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Belfast Set Visit: Part 2

[You can read the first part of the set visit report here.]

To get to the next set required a journey outside ... and that ended up leading to a detour to the props department. I had noticed a giant, wooden stag’s head outside and wondered if it was a part of the tourney set, and Bryan confirmed. With Parris’s encouragement, we we went into the prop room. A true treasure trove! A very special saddle for one of the actors, various household ornaments, a cute child’s drawing (which I suspect came from the hand of Arya, given the subject matter of a warrior woman on horseback slashing at soldiers), banners galore, a certain (dead) direwolf which has been reported on before, a prototype for the Iron Throne, and much more.

The direwolf was especially massive, very much the size of a pony. I asked Bryan about this, saying that of course right now the direwolf pups need not be much bigger than dogs ... but what happens later on (if there is a later on, *knock on wood*)? Would the production use digital compositing or forced perspective… ? That was one of the things he said they would have to deal with when it came to it. I had the sense that they were very hopeful of having such a problem to deal with, giving that that would mean additional seasons in which to tell the story.

Now, as you know, the heraldry of the setting is near and dear to my heart, and I only wish those banners hadn’t been wrapped up so I could look at them. However, I did notice that they all had labels indicating who they belonged to. They comprised many names straight out of the novels: Karstark, Umber, Hornwood, Cerwyn, Glover ... and Bolton, I couldn’t help but notice. The sheer number of northern houses represented put me in mind of the fact that at the pilot shoot in Doune Castle, it was stated that the feasting hall was hung with many banners. But they weren’t all northern. There were two different Lannister banners, including one very fancy one, and I also noticed a more obscure house of the westerlands, House Swyft, represented, which pleased me to no end. Little did I know I’d get an eyeful of heraldry soon enough…

Shelves were lined with objects, and had tags indicating where they belonged. There was this terrific wheeled horse ornament which apparently belonged in Ned Stark’s chamber at the Red Keep, which I believe is a memento he carried with him from King’s Landing with him to remember Bran by, some textiles and things that belonged to Cersei, even a long row of objects that were part of the Dothraki setting.

We then went on to another exterior set, this one representing one of the sky cells beneath the Eyrie. I was amazed at just how heavy the wooden door was, just as it would be. I had to really push to get it open. When we were inside, they mentioned that they had already filmed scenes with Mord, played by Ciaran Bermingham. Everyone had thought he was a terrific actor and person, and really enjoyed his portrayal of the character (later, George mused that Bermingham would have been a fine choice for a character from the second novel, Biter, as well). The sky cell itself… the first thing I noted was that it didn’t seem to be subtly tilted, as in the books, but when I was actually standing on it I have to say it did feel like it was just the tiniest bit angled. The idea, of course, being that it would keep prisoners terrified to sleep on the floor for fear that its incline would lead them to roll out into the open sky and the long, long fall below.

There were all sorts of little details in the cell that added to the sense that this was a place where many people had suffered over the centuries. George discussed some of the details of his own description of the cells, such as the fact that they’re sort of honeycombed beneath the Eyrie. He also pointed out one change that he seemed to approve of, a measure to make sure no one could climb out. There’s a few pictures (thanks, Parris!) of myself, George, and Bryan Cogman in the cell. I couldn’t resist flapping my arms for one of them as I stood at the cell’s edge.

We were about to head on to the Paint Hall when a noise distracted us. Barking, specifically. Yep, a bunch of the dogs playing the direwolves were present. Bryan took us to meet them. I couldn’t say the exact number of them, but I know for sure there were at least two dogs for Ghost, and in total I’m certain there were at least eight dogs. They’re all quite beautiful animals, and a few seemed quite curious at the attention. George and Parris seemed quite familiar with them, as well, knowing them by name.

After that, someone said we should visit the ravens, in a tent-like structure next to where the dogs were. One of the animal handlers, named Esther, personally showed us around. Not only does it have a couple of rooms for the production’s two ravens (who have to be kept separate or they would fight), but it also had large, separate kennels for each of the dogs, plus a couple of dog runs. She went to take out the ravens, and discussed their training, issues with getting them to carry messages (it took a lot of time and effort to figure out how to do it; at one point they thought of just having them carry them in their beaks, but I gather they took to eating them), and so on. I hadn’t realized just how BIG ravens are. The bigger of the two, Ronnie, was also very greedy and kept leaping for Esther’s hand which was holding the food, rather than hopping onto her left arm to await being fed as he was trained.

One detail Esther noted? She had a bruised rib . . . because she had been practicing the Grey Wind “hits” on a certain “great” character, and she had been bowled over. Despite this injury, she seemed to really love her work. This was the general sense of the whole thing: all the crew I met seemed genuinely excited to be involved in a production like this.

Tomorrow, part 3, with a lengthy look at the armor department, and a visit to the throne room…

Belfast Set Visit: Part 1

A funny thing happened in October…

But if you want to hear the whole tale of how I had a chance to visit the sets in Belfast in late October, and my breakfast with George and Parris where I met Isaac Hempstead-Wright, or my first meeting with script editor and writer Bryan Cogman and what it was like to stand atop the Wall, or even a report of the Belfast Moot where many of the actors and crew hung out with fans… well, you can read those from my earlier postings. But if what you really want to read was what it was like to actually be inside the Paint Hall sets, or visiting the various production departments, read on!

A Budget to be Reckoned With

When HBO announced that it was ordering a season of George R.R. Martin‘s Game of Thrones on March 2nd, the news was greeted with jubilation across fandom, on the internet and off. But the green light provided a host of new questions, such as when new cast members would be announced, when new production stills might be seen, and the like. And among them, a fairly significant question: what would the budget be?

We received answers pretty quickly. Nelson McCausland, a government minister, shared that the per-season budget was expected to be circa £30 million, equivalent to