African Farm Outreach Programme
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LETTERS FROM THE CHILDREN
Read some of the many letters received from the children
who have been to see the movie thanks to donations made to the
The trainer faced with the huge task of handling the animals
on the shoot was Nicole Jennings. Initially approached in April
2003, her first task was to cast the dogs to appear in the film.
As dogs play such a major role in the film they have to be the
kind of creatures that are people-friendly and socialized. She
chose Emma and Sasha to double as the film’s hero dog,
One of the biggest challenges was to get Luke, who played Waldo,
to command the dogs, as he’d had no experience of close
interaction with dogs. “The dog had to look naturally
like he was the boy's dog and not always look for commands from
the trainer,” says Nicole. “The command must come
from the boy. The two dogs had different ways of acting. The
more active animal, Sasha, always focused on the boy as long
as he had her squeaky toy. The other, more subdued dog, Emma,
became protective when asked to be. In the script there are
many dog-reacting moments. As Armin Mueller-Stahl put it "the
dogs are not on a career path to become filmstars so sometimes
it was a little difficult to get them to concentrate but most
of the time they were great."
Then Nicole had to acquire the chickens, sheep, horses, ostriches
and pigs. They were sourced locally, depending on their availability.
The pigs were the easiest. They were background and didn’t
need any specific training. They just had to do what pigs do
when the cameras were on them.
“The chickens had a lot of work to do!” says Nicole.
She researched which kinds of breeds they would have had on
this type of farm. “We knew they would have leghorns and
kapoks.” That proved difficult as it wasn't the right
time of year to be getting them. She got the Black-and-Whites
locally but the Browns came from battery breeders in Elgin.
That caused problem number one. “Machines usually feed
them so they took one look at the humans and freaked out. They
had to be trained to be fed by humans. They were fed every half
an hour. And we had to talk to them as well.”
They became so tame that the crew had difficulty in keeping
them out of shot. “They wanted to be where the people
were. They became very friendly.” So what do you do with
a bunch of chatty chickens when filming’s over? They were
sent to a rehabilitation farm for children and animals. “So
they've been saved from a life of hell. But I think it was a
mistake for us to bring a rooster. He crowed at the most inopportune
moments. He's also moved on the hens in the middle of the shot
– the old Romeo!”
The sheep farmers in the area are 'dorpe' farmers. These black
faced sheep are meat sheep, not wool sheep. However, in the
film the character is a sheep shearer. “We had to find
merinos. That wasn’t too much of a problem but when we
got the merinos on set we found they hadn't worked with dogs.
So we had to teach them how to work with dogs. That had a happy
Local ostriches weren't suitable for the film. The ones that
were available were too young. The adult ostriches were breeding
and were best avoided. “So we brought the ostriches from
Darling. They had never been on a shoot before so they were
very aware of cars, people, etc.”
And one of the ostriches had a big scene with Richard E Grant.
In one scene, an obstreperous ostrich chases the actor who plays
Bonaparte Blenkins off the farm. The scene took an entire day
to film. An ostrich wrangler called Luke Cornell was called
in to help.
This looks like an easy scene to shoot, and it was and it wasn’t.
The trick is to get the ostrich to head towards its flock of
fellow birds. A makeshift pen full of ostriches is set up beyond
camera range. Then Luke pulled a rugby sock over the star-ostrich’s
head, and two helpers guided the enormous bird to the starter
Then Grant, decked out in period costume – that means
“heavy woolen clothing and clumpy hobnailed boots”
– is placed between the ostrich and the pen.
With everyone in place, man and animals, no one actually blows
a whistle. The rugby sock is pulled off at the last possible
moment, and they’re off! Grant is three metres in front
of the charging monster, and you’ve got to be quick. “A
kick in the goolies,” he says, “is too horrible
Just one problem. There was a sheepdog that’s supposed
to chase Grant and the ostrich. The ostrich made a beeline to
the pen, but the dog went all over the place. So they had to
shoot the scene over and over. The ostrich became more confident,
and went faster, but the dog…
At the end of the day Grant says he had feet “like burst
tyres, calves like steel implants and thighs on fire –
but not with lust.” And then the caterer served ostrich
meatballs for lunch. No, he couldn’t eat them.
And that leaves the horses. Nicole laughs, “No problems
with them. The horses had to be carthorses and they did what
they do best with a suitable panache. The white horse we used
turned out to be a regular star – it had acted before!”
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