Mia and the White Lion is the adaptation by William Davies of an original story written by Prune de Maistre.
William Davies started his career as a sportswriter in London before moving to Los Angeles with his first screenplay, Twins which was produced in 1987 starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito.
Since then he has written numerous studio movies, including How to Train Your Dragon and Puss in Boots, both of which were Oscar nominated, Flushed Away, for which he won the Annie award for Best Writing in an Animated Feature, Johnny English and Johnny English Reborn.
He has also written and executive-produced pilots for both NBC and Fox, while his production company in London, Stormy Pictures made the critically acclaimed series Red Cap for the BBC.
SHOOTING IN REAL TIME:
Gilles de Maistre wanted to do justice to this story by shooting it in as natural a way as possible. Therefore, he took the decision to shoot the film in real time over a period of three years. During this time both the child actress and the lion would mature on screen without the use of tricks or special effects.
Gilles accepts that this is a massive undertaking, but is convinced that he will be able to achieve what he has set out to do. His approach has been twofold:
He has forged a close working relationship with Kevin Richardson, an expert in animal behaviour who will be able to pass on his know how to a little twelve year-old girl and help her to establish a unique bond with a lion cub that will last until the lion reaches adulthood.
Secondly, the film’s exceptional timeframe. Over the three year period, during which the child and the cub will live and grow together, will offer unique insights into the child as she becomes a teenager and lion cub as it reaches maturity.
By adopting this approach, Gilles will be able to capture unusual angles and scenes that would be impossible using the normal cinematic approach. The child and cub will develop an uncommon complicity that will lend the story unequalled force and sincerity.
WORKING WITH CHILDREN AND LIONS:
Kevin Richardson, is passionate about big cats and has devoted his life to educating people about lions, the plight of lions in the wild and the evils of the canned lion hunting industry. He lives symbiotically with the big cats thereby gaining an unparalleled understanding of their behaviour. When it came to shooting Mia and the White Lion, Gilles de Maistre looked no further than Kevin as a collaborator on the film.
Casting on the film started in April 2014 and took over four months. Children who had made the short list spent a day at a lion farm, where they interacted with lion cubs aged from new born up to 6-months old and were observed by Kevin Richardson and the director, Gilles De Maistre. Their final casting decision was determined by the way in which the children interacted with the lions.
It was vital to conclude the casting process as early as possible before the start of production because the nature of this film would require an enormous commitment from the young actors as well as their parents. For the little actors to fully bond with the lions they would need to have daily exposure to the animals. To this end, the families of the young actors would have to relocate to be as close as possible to the lion sanctuary.
Under Kevin’s guidance, the actors would spend time with the cubs every day, care for them and bond with them. Kevin’s aim was to foster a good relationship between the children and the cubs and essentially enable the children to eventually become the animal wranglers.
Kevin has worked on a number of films and is very exacting when it comes to wrangling animals on film sets. His primary goal is to ensure that the animals suffer as little stress as little as possible in the process. Therefore, the crew on Mia and the White Lion is being kept to a minimum, and the shooting style is purposefully loose, thus alleviating stress on the children or the animals. The big advantage of this approach is that it allows the children and the lions to guide the scenes and in so doing allow the filmmakers to capture spontaneous, real moments between the children and the lions.
The safety of the children is Kevin’s primary concern. Should he at any stage feel that the safety of the children is being compromised, filming will immediately be halted and the filmmakers will revert to regular green screen to capture the sequence. In fact, he will stop all interaction between the children and the lions if he senses the remotest danger.