Cold Mountain

Based on the National Book Award-winning novel by Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain recounts the saga of Inman (Jude Law), a wounded confederate soldier struggling to make his way home to the mountains of North Carolina and his pre-war sweetheart, Ada (Nicole Kidman). During Inman's long absence, a lonely Ada copes with the sudden death of her missionary father and eventually finds the strength to resuscitate the family farm with the aid of Ruby (Renee Zellweger), a tough, straight-talking young drifter. Inman's extended journey takes him through the crumbling confederacy and in contact with many victims of the war, some of whom want to help him and some who'll stop at nothing to thwart his homecoming.

  • Starring: Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger
  • Director(s): Anthony Minghella
  • Producer(s): Miramax Films
  • Screenwriter(s): Anthony Minghella
  • Distributor: Miramax Films
  • Animal Coordinator: Steve Dent/Stunt Dogs
  • Release Date: Thursday, December 25, 2003
  • Rating: Acceptable

Featured Animal Action

This film includes several intense scenes showing the killing and skinning of farm animals for alimentary purposes. The frequent appearance of cows, pigs, goats, dogs, sheep and chickens in the background further accentuates the campestral setting. Cold Mountain's considerable horse action ranges from atmospheric shots of the animals pulling carts, wagons and plows to complex scenes with shootouts between dissidents and the confederate cavalry.

Detailed Animal Action

The film opens with a shot of a rabbit popping up from a hole and hopping off toward the battlements. Crew members made a hole in the ground with a plastic tube and a trainer placed the rabbit inside. On action, she nudged the bunny's bottom to get him to pop out of the hole, and once outside, off-screen trainers clapped loudly to encourage the rabbit to hop toward the battlements. Handlers placed crates on the battlement end so the bunnies would go away from the clapping and toward their "home" crates. Four different rabbits were used to accomplish this scene.

Soon after, two soldiers — Butcher (Trey Howell) and Rourke (Ben Allison) — wrestle each other and run after the stray rabbit with the hopes of having it for breakfast. As the bunny races down the trench, several soldiers give chase and struggle to catch it. For this performance, one trainer hid behind a barrel and released the rabbit into the trench. The rabbit knew to run toward his crate and another trainer at the end of the trench, away from the clapping and running feet. Although it appears several of the soldiers grasp the bunny as he runs, no one actually touched the animal.

When the explosion sounds and the ground starts to erupt, the rabbit was no where near the set. Post production edited this into the scene of the actors chasing the real rabbit.

Rooster

Distraught from the death of her father, Ada shuns visitors and, in one scene, gets bitten by an aggressive rooster while she hides under the porch. To create this sequence, wranglers first placed a tame rooster off camera and scattered sardines on the ground near the actress to attract its attention. As the rooster approaches, Ada shoos him away. Trainers then removed the live bird from the scene and replaced it with an animatronic rooster, operated by puppeteers, which then "attacked" Ada.

Still vexed by the biting incident, Ada implores Ruby to do something about the rooster "menacing" her from the porch railing. Ever practical Ruby marches straight over to the bird, scoops it up, and proceeds to break its neck, decapitate it, and toss the head on the ground. Though quite a realistic portrayal, the actress only pretends to behead the rooster. When Ruby grabs the animal, she also picks up a fake head hidden from view on the railing. With the rooster's real head turned away from the camera, the actress threw the fake head to the ground.

Bull

While on the run, Inman and Veasey (Philip Seymour Hoffman) come across a man named Junior, played by Giovanni Ribisi, who struggles to drag a dead bull out of the creek because it's contaminating the water supply. In order to decrease some of the weight and make the grueling task more manageable, the men decide to saw off the bull's head. The implied action occurs off screen, and the animal used in the scene was real. Production purchased the dead bull from a cattle farm after it had been euthanized—per normal farm operation— due to a fractured leg.

Fish

After fleeing the home guard by boat with Veasey, a starving Inman wades in the river and tries to catch a fish. Although he does capture one with his bare hands, the slippery fish manages to escape.

The fish used for this scene were Bow Fin caught with nets in the Chicahamony River (a tributary of the James River where filming took place) one day prior to shooting. Fisheries Biologist Tom Gunter chose these fish because of their hardiness; Bow Fin have been known to survive 21 days out of water. Three Bow Fin used for the scene received a brief, FDA-approved sedative called MS Triple II, which is commonly used by the fisheries when relocating fish for environmental purposes. The drug's effect is immediate and allowed Gunter about two minutes to make a tiny (1/8inch) incision in the fish's mouth to thread a 30-pound fishing line through and then tie in a knot. The monofilament line helped keep the fish in the area of filming and kept them from escaping.

On action, Inman placed his hands in the water and attempted to catch the fish. Gunter instructed the actor to keep his hands wet at all times so as not to injure the fish, and to grasp it lightly with both hands and allow it to slide away freely with no resistance. The Bow Fin were never out of water for more than three seconds on any take, and all fish were freed of their lines and released back into the river where Gunter caught them.

Goats

After rescuing Inman from the chain gang, craggy old Maddy (Eileen Atkins) kills and skins a goat as Inman looks on with distaste. Maddy strokes and hugs the little white goat and then stabs him through the throat, continuing to pet him as he appears to sit motionless. Moments later, the goat lies on its side and Maddy holds a bowl filled with blood while she continues to pet him.

Two goats, Pongo and Purdy, were used to film this sequence. Though unsettling to watch, these animals never faced any danger and the scene required several cuts to create the illusion of the slaughter. First, the trainer used a buzzer to call the white goat kid to Maddy, who gave the animal a food reward and stroked him. Then, the trainer put the goat in a lie-down position with its head up and cued it to stay. Maddy simulated the throat slitting using a prop knife and later pretended to catch the blood in a bowl. Finally, trainers put the goat in a down-stay position with its head down to simulate death. The props department later supplied a puppet for the skinning shot.

