Critter-pic specialist signs Disney pact

NEW YORK — “Air Bud” director Charles Martin Smith has signed to direct “Emily,” the true story of a cow on the lam after escaping from a Massachusetts slaughterhouse. The script is by Sheri Stoner and Deanna Oliver, whose credits include “Casper” and “My Favorite Martian.” “Emily” will be produced by Kennedy-Marshall.

As is perhaps appropriate for an actor-turned-director who’s best remembered for playing the role of Toad in “American Graffiti,” Smith finds himself in the midst of his third feature in which the primary stars have four legs, if you count his starring role in “Never Cry Wolf.” After his cowhide saga, Smith could become the Marlin Perkins of feature helmers.

“She escaped this slaughterhouse and lived in the woods and nobody could catch her,” said Smith. “There was this Emily underground movement, with people putting out hay for her to eat. It divided this middle American town because one side wanted to protect her and keep her free, and the other wanted to catch her and return her to the slaughterhouse.”

Since it’s a Disney film, it’s not exactly giving away a surprise ending to note that the bovine boosters win, and the cow was rescued on Christmas Eve of 1995.

While films like “Babe” have established a market for films with real animals, even the most picky of performers are easier to coax into hitting their marks than real animals. So locating helmers with the patience to film them isn’t easy. Smith has become so adept at shooting critter pics that Disney has signed him to a three-picture deal.

“I love doing it, but you have to be patient, something I learned from director Carroll Ballard on ‘Never Cry Wolf,’ that you have to let the animals be whatever they are and capture that. You’re almost like a documentarian, and I get a kick out of capturing something from nature that the audience hasn’t seen before. The only problem I might have is looking a hamburger in the face after I’ve finished this movie.”

Smith is repped by APA’s David Saunders and Gary Rado.

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