BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE
Shortly after settling in the small town of
Naomi, Florida, young Opal Buloni (Robb) adopts an orphaned dog and names him
Winn-Dixie after the supermarket where she found him. The friendship that grows
between the lonely girl and her canine companion brings together the townspeople
and helps Opal heal her own troubled relationship with “Preacher” (Daniels), her
melancholic, introverted father.
American Humane’s role
American Humane’s Film & Television Unit monitored this film. Because of
Winn-Dixie is a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) production, and therefore, it
was required to provide American Humane’s Certified Animal Safety
Representatives on-set access whenever animals were used. During pre-production
of the film, American Humane’s Film & TV Unit received a copy of the script and
the daily call sheets. American Humane’s Safety Representatives carefully
reviewed these materials to determine whether any scenes or situations appeared
to put animals at risk. Safety Representatives were then on the set to ensure
the animals remained safe throughout production.
This film met the
Guidelines established by American Humane, received the
Monitored Acceptable rating, and was awarded the "No Animals Were
Harmed”® End Credit Disclaimer
Featured animal scenes
Five Picardy shepherds, a rare breed originating in France, were hired to
portray Winn-Dixie. In both the opening supermarket scene and in Opal and
Preacher’s trailer, Winn-Dixie runs around knocking over all sorts of things. To
accomplish this action amid the grocery displays, trainers built special padded
ramps to provide secure footing for the dog. Items that fell over were rigged by
the props department to tumble after the dog had passed. Winn-Dixie was then put
on a mark and cued to run to another awaiting trainer. These shots were filmed
individually and edited together in post production.
When Winn-Dixie chases a rat in church, the pursuit is really a compilation of
several shots edited together. The trainer used a clicker to cue the rat to run
in various directions throughout the room. This same technique was used to film
the dog, but instead of a clicker, trainers used a favored toy.
In one shot, Winn-Dixie grabs a mechanical rat – not the real one – with his
mouth. However, for the close-up of the rodent dropping to the floor, a trainer
held a real animal about eight inches in the air and gently let it go. Actor
Jeff Daniels learned to hold the rat by the tail safely. For the rat’s eventual
escape, producers built a false wall with a hole and trainers lured the rat
through it with a clicker and food reward.
In one scene, Otis (Mathews) plays guitar to all the pet shop animals, which
have come out of their pens and cages for the concert. To accomplish this,
trainers scattered food on the ground and placed the animals on their marks,
supervising the action from off camera. When Otis stops playing, the animals
scurry around as they follow signals given by multiple off-screen trainers. To
fuel the feeling of bedlam, one trainer released a crate of homing pigeons that
flew across the set to a retrieval box.
To get Cookie the cockatoo to fly onto Winn-Dixie’s head in one scene, producers
used a fake furry dog head and filmed the shot in front of a green screen. Since
the pet shop and its many residents are featured prominently throughout the
movie, the entire set was regularly checked by American Humane’s Certified
Animal Safety Representatives.
To prepare for the bear scene, producers held a comprehensive safety meeting for
the limited crew that would be present during filming. This scene was also
filmed in separate shots. For the first part of this dream-like sequence,
trainers put Casey the black bear on mark, and the director filmed the bear as
he wandered naturally around the set. In another shot, a trainer put the bear on
mark and tossed a book made of Styrofoam at Casey, who barely noticed it.
Later, the trainer positioned Casey on mark and cued him to open his mouth.
Then, the trainer had Casey hold a book with his mouth and walk toward him as
the cameras rolled. For the last shot in this sequence, the trainer placed Casey
on mark next to the book and cued the bear to pick it up and wave.
Goat and goose
For this scene, producers replaced the police car’s side panel with a piece of
lightweight sheet metal, and the goat was trained to “head butt” the car on
command. The soft metal crumpled easily to make it look as if the goat was doing
some serious damage to the car. An off-screen trainer cued the goose to pull on
the actor’s pant leg. Then, for the scene in which the goose and officer drive
away, a trainer hid in the backseat of the car.
Winn-Dixie chases Mr. Alfred’s cat in a couple scenes; however, the two animals
never come in direct contact. The cat was released first and cued to run to
another trainer waiting off camera with a treat and a crate. The dog then was
released by his trainer and cued to run to a second handler at the end mark.
In one scene, Preacher removes a thorn from Winn-Dixie’s paw. The trainer dulled
a real thorn and then carefully placed it between the pads of the dog’s foot and
placed the dog’s paw in the actor’s hand. The actor then used tweezers to remove