How Cats Are Trained For TV And Movies | Movies Insider


Narrator: If you have a cat
or have ever been around one, you know that they tend to
have a mind of their own. But what do you do when you need them to
behave in a certain way? Like in a movie, for instance. Well, you train them. Melissa Millett: He
likes it up on shoulders. Kirk Jarrett: Yeah.
Melissa: Here you go, bud. Kirk: So he’ll sit up there, and then in turn then you do
your eyelines to the lens, and then all of a sudden now he… now you got that one-on-one. Narrator: Animal trainer Melissa Millett and animal coordinator Kirk Jarrett are two of Hollywood’s go-tos when a movie calls for
an animal’s performance. They’ve worked with dogs,
birds, skunks, and even buffalo, but they say cats are the most difficult to train for the silver screen. Melissa and Kirk worked
together on the 2019 remake of Stephen King’s
classic “Pet Sematary”… Jud: There are places in this world that bring things back. Narrator: Where one
particular cat character named Church plays a starring role. Training cats is a step-by-step process, and the main tools are
something called a clicker and, of course, treats. First, Melissa would teach the cat to touch their nose to an object, luring them with the treats, a process called targeting. She would then progress
to having them move to a marker on the ground. Melissa: Cat hits the
mark, click, get a treat. Narrator: She would start with the marker really close to the cat and then slowly move it
further and further away. She also used a training
technique called “freeshaping,” which doesn’t involve luring the cats. Basically, Melissa puts a mark down and just waits for the cat
to figure out what to do. Melissa: It’s a hot-cold guessing game. It allows them an opportunity to problem-solve and be in control. I put a mark down, if they get on it, they get a treat, so they
think that they’re training me. Narrator: When it comes time for the cats to actually give their performances, that’s where Kirk comes in. As the animal coordinator,
his job is to make sure all the animals are comfortable on set. Kirk: Cats are sensitive
to their environment, so acclimation is key. Narrator: Everything
from the air temperature to chatter from the cast and crew had to be taken into account. The cats stayed with the trainers across from the set in Montreal, so they didn’t have to travel very far and so they could get
used to the environment. Melissa: There was
leashed walks for the cats in the woods after, the cats had “catios” and patios, and really, they had cat
wheels, they had it all. Narrator: The cats also
needed to get comfortable being around dogs. Melissa: I bonded them to dogs, and I brought them out one
at a time with the dogs so that they could look
at the dogs and say, “Oh, these guys are
having fun, this is cool.” Narrator: And having fun
is one of the biggest secrets to successful cat training. Melissa: Knowing how to
build their confidence so they enjoyed the work, and making it fun so they’ll, you know, play my silly games and enjoy. Narrator: For “Pet
Sematary,” Melissa and Kirk had an unconventional casting process. They rescued five cats to
play the role of Church but ended up predominately using just two different cats throughout the movie. The other three filled in for a few scenes that didn’t require close-ups. Now, a bit of a spoiler here
if you haven’t seen the movie. Tonic, a 10-month-old,
was selected to play the living version of the cat because he was more active and outgoing… Melissa: He still had
a cute kitten-y face, so he couldn’t play the evil guy. Narrator: And 4-year-old Leo was picked to play the undead version. Kirk: He’s a calm cat, and
he sits, he stays, he looks, and that is what you see in the poster, that’s what you see on the trailers. Narrator: Both cats had
never been in a movie before, and a lot of work went into prepping them for their acting debuts. That included a healthy dose of makeup to give Leo a bloody and gory look. Kirk: We had to ruffle him up, we had to do some texture with blood, and we had to make him look like if he had been run over by a truck. Narrator: And since Tonic
had to look exactly like Leo, they added some brown-colored,
pet-safe dye to his chest. The makeup was American
Humane Society-approved and actually served as a
treat for the cats as well. Melissa: There was edibles and
food that we put on the cats so that when they licked
themselves, it became a meal. Narrator: And because of
all that hair and makeup, they also needed a daily bath, which required training all its own. They first had to be OK with water. They used a technique
called counterconditioning, which took about two months. Melissa: We had catnip
parties in the bathtub to make the bathtub a nice place, and then the next we would have the most delicious treats
that we would find, and we would put two
drops of water on them, and then four, and then a
little bit of a sprinkle. Narrator: In “Pet Sematary,”
Church also has to hiss a lot, so how do you get a cat
to do this on command? They rewarded him whenever
he did this behavior on his own, naturally. Sometimes a snake toy was
used to elicit the response. And Leo, based on his personality, was a natural at being the undead Church, hissing and swaying. Kirk: Leo has a personality that was… positive towards the hiss. He is kind of like a growly kitty. He has that motion. He has that tail wag. That’s who he is. That’s his character. Narrator: The production
team used very little CGI since the cats were so good at their job, and each cat had their own
strengths and weaknesses based on their characters. Melissa: You know, it was difficult to get Tonic to sit still, and it was difficult to get Leo to move. Narrator: Throughout the
entire filming process, a representative from the Humane Society was on set as part of the animal team to make sure the cats
were also safe and happy. And after wrapping production, Tonic seemed to have
caught the acting bug. Melissa: When the movie was done, he was leaping through the house trying to coax me to play with him, and he rode my big-screen
TV right to the ground. So I think Tonic wants
to be a movie star again, he likes the attention.

