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On April 27, five bison carcasses were arranged on the set of the Ice Age film The Solutrean in Alberta, Canada, for a scene that takes place after a hunting expedition. They had been slaughtered and partially skinned the previous day to be used in the scene by a butcher at the direction of the film’s animal wrangler, John Scott, on his ranch property an hour and a half away.
But the American Humane Association prohibits the use of animals killed for the purpose of film production. And now the AHA, which was monitoring The Solutrean, is investigating the incident. “We were alerted to allegations that, if true, are a clear violation of our standards,” says AHA rep Mark Stubis.
The Solutrean, directed by Albert Hughes and starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, is the first film from the Sony-partnered Studio 8, headed by former Warner Bros. chief Jeff Robinov. Studio 8 says it acted in good faith by inviting the AHA on set and “proactively contracted with a reputable meat-processing company to purchase bison carcasses that had previously been harvested.” Studio 8 also says an internal review is underway, promising that “if we find that any deviation did indeed occur, we will consider all potential remedies, including rescuing five other bison who would have otherwise been slaughtered, by purchasing them for adoption by an animal sanctuary, along with any other actions involving other responsible parties that we feel are appropriate.”
In addition, invoices, emails and a livestock travel manifest provided by Studio 8 appear to show butcher Longview Beef Jerky sold the bison to the production as dead carcasses (though a field on the manifest to indicate the bison’s location beforehand was blank). Scott, a wrangler and owner of a century-old working ranch (which includes bison), boasts a long film CV, from Legends of the Fall and Unforgiven to The Revenant. But his name has been linked to trouble before. During production of The 13th Warrior, a 1999 Disney film on which he worked, a horse had to be destroyed after a wire sliced through its tendons and an artery. Scott also faced accusations he sold horses he’d used on the Canadian TV series Heartland — on which he was the head wrangler between 2008 and 2011 — at auctions attended by buyers for Bouvry Exports, the largest horse slaughterhouse in North America. It was probed by the Royal Canadian Police in 2010 for inhumane killing. (He admits to THR that “we use Bouvry” for ranch sales, but wouldn’t comment on the Heartland horses, only saying, “I take my horses to horse sales, and I can’t help where they go from there.”)
“I have the right to do with my bison whatever I want to do,” says Scott.
As for the bison used in Solutrean, Scott declined comment, citing a confidentiality agreement, but he notes, generally, “I have the right to do with my bison whatever I want to do.”
More forthcoming, at least initially, was Tom Kirk, a managing partner of Longview, a family firm whose own butchering handiwork can be seen onscreen in Brokeback Mountain and Hell on Wheels. He observed, “Our meat manager did meet with a producer and John [Scott]” in advance of the slaughter (Scott was offsite that day). Kirk claimed no ownership history of the bison, seemingly contradicting Studio 8’s documentation, and said his team had no idea where the bison came from. The next day, after THR contacted Studio 8 and Scott, he backed away from his promise to answer follow-up questions. “I’m feeling really pressured by a lot of different individuals,” Kirk said.
Undaunted is Dwight Beard, a veteran entertainment-industry trucker, assigned on The Solutrean to transport the bison from Scott’s property to the set. He says he witnessed the killings as well as Scott directing a Longview butcher by phone to sign the manifest. “John told the butcher not to put his name on the paperwork for the buffalo because he knew that it could get traced back by animal rights activists,” says Beard. “This was the answer I got when I asked why the butcher put his own name down for the buffalo even though John owned them. These guys all know it’s wrong so they are trying to be arm’s length away.”
One penalty the AHA could enact is to refuse to accredit the film. An AHA rep also told THR that “If, in the course of the ongoing investigation, the American Humane Association discovers that any laws were broken or violated, we will submit the evidence to the proper channels immediately.”
Informed of the episode, a former AHA official argues the industry watchdog group should have kept a closer eye on Scott. Fraud by wranglers and trainers is a problem: “It’s common, particularly after something [concerning] comes up, for what’s submitted to be bogus.”
Barbara Casey, an AHA alum who runs rival monitoring group Movie Animals Protected, believes fewer incidents would occur if trainers and wranglers were pushed harder to comply with the rules: “The person in charge of the animals needs to be accountable.”
A version of this story first appeared in the July 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
A bison carcass en route to the set of ‘Solutrean‘ in Canada.
June 22 11am: Updated with an added statement from the AHA.
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