when you're recording sound at a location with a fish tank. I wouldn't be surprised if I end up on a production in that situation again sometime.

October 3, 2016 at 12:18AM

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Have you never owned a pet goldfish? Fishtank fish die left and right for no reason. You can't be sure it was caused by the pump turning off. It is standard practice on inexperienced indie shoots to turn off the fishtank pump and fridgerator for better audio, if someone notices it. This should have been worked out with the owner howerver. "ayyye bruh we can't have ur fishtank runnin when we wanna get clean audio, can u move it somewhere or will this fish b chill if we turn it off durin' takes??"

Being nice to animals is always a good thing. But if you start to worry about short term damage to an animals habitat you might as well just switch to making CGI only movies. Wanna film a scene where a lumberjack chops down a tree? Can't do that! A bird might want to make a nest there someday! A scene where a cowboy rides through a field? Can't do that, the butterfly's favorite flower will get trampled and it will go hungry! Animal cruelty is never ok, but animals get rekt every day out in nature. It's natural. You just have to find a balance. If I drive a tank through the jungle in this scene how many baby frogs will I squish? If I build a western town set out in the boonies how many gophers must die?

It is probably hard to find any industry that cares for animals at the same level as our blue friends from Avatar. Unfortunate for your fish friend. There are all sorts of other bad things that go on on movie sets. Like unsafe conditions for example. There are ways to report that, but many are afraid to do so.

October 4, 2016 at 4:28AM

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