100 thoughts on “How Cats Are Trained For TV And Movies | Movies Insider

  1. 5:18 "Leo has a Puurrrsonality that is Pawsitive towards this." Thats all I could hear in that sentence.

  2. 1:07 " where one particular cat character named churuch plays a staring role"

    Shows the camera a boring face

    Me: that's a pretty big role

  3. I had nightmares for weeks after watching Pet Cemetery because my cat looks almost exactly like Church.

  4. Guy: Leo was, ahh, positive to the hiss….
    Me, an intellectual: I believe you mean PAWsitive…

  5. "The cat thinks they are training me."

    So thats how its done? Haha shows how highly these cats think of themselves

  6. Wow.. I would have sworn the after death cat was CGI. I mean.. probably still has CGI but I thought it was all GCI.

  7. I trained my cat how to sit and beg when I was around 9. You hold a treat directly above a cats head, and their natural reaction is to sit and look up at it. You give them the treat for sitting. After they've learned that command, you hold the treat in your hand and my cat gently put her paw up to try and grab it herself. I gave her the treat. Now she knows 2 commands and it was easy enough for me as a kid to teach her myself. (I'm now an adult and my cat still knows those tricks)

  8. Something strange for my cat is she already knew how to do some tricks like sit,roll over,handshake and I was super confused how she learned all these without my help so I was confused af but then my extremely nice neighbor exists so that explains why she was able to do all the tricks cuz my neighbor teached her ;-; btw her name is
    Lisa :>

    Dies cutely

  9. So, training a skunk? No bfd. Buffalo? Sure — I got you covered. A cat? WAIT — DID YOU SAY YOU WANT ME TO TRAIN A CAT!!!??? NOOOO THANK YOU! hahaha

  10. that's why I love 'em – independent. don't do what you want them to do – they do what THEY want to do.

  11. So why didn't they use cgi instead? I want to know what makes directors and producers choose this over that. Cause I see a lot of movies where things could be made live but they used cgi instead and vice versa

  12. It helps to have a dog it makes it so it’s especially easy to train it compared to a normal cat. Plus if the cat is food motivated. The family cat is food motivated and looks up to my dog so the cat now knows sit and “up” which is a version of like stand but to give my dog and cat some leverage to stay up I give them my arm to lean on. The cat doesn’t even claw me when she does it. The cat my family has is what we call dog cat, she likes walks, does tricks, wants to be around people, and doesn’t like being alone.

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