Hollywood Jobs: You Thought Actors Were Trouble? NPR's Susan Stamberg profiles the crafts and crew members who keep movies rolling. On the Hotel for Dogs set, she meets the trainers responsible for every bark and wag.
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Hollywood Jobs: You Thought Actors Were Trouble?

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Hollywood Jobs: You Thought Actors Were Trouble?

Hollywood Jobs: You Thought Actors Were Trouble?

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If you're the kind of moviegoer who likes to sit through the closing credits you may have seen the term animal wrangler crawling up the screen. NPR's special correspondent Susan Stamberg saw it and said that's my story. She continues her pre-Oscar report on odd movie jobs by finding out what animal wranglers or trainers really do.

Unidentified Man #1: All right, let's bring in the dogs.

SUSAN STAMBERG: About fifty of them in this scene for "Hotel for Dogs"…

Unidentified Man #1: Thank you.

STAMBERG: …a heart warmer about two kids who help strays find lodging and food and families. On the set, 50 dogs of assorted size and color sit quiet as mice on the grand staircase of a grand old Hollywood hotel, waiting for their close-ups.

So how's it possible? I mean, we're over here with dozens and dozens of dogs.

I'm talking with Tom Gunderson, an animal trainer.

Nobody's making any noise. Are they drugged?

Mr. TOM GUNDERSON (Animal trainer): No. They're all trained and they're all used to being on movie sets.

STAMBERG: Mutts, mongrels, scruffy big dogs, skinny little dogs, they flap an occasional tail, wriggle on their backs while their trainer gives them a scratch, but not one makes a peep.

(Soundbite of bark)

Except for two little ones, Bella - a fluffy white Pekingese - and Hopple - a short, dark and handsome Pomeranian. They are amateurs, brought in to be extras. Their owner, Nikki Wheeler, got some beauticians to make a house call.

Ms. NIKKI WHEELER (Dog owner): Paws and Purrs came by my house. They got all primped up and I put bows in them and everything, and they're very excited to be here.

STAMBERG: Well, they're pretty but they yap and yip, untrained. Mark Forbes, the chief animal coordinator on "Hotel for Dogs," says it takes extensive training to shoot what sounds like a simple enough scene — say dogs escape from the pound.

Mr. MARK FORBES (Chief Animal Coordinator, "Hotel for Dogs"; General Manager, Birds and Animals): It could be one sentence in the script, but for us it's weeks of getting all those dogs together, putting them in groups of three or four to start, make sure that there are no fighters, and then groups of 10, and then groups of 20.

So you start very small and work your way up to 60 dogs running together. And you know that they all get along now. They'll all run.

STAMBERG: Mark Forbes is general manager of Birds and Animals, one of the biggest animal training companies. They worked on last year's film "Evan Almighty," about a congressman - played by Steve Carell - who becomes a 21st-century Noah.

Mark assembled the most species ever used in a film, and then had to get them all on the ark.

Mr. FORBES: I have wolves next to sheep and lions next to the giraffe and a zebra next to an elephant. We had to shoot most of them separately. But they still have to move across the frame at the correct speed, and that was incredibly complicated.

STAMBERG: I've got to say, Noah had it easier than you.

Mr. FORBES: Yeah, he did. God's got an easier way than Hollywood does for loading animals onto an ark, I'm sure.

(Soundbite of movie, "Evan Almighty)

Mr. Steve Carell (As Evan Baxter): People, board the ark. Save yourselves.

Unidentified Man #2: Get down, you fool.

(Soundbite of dog barking)

STAMBERG: Now, on the set of "Hotel for Dogs," a huge bull mastiff named Oswald stands stock-still while a teeny black-and-white Boston terrier waits for her cue.

Ms. APRIL MACKIN (Animal trainer): Good girl. Stay.

Unidentified Man #3: And roll, please.

Mr. FORBES: She's been trained to start on a mark, and go over in between a bigger dog's legs.

Ms. MACKIN: One more. One more. Sit.

Mr. FORBES: She has a little bit of a look like I hope he doesn't step on me. And then we pan out to the bigger dog's face and he barks on cue.

(Soundbite of dog barking)

STAMBERG: So what's the trick? How do they get these animals to obey? Mark says he can't pay them more. A studio, in this case DreamWorks, pays by the dog. The daily rate is $35. The weekly rate around $1200. But the dogs don't care about money.

Mr. FORBES: If it's not fun, then they're not going to do it. It's really all about the relationship with the trainers. And they have to trust you. There's going to be all this crazy stuff going on. There's going to be moving lights, lightning flashes. And you can't necessarily prep all of those things before you get to the set. So a huge part of it for us is just the trust.

STAMBERG: And there's the treat.

Mr. FORBES: For some animals it's all about the treat.

(Soundbite of dog barking)

STAMBERG: The trust and treats get the dogs through their sometimes 12-hour days. There's always an American Humane Association person on set watching for exhaustion, tails between legs. But most of these movie dogs know to sit and rest between takes.

Mark Forbes says other beloved animals are not as malleable.

Mr. FORBES: Housecats, one of the hardest to train. They're independent. They could care less.

STAMBERG: The easiest to train? Elephants.

Mr. FORBES: I always save them for the end of the day, because we get out really quick, you know.

STAMBERG: You mean, they're so smart.

Mr. FORBES: So well trained. Just hit their mark, move over a couple of inches, you know. I mean they're just amazing.

STAMBERG: Most surprising animals?

Mr. FORBES: Porcupines. I expected them to be kind of like beavers - not very smart. They had so much personality. They learned to go to a mark. They'd come up and put their little front paws on your leg.

STAMBERG: They weren't prickly?

Mr. FORBES: Well, we didn't pet them, certainly didn't pet them backwards.

STAMBERG: Everybody wants to pet Cole, a friendly bearded collie that looks like a sheep dog. In 2006, he was the star of "The Shaggy Dog." Now, he's in a compound behind the "Hotel for Dogs" set.

Mr. FORBES: He's in this movie quite a bit, but he's just a background dog.

STAMBERG: That must be tough after the spotlight's been on you.

Mr. FORBES: He really doesn't care.

(Soundbite of laughter)

As long as he gets his treats and goes home and there's dinner, he's happy.

(Soundbite of dog bark)

STAMBERG: Across the way, behind a chain link fence is a probable star of tomorrow. Clyde, a yellow Labrador, is set to play Marley in the screen version of John Grogan's best seller Marley and Me. His co-stars will be Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson. The fictional Marley is completely out of control.

Mr. FORBES: And we're trying to train him completely different than we usually train and let him just be a goofball, let him knock stuff over, and, you know, he has to be sort of wild and crazy, because we want to get a lot of natural stuff.

STAMBERG: But look, he is sort of wild and crazy, standing on his hind legs. He's got his front paws up on the chain link fence.

(Soundbite of bark)

Mr. FORBES: Oh, yeah. Clyde will be a movie star. He has no idea what he's in for.

STAMBERG: Did Lassie ever dream she'd capture the heart of Elizabeth Taylor? Did Toto ever think he'd meet a Wizard? And that little rodenty Chihuahua in "Legally Blonde" — think he ever dreamt of going to Harvard Law School?

(Soundbite of movie, "Legally Blonde")

Ms. REESE WITHERSPOON (As Elle Woods): Oh, Bruiser, look, Harvard. Are you excited?

(Soundbite of bark)

STAMBERG: I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: I'm looking at just an unbearably cute picture of Nip or maybe it's Tuck. We're not sure. Big ears, big eyes, begging for food, it looks like to me. You can see it an npr.org, just search for the word wrangler.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

(Soundbite of music)

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