• Adventures

Capturing the adventures on film…

Filming took place over a substantial period of time, staggered in phases to accommodate the lions. “I’ve shot a lot of action, visual effects, and have also worked quite extensively with lions previously,” said Swan, “as well as filming two feature films with Kevin Richardson, so have come to know the animal side of movie making fairly well through those experiences. Therefore coming to this was easy in terms of understanding Kevin’s requirements as to what the animals would need from the camera. Kevin was always the intermediary between the animals and me, so their direction basically came through him. From that viewpoint, it was a fairly easy process, but wasn’t entirely trouble-free as lions don’t necessarily do exactly what you want them to, which was obviously the challenge. But I do think they had a sixth sense, because they hit their mark more accurately than most actors I’ve worked with.” Line Producer, Carine Stander, concurred. “They respond entirely to love and affection and possibly a little piece of meat at the end of a stick. We just showed them what we wanted them to do and then they would do it. They were fantastic and almost never let us down.”

“We were filming with two, sometimes three cameras,” recalled Swan, so were able to capture a variety of angles throughout the shoot. We also repeated things until we got them right; it was as simple as that. Animals won’t do exactly the same thing more than once, so we had to carefully plan our edit and ensure that way we covered the action with our cameras, enabled us to capture the material needed to sell the story. To an extent it was laborious, but also very rewarding. This movie is predominantly about lions, not people, so it needed to be image dependant. Therefore, from the word ‘go’ we knew that the imagery would be all-important.” Swan approached his dual roles on the picture with aplomb. “On most films, the director and cinematographer enjoy a close collaboration, so doing both roles on WHITE LION was relatively painless. Having also worked previously with Kevin Richardson, we tended to bounce ideas back and forth quite easily.” The filmmakers shot on a high definition digital format. “We opted for that instead of 35mm,” explained Swan, “because we were shooting an enormous amount of footage - up to five hours of material per day. Translating that to film would have been enormously expensive, so we saved money there, which gave us the freedom to concentrate on capturing the material needed without worrying about the cost of stock.”

Most wildlife movies are shot, day-in, day-out, with the sun always in the sky, but going against tradition, WHITE LION was filmed in summer, rather than the traditional exterior season of winter in the Highveld. Explained Swan; “We went down this path because the gorgeous, lush, green summer environment of our landscape hadn’t previously been captured on film. Also, white lions look exquisite when set against such a beautiful, rich, green backdrop. This was a stylistic choice that came from Rodney Fuhr, our Executive Producer. It wasn’t without problems, as here in Johannesburg, over the past few years, we’ve experienced some of the wettest summers on record, which caused the production to close down a number of times, but it has ultimately given the film a unique look.” Richardson concurred; “It was incredibly challenging, particularly as we were only shooting exteriors. The torrential rain we’ve recently had in Johannesburg impacted on us in many ways - from not being able to shoot, to having cranes and other equipment, such as tow vehicles, plus our crew, getting stuck in the mud. It was a logistical nightmare, but worth it!”

During the shoot, the filmmakers were often asked if they were filming a ninety-minute documentary. “The answer to that question is definitely NO,” stated Kevin Richardson. “Traditionally, a documentary is an edit of much footage that may be very good, and a story develops from there. Our film BEGINS with a specific story, which we made happen.

Audiences are also accustomed to the long lens look of a documentary, shot from a Land Rover but we set out to capture our lions on film in a very intimate way.” “This is the complete opposite of a documentary,” added Michael Swan. “Everything that we filmed was specifically set-up for the cameras and the scenes we were shooting, so nothing was recorded by chance. The film was scripted, and we had a schedule of scenes that we needed to complete everyday, which followed the traditional discipline of a feature film where every shot is scripted and story-boarded, and the lions moved from left to right, or as we needed them to for the story, whether they were coming down a mountain, looking at us or pausing. In a documentary you could never capture that kind of behaviour.

Everything was designed around getting the story told, and persuading the animals to do what we wanted them to do and where we wanted them to do it. That’s the difference between a dramatic fiction film and a documentary - the latter really being just a slice of life captured on film. Our shooting was quite the opposite of a documentary, which is executed in any light, as long as the animal is in frame. We set-up our shots to have the best light for the cameras, and the sets that we created were designed to make WHITE LION a dramatic fiction feature film destined to be screened in a cinema, as opposed to a documentary which you can catch on late-night television.”

Working on WHITE LION proved an amazing experience for all involved. “Lions are definitely the king of the beasts,” remarked Carine Stander. “It’s basically acknowledged amongst every nationality on this planet that lions are at the top of the food-chain, so we have great respect for them. But at the same time, I think they are great teachers, and for me, and everyone else, working with them has just been the most incredible experience. Watching a movie such as this is truly phenomenal in terms of getting so close and personal with these majestic creatures.”