Animals on Film!
Mandy Bainbridge of Animal Crew is a brave and patient woman. And she’s admirably shooting holes in the well-known W.C. Fields’ maxim, ‘never work with animals or children’, as she manages both the scene stealers and unpredictable with aplomb.
Recently, she tweeted, ‘always work with animals and children!’
Mandy lives on an upland sheep farm she shares with husband Marcus, and their two sons, near Barnard Castle in Teesdale, Northern Pennines. The Bainbridge family have farmed this land for four generations, but like many farmers have diversifed their operation to keep it all afloat.
She now runs Animal Crew, hiring out the farm’s livestock for film, TV, theatre, advertising campaigns and photographic shoots.
Animal Crews’ credits include BBC comedy series Grown Ups, Man & His Dog and Countryfile, CBBCs Who Let the Dogs Out, ITV’s Beowulf, The Munch Box and Victoria, feature film United, as well as numerous TV commercials, promos and short films. In September, her beautiful sheepdog Nala was featured in the N Power commercial that Mark Summers cast.
Animal Crew comprises 2 goats, 150+ sheep (with some rarer breeds including Swaledale, Texel, Welsh Black and Herdwick), 2 Skewbald horses, 10 dogs (a mix of rescue, foster and home bred), 14 free range (ex battery) hens, 18 free range geese, ducks, a parrot and the family cat.
Mandy’s animals first became involved in filming after they were asked if the family dog could appear with their son, who acts, in a TV commercial. Laughing, Mandy adds, ‘we soon realised we really enjoyed this kind of thing, but there was a lot more involved than just providing “a dog”!’
She went on to get all the correct licences of which there are many, as well as all the necessary insurance.
Mandy says, ‘Our vehicles are kitted out to move the animals safely and securely and we now have a lot more knowledge than when we first started, although we also learned you never stop learning on this job.’
‘Outside of running our farm, teaching dog agility and providing Animals for TV we are involved with Sheepdog Trials and Dog Agility competitions for fun.’
Dogs are Mandy’s speciality having trained sheepdogs for over 20 years. She also offers a wide range of breeds from Chihuahuas, Westies, Jack Russells, Bedlingtons to Akitas, Border Collies and German Shepherds.
Mandy and her husband became local stars when the Department for Transport Helpful Hazards Road Safety Campaign was filmed on location at Laverock Hall Farm; it starred Will the sheepdog, Charlie, Scruff, Randolph, Winifred and Tatty the sheep, and Essie the cow.
‘The campaign involved our sheep being sprayed with Safety announcements and being trained to stay in position whilst cars drove past or to display their messages in a certain order.’
Talking about the experience, Mandy comments: ‘It’s not as glamorous as you think, but it is fun and it’s nice being on set – we were really chuffed and pleased when we saw the advert on TV.’
Marcus Bainbridge, adds: ‘It was full-on and sheep are born to do exactly the opposite to what you want them to do…We spent a long time training them to stand still. At one point the producers said they wanted them to have worried expressions so we had to use sheep feed to get them to lower their jaws.’
I asked Mandy some questions about the qualities required to train animals. She feels the most important are understanding, kindness, polite authority. But maybe the most important, not taking your-self too seriously!
She also emphasised the importance of understanding the animal’s character.
She explains, ‘Take dogs for instance, they all have very different characters. Some dogs will do a trick a couple of times, and have then had enough. Others would perform the trick over and over again until they dropped to the ground with exhaustion, if asked. The Trainer needs to know their animals and know when the animal is not finding it fun anymore, or just needs a break for a while.’
She again emphasises the need for kindness, and jokes: ‘Our Animals don’t spend their free time trawling the internet for future opportunities!’
On a more serious note, she adds: ‘They come along with us as they are part of the family, whatever we are doing they like to be involved with. However, when they are asked to do something they should always be rewarded as depending on the type of animal they are either doing it for the end result i.e. a nice treat, or they are doing it to please their humans, which should also be rewarded. It is a two way thing.’
Mandy surmises: ‘Animals don’t ‘act’ as such: they perform a series of taught movements. It is our responsibility to check everything beforehand and make sure they are 100% happy in their environment. Anyone who is not kind to their animals and puts them in a position which worries them, or makes them sad, is not a good animal trainer.’
Another key job requirement is Polite Authority. ‘Every second on set is money. And the Director wants the best shot, the first AD wants everyone out of the room, the Producer just wants a perfect programme! Sometimes we have to step in and just politely inform the crew we can tell the animal is getting bored, or the big sunflower plant in the corner is worrying them, or more usually please can all the crew stop teaching the Parrot modern phrases when we are in a period drama!’
Mandy advises anyone interested in pursuing animal handling work for film and TV: ‘Don’t take yourself too seriously – A normal day will usually involve being crammed into a wardrobe to send hand signals to a dog on set, crawling backwards under a retreating camera with a treat, scrambling up a steep bank to persuade a goat to come back down… And our piece de resistance: being the leech handler for poor Lord M (Rufus Sewell) being leeched on Victoria!’
It’s clearly a very interesting and diverse life, as well as a rustic one. Laverock Hall stands at a height of 1,000ft in the North Pennines and while the views are stunning – you can see as far as the Lake District – it is isolated. The winters are long and harsh, and the entertainment industry can be unpredictable. However, we can’t wait to arrange a weekend away there.
See below for details on Animal Crew, and the 2 dog-friendly holiday cottages for rent. .
North Pennines is a recognised Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a UNESCO Geopark.
Add pics of Laverock cottages/farm/countryside (MB website/google)
http://www.animalcrew.info, Twitter for Animal Crew @PoshJoshnGinger