If tragedy struck you in an instant and if you mapped out a plan to survive, yet at every corner someone tried to block you, how would you handle that. Such is the theme of Running Wild, which can now be seen in movie theaters as well as on Video on Demand. A DVD will be released in April.
For Stella Davis (played by Dorian Brown Pham), that tragedy was the death of her husband, TJ, in a vehicle accident. When after his death, she learned that unbeknownst to her, he had mortgaged off the Diamond Double Estate, that had been in her family for four generations, to the banks for some $6 million, she had to decide whether to try to rescue her ranch or give up.
Finally, discovering a possible answer in the form of a herd of wild horses that had wandered onto her property, little did she know that animal rights extremist Meredith Parish (played by Sharon Stone), would be there to undermine her every step of the way.
Would she cave under the pressure or commit to her goal of making her estate a place where a Prison Rehabilitation Equine Program could be created to hopefully help pay off the debt. You can find out about her struggles, about the issues facing our wild horses and one potential solution by finding a theater near you to watch this acclaimed movie.
Taking a Look at the Horses Behind the Scenes
While the theme of the movie denotes perseverance, attention to detail, care of the wild horses who you are legally not allowed to feed or water and so much more, behind-the-scenes there were also challenges. Those working on the set had to learn and understand how to work with the horses while ensuring they didn’t break any of the rules and regulations guiding the care and well-being of animals on a movie set.
For those on the Running Wild set, knowing that the American Humane Association existed was a huge bonus.
While movie stunt horses aren’t spooked by lights, heavy equipment and so much more, a horse that has never been on a set could be spooked by a piece of plastic crossing its path or the movement of a camera.
So, what was the best way to deal with those situations to ensure the safety of the horses but also that of the people? The American Humane Society staff were on the set every step of the way to catch issues before they happened and to guide those working on the film about what to expect.
Kwane Stewart, D.V.M., Chief Veterinary Officer of the American Humane spoke about the horses used on set, noting that the “wild horses” seen on the set were technically not feral horses (or horses that run free on government property). While there were scenes of feral horses, “it’s our understanding that the feral horses were filmed documentary style.”
The horses seen in herds or in other safe situations were horses that were rescued from auction, which meant they were saved from an unknown future. These rescued horses were the ones used to portray the skinny, sickly looking horses in the movie.
For a dying horse scene, “they put up a green screen in the middle of this beautiful, expansive farm. The dying horse was a dummy horse head that was absurd but they made the eyes very real and that’s what I zeroed in on,” explained Pham.
A green screen was also used for what director Alex Ranarivelo thought to be the most important scene in the film. “It was the discovery of the pack of starving wild horses. What you see in the movie is the real thing. Those were horses that were found in Nevada that our 2nd Unit camera crew went and shot. Yes, even the dying horse is real. We composited our lead actors into the scene using a green screen.”
As Dr. Stewart further explained, to ensure the safety of the horses while on set, “one of our Safety Reps is a licensed horse veterinarian whose judgement and discretion shore-up any other issues or challenges.”
For those reps working on the Running Wild movie, that never became an issue. Matter-of-fact everyone working on the movie set not only welcomed the guidance by the reps but implemented any suggestions. They too wanted to know that the animals were well cared for and both the people and the horses would be safe throughout the 22 days of shooting.
Dr. Stewart reiterated the fact that “with rescued horses vs. trained movie horses it can be more of a challenge to anticipate how they may respond to the unique environment of a film set.”
How often do horses see “lights, camera, action,” and the “hurry up and wait” syndrome hundreds of times in one day. Wranglers were also on set to pick and choose which horses would be used when.
Certain horses who were good at standing still were chosen for those types of scenes. In a bucking scene, a rodeo horse was used, and so on. When an emaciated horse needed to be shown on cross ties, that’s when one of the rescued horses was on the set.
When it came to the actors working with the horses, that’s when the wranglers took over. “Our horse whisperer, Dave Duquette, was there to educate me and on set with us at all times. He was very good at giving us the necessary instruction on how to deal with the horses in any given scene. We only interacted with our horses during our scenes,” commented Tom Williamson, who played the convict Debrickshaw Smithson.
Michael Girgenti, who played the convict Matt Barker or “Meth Head Matt” agreed. “Although I had little experience with horses, my process was trust the instructors fully and be confident in my decisions around the horse because they can sense fear. Whatever it was I was doing or being asked, my pace was always ‘slow and steady.’ ”
“Movie horses are a special breed,” Dr. Stewart remarked. “The qualities that might make them undesirable as a competition or riding horse – such as a patient, docile and calm nature – make them perfect for a movie set. Per one of our onset veterinarians, Dr. Rogers, ‘he has a special place in his heart now for movie horses because they demonstrate how willing they are to be a part of the team.’ “
“Horses are big, dangerous animals and they get spooked. You must work at their pace sometimes. And how are we going to dictate to a big ol horse, what to do? We really are not,” he added.
Being part of that team also means a lot of waiting. Yet, even then, the horses were fed and handled with the utmost of care. Matter-of-fact, they were so well taken care of that the horses who arrived thin and looking sickly were gaining weight and looking too healthy.
“I definitely saw changes throughout the film, besides weight increases, they seemed overall happier and healthier,” added Girgenti.
What became a good thing for the horses, became a challenge for the filmmakers. “In order to keep the horses with the same (thin) consistent appearance, they had to use make-up on some horses to give a look of starvation,” Dr. Stewart explained.
The question of movie cowboys versus real cowboys was also something that had to be understood. Executive Producer Ali Afshar was familiar with this topic.
“Growing up on a ranch in Petaluma, CA, with cowboys all around, I became acquainted with many cowboys. The ‘movie cowboys’ are very cool, but understand how the slow moving molasses movie biz works. They’re much more business cowboy then country cowboy. They have their horses trained for all these special stunts and tricks. However, to be totally honest, they do look the same.”
Whenever you bring horses onto a set, it can be a challenge for everyone working on a movie set. “Working with horses in movies is always tough and that definitely has to be learned, because you have to know how you deal with animals. You must know who to hire to have the right animals. You need to know the length of time they can be on set and how they have to be treated. There’s a lot of technical stuff you must know.”
Kudos to those behind the scenes at Running Wild for taking the time to do it right. “Our Safety Reps worked with the trainers and handlers to make sure they were given proper rest, quality nutrition, shade and other amenities so they were comfortable and free of stress. All action scenes involving the horses were carefully reviewed of any potential danger or threats, and modified if necessary. The horses on the set of Running Wild were given ‘Cadillac’ care,” remarked Dr. Stewart.
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For more about American Humane go to: https://www.americanhumane.org/