Lambs

Grace (Kristen LaPrade) tries to feed a baby lamb when her mother Ada suddenly grabs a knife and goes outside, telling the girl to bring the animal uphill. Ada is next seen skinning a stillborn lamb and placing the skin over Grace's cuddly friend. The happy lamb then scampers over to its mother and begins to suckle. For this performance, a trainer placed the lamb in Grace's lap and stood just off camera during the scene. As soon as the director cut and Grace started to get up, the animal went back to the trainer. Outside, Ada knelt with a fake knife over the fake lamb lying in the grass. When Grace approached with the live animal, the camera cut to Ada skinning a fake one. This scene required two live lambs — one stand-in and one with its mother for the suckle shot.

Horses

In the first part of the film, a horse gets up from the burning battle field and trots off amid lots of smoke. This scene was filmed in front of a green screen, and the trainer instructed the horse to lay down on its mark and then rise up on cue.

In several instances, mounted home guard soldiers clash violently with Union cavalry. During one rainy night scene, four mounted home guard escorting the chain gang scurries over a dirt mound with the horses when they spy the cavalry in the distance. Because of the muddy conditions, the horses moved at a comfortably slow pace. For this scene, two mounted wranglers/stuntmen rode in front, and one mounted actor and one stuntman make up the rear. Riders in front of the chain gang rode forward 2-3 strides until out of frame and then dismounted, leading the horses over the mound. Handlers draped blankets on the horses between takes, and because the scene required special effects rain, the trainers dried and blanketed the horses before transporting them back to their stables. Stuntmen and wranglers were on hand to catch any loose horses. In all scenes involving horses, wranglers and crew members thoroughly checked the ground for any trip hazards or other problems that could affect the horses' footing.

Not long after, 20 mounted cavalry gallop into view while the four home guard horses remain hidden behind the dirt mound. The home guard engages the cavalry in gun battle, and for this sequence, all of the cavalry horses were ridden by their professional stunt rider owners. For this shootout, the men fired blank rounds away from the horses. The horses had been accustomed to the noise of firearms and wore earplugs for greater comfort. Wranglers cleared the area of any debris and filled some puddles in the galloping cavalry's path with dirt. Steel studs were screwed into the horseshoes of the home guard horses for safety and traction, and trainers inspected all tack prior to the shot. Four wranglers on foot helped catch any wayward horses.

Inman sees slaves emerge from the corn fields onto a dirt road and tries to buy their eggs. They refuse to speak to him, and moments later (off screen) the slaves encounter confederate soldiers who presumably shoot and kill them. As soldiers round the bend, Inman streaks into the corn field and soon two blue tick coon hounds and two men riding on horseback chase after him. The animals learned to run the same A-B, with the dogs running mere seconds behind the horses. For this scene, the dogs stopped to sniff and eat an egg dropped by a rider at the half-way point, and were then called into the cornfield by their trainer, who summoned the dogs by shaking a plastic coke bottle filled with rocks (the dogs had learned to come at that sound). The dogs received treats and had plenty of rest and water after each take.

Background Horse and Livestock Scenes

To create the image of a rural mountain village, the production dotted the sets with numerous wagons, horses and mules traveling from one point to another.

Horses and mules were hitched to wagons, carriages, carts, and ambulances and driven by costumed wranglers licensed by the city of Charleston, South Carolina. All horses and mules had rubber shoes on for better traction and the crew covered the road with dirt and watered it down to quell the dust. Five spotters hid behind trees, bushes, etc. off camera. When Ada sells her piano and a team of two horses pulls the loaded wagon, in reality, the horses pulled not a piano but a lightweight box made to look like the musical instrument.

Several chickens appear in both Ada's yard and the Swangers' farm. For these scenes, trainers scattered chicken feed on the ground and released the birds into the yard. Three wranglers on set stood out of frame with nets to keep the chickens in place, and after finishing the shot, wranglers collected the chickens one by one and returned them to their crates.

In another shot, Ruby leads a pig across the yard and several sheep graze in the background. The actress led "Sally" the trained pig using a rope harness that the trainer handed to her, and the trainer takes Sally back when Ruby exits the frame. Two wranglers plus a shepherd kept the sheep contained.

Turkeys

Ada sees three turkeys roaming on a snow covered path and manages to shoot one with her rifle. She then grabs the dead carcass by the feet and later plucks its feathers to prepare it for cooking. The turkeys in the first shot are real, but the props department supplied an animatronic bird for Ada to shoot at and a stuffed prop for the final one she picks up and plucks.

Crabs

When a starving Inman comes across a cluster of fiddler crabs near a creek, he grabs a handful and shoves them voraciously into his mouth. These diminutive crabs were indigenous to the area and brought to the set in a bucket, where the crew used lawn edging to contain them in one area. Real crabs appeared in the shot where Inman scoops up the crabs with his hand, but when he shovels them in his mouth, specially made "gummy crabs" doubled for the tiny crustaceans.

Doves

Inman and Ada share a special moment in the church when they notice a dove flying inside. The bird flies against the window and feathers flutter in the air before it perches on a pew and Inman pets it. Crew members covered the lights in the church so that the dove wouldn't get injured from the excessive heat, and folks from the props department dropped the feathers seen floating in the air. A trainer handed the dove to the actor for the petting shot and again when Inman steps outside the church to release the dove in front of the crowd of townsfolk. Trainers caught the dove after filming the scene and returned the bird to its crate completely unharmed.

Filming occurred in various locations in the state of South Carolina and also in Romania. American Humane was on set in both locations to monitor the animal action.