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Wrangling Snakes on a Plane

Published August 13, 2006 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of New Line Cinema.
Snakes on a Plane Snakes on a Plane
There’s only one man who can deal with snakes on a plane, and that’s Samuel L. Jackson. But how do you get the snakes on the plane in the first place? For that, you need to call Jules Sylvester. Sylvester’s been in the business of snakes for decades, so Snakes on a Plane was hardly among the most unusual requests he’s ever gotten.

Wrangling Snakes on a Plane with Jules Sylvester

“I actually worked on Witches of Eastwick,” Sylvester said. “It wasn’t actually my movie but I provided the snakes for it. I had 1400 snakes on that one. On that one, Cher was in bed with a whole bunch of snakes. She was cool about it. She did a hell of a job but she was in that bed for two and a half hours or something with snakes crawling all over her.”

By comparison, there were only 500 snakes on Snakes on a Plane, up from the 450 he initially brought. Things happen when you leave all the snakes together in between takes. That didn’t take long, since Sylvester’s clients only worked for less than a month on the film.

“We were there for three months, probably on it probably two weeks tops. Most of the time we did a snake here, a snake there so that didn’t really count. I’d say three weeks tops. That was a day here, two days there. Did a lot of second unit which I kind of lost track of how many days we were doing that because there were no actors. We’d shoot all day. It was great. We could do all the cool stuff with snakes dropping onto the extras.”

Sylvester will tell you there’s no such thing as a snake trainer. All you can do is let the snakes slither, so the CGI was necessary for specific actions in addition to safety. When it was live snakes, all Sylvester could do is protect them.

“My biggest challenge was making sure that my snakes didn’t get hurt. The first thing I do whenever I get on a set is we gather the whole crew together, including the cast and everything, and say, ‘Please ,please, please, do not hurt my snakes.’ 100% of actors are, ‘Well, of course.’ I just want to make sure that’s clear with anybody before we even start. ‘And if you’re afraid of snakes, please tell me. It’s okay. We’re not here to bruise egos or anything like that. If you’re afraid of the snake, it’s fine. That’s just a way of life.’ So the makeup ladies, some makeup ladies and some wardrobe ladies and some camera men were absolutely terrified of snakes. They have to work so they get over their fear, but I’m not going to torture them with it either. So usually when we say, ‘Snakes are out’ if they don’t want to be around, now’s the time to leave. ‘Everybody okay?’ When they need to come out, like they say the wardrobe lady needs to come out and tighten up something, we just make sure she has a space to work in.”

If you’re toughing it out and it’s too much, the signal is easy to remember. “Just say, ‘Yo Jules.’ And you have to understand that these people are trying really hard. They’ve got to feed the kids so you’ve got to give them all the credit. If they’ve had enough, they’ve had enough. You don’t want people to lose their cookies.”

Snakes on a Plane opens to theatres on August 18th.

For the trailers, more interviews, movie stills, posters and more movie info, go to the Snakes on a Plane Movie Page.

Stay tuned for updates.

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Compiled By (Sources)
Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of New Line Cinema.

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