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Snakes On A Wrangler
Samuel L. Jackson may be the star of Snakes on a Plane, but there's little doubt that the most important person on set was the man responsible for handling the hundreds of snakes used in the production – renowned snake wrangler Jules Sylvester.

Along with his team, which included Canadian counterpart Brad McDonald who supplied many of the pythons and the film's rarer species, Sylvester ensured that the actors – and the snakes – were safe throughout the production.

"When I first met with Craig [Berenson] and Dave Ellis, the director, they wanted the taipans and vipers and some really lethal puff adders,” says Sylvester. "Stuff that would knock you dead. But working with an airplane full of people and a camera crew right there might not be such a good idea. These are really hairy animals. They can be used for second unit but otherwise it's just too dangerous.” 

Instead, Sylvester suggested taking advantage of a natural phenomenon - as part of their survival strategy, many benign snakes mimic the deadly ones. Only a trained eye can tell the difference. 

"The safest way to shoot a movie like this is to use a bunch of look-a-likes,” explains Sylvester. "For example, this milk snake is relatively harmless but unless you're an expert herpetologist it looks like a very deadly Brazilian coral snake. The colors are identical, the size is identical, except the coral snake is absolutely lethal. A lot of times a snake's only defense is that it has the color patterns or behavior patterns of something that could inflict a lot of damage. 

"Another example is the tiger rat snake. It doesn't have rattles on its tail but it'll shake its tail in leaf litter. You hear a rattle and you think it's a rattlesnake, so you stay away from it. That's pretty much the illusion. 

"The yellow rat snake is about six-feet, and it could easily pass as a coastal taipan. I've got some red-tailed green rat snakes — so there's your green mamba. We've got a water snake that matches a cottonmouth. And we've got Russian rat snakes; they look very dangerous but they are actually a very gentle snake.

"We've got a bull snake from British Columbia — in California they're called a gopher snake. They hiss tremendously. Their head flattens out and gives a tremendous strike, and of course they've got very sharp teeth.

"Then we have another 250 garter snakes for background bodies when we don't have people running around. So no, there aren't any snakes on set that are venomous except for the mangroves, and we won't be using those around the actors. Even then, a mangrove won't kill you. Just make you swell and give you a terrible headache.”

Added to the look-a-likes were several pythons including Kitty, the Burmese python featured in a key scene in the film. But, as Sylvester points out, these are not venomous, they're constrictors. 

For the experienced Sylvester (he has more than 300 movies to his credit ranging from Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events to There's Something About Mary), the ultimate sin is getting an actor bitten. 

"It means I didn't read it right,” says Sylvester. "I didn't teach the actor right. And they have to trust me.” 

The actors are not the only ones that Sylvester fears for. "My biggest fear, actually, is that with all these passengers on board in a very limited space and everybody pretending panic, is that they'll step on my snakes,” he says. 

With all the potential minefields, perhaps it can be said that the most amazing performance came from the snake wranglers. "They take what they do extremely seriously and when we used live snakes, they were right there so that if anybody was having an issue they could deal with it,” says Berenson. "And I have to say, Jules was so funny. He said, ‘I have to implore you all to please ma


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