The Promise

A young doctor falls into a love triangle with the Armenian genocide looming in the future.
  • Starring: Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac
  • Director(s): Terry George
  • Producer(s): Eric Esrailian, William Horberg, Mike Medavoy, Denise O’ Dell
  • Screenwriter(s): Terry George, Robin Swicord
  • Distributor: Open Road Films
  • Animal Coordinator: Victoria and Richard, Zookoo Prod, Bidnija Horse Riding                
  • Release Date: Friday, April 21, 2017

Featured Animal Action

“The Promise” takes place in the early 1900’s during the end of the Ottoman Empire, so there are a ton of animals throughout the film, including horses, donkeys, chickens, birds, etc.

All horseback riders were stunt riders or experienced actors who were skilled at riding, mounting and dismounting. All running/galloping scenes were well choreographed, and actors used caution while on and near animals. The horse(s) rearing was a trained behavior. The horses were specially trained “falling horses” and “lay down horses” that fell on cue onto a soft landing area. When teams of horses pulled wagons or carriages, the drivers were experienced and teams of horses were familiar with each other and accustomed to the pulling action. Whenever horses were seen tied to posts/fences, they were attached to lead ropes tied to posts.

In the opening scene where the actor walks into the busy market place and there are birds, donkeys, horses and chickens in the background, Scene 16a, The animals were brought to the village in lorries, cars and vans with their trainers and owners. The trainers placed feed everywhere to keep the animals in place, and made sure they were fed properly and given water between takes.

In the scene where the main actor rides a donkey through a vast field and near the seaside, for each scene the donkey was brought to the set by his trainer in a large lorry. The actor was only filmed on the donkey in close-ups. Most of the sequences filmed were with a stuntman on the donkey dressed like the actor. When we see the actor first enter the school grounds and we see a few carriages with horses, the horses were accustomed to pulling carriages. All traffic was closed for shooting the scenes. The handlers positioned the teams then placed blocks of wood under the wheels to help take the strain off the horses. After the action, the horses were unhitched then taken to a shady area underneath some trees. The handlers stayed with them at all times and gave water when needed.

When we see the main actor and actress walk along a path and we see peacocks and canaries in the area, four peacocks were brought to set with the canaries, they were large carriers with black canvas’ covering them to keep them shaded. Three animal handlers brought two of the male peacocks to a pathway where the filming took place. Bird seed was thrown on the path and the handlers placed the birds on the path. Likewise, the canaries were placed in the large bird cage by the handlers where they filled the water holders and birdseed holders.

In the scene where Turkey enters the war and we see a line of horses ridden by soldiers down a city street, thirty horses were ridden by a cavalry in lines of four abreast with two horses leading. The horses’ base camp was only a few minutes away and were walked to the set by a police escort. The carriage horses were kept at the top of the street just off set then walked into position when needed. The carriages carried buckets of water and some feed. There were approximately eighty extras in this narrow street with most of them closer to the camera so the horses had a clear passage to travel.

In the scene where the actor is in a car and he sees a line of Armenian prisoners being led by Turkish soldiers on horseback, between takes the horses were kept under the shade, and given water and food.

In the scene where we see the slave camp with the train station with the horse drawn wagons and explosions in the background, the animals were placed a safe distance from the explosions and the horses had cotton wool and ear plugs inserted.

In the scene where the actor awakens in a farm area and the dog runs after him barking giving his position away, the trainer stood off camera and on command the dog barked and moved forward to the actor, then was grabbed by the peasant farmer and taken back to the hut.

In the scene where the couple ride in a horse-drawn carriage flanked with another man on horseback, riding through the woods, the ground was checked for trip hazards by the horse master and stunt master along with a few horse handlers. In the subsequent sequence when soldiers shoot at them and they start galloping away, the horses were tacked up and ridden by professional riders in costume carrying rifle. They used the proper blanks in the guns which abided by our guidelines. When the men on horseback chased the other men on horseback, trainers checked the grounds before shooting. The surface was excellent and safe for horseback riding. Only two horses were used with the bay horse trotting six horses to a stop then the stunt rider dismounted and the horses were walked out of shot to a handler holding a bucket of feed.