Animal trainer Mikhail on filming Tigers

Animal trainer Mikhail Zaretsky lives in a ranch outside Moscow with over 10 predators in total. Taking care of large cats, feeding and training them for filming has been his daily routine for years. Mikhail shared some facts and stories.

Things are pretty serious. A tiger is a 1,000-pound machine that is always trying to challenge you both physically and emotionally. Before every shoot, I practice the content of the scene over and over again and calm the predator down: kiss it in the nose, put my arm in its mouth (by the way, the tiger’s teeth are 2.5 inches long, and it can bite your arm off in an instant). But in order to make a scene look more dramatic, I might, for instance, pinch its ear a little bit. Its roar will make everyone think that the beast is about to eat me alive. Such moments look very true on the screen.

My animals eat about a ton of meat per month. They eat beef, turkey, rabbit and chicken. Chicken necks are wild cats’ most favorite treat ever. Perhaps because they crisp, like potato chips. Tigers would prefer this of all food.

Sometimes we let out 5-6 tigers to play outside. I come to my buddy, who has a large fenced piece of land. Animals need it in order to develop in the right way.

In the wild, predators don’t eat every day. That’s why there is a rule in taking care of such animals: we don’t feed them during one day of the week -- they only drink water. We try to plan to have these days right before filming days, so that we could stimulate the tigers with something tasty. How do you make a tiger run a hundred meters through a straight corridor? There’s a piece of meat on the other end of the corridor! I let the tiger go and it runs straight to the food. And if it’s not hungry, it can turn at any point and you’d have to catch it.

Our animals are not specifically circus animals. If an animal has been brought up for the circus, it will get used to the circus only -- it will know the arena, particular tricks, jumping between pedestals or through rings, etc. Me and my animals are comfortable anywhere. If we need to film on a ship, they’ll be on a ship, if we need to fly on a plane, they’ll be there. They are ready for explosions, all kind of noises, shots fired, etc.

Filming with big animals like tigers has its complications. For example, we had a scene where a tiger attacks the trainer and attempts to hurt it. Two guys with water cannons are waiting behind the camera, and as soon as the take is cut, they knock the tiger off the trainer. What do we got? Both the trainer and the tiger are soaking. The next take will be possible only on the next day. So, preparation needs to be extremely thorough.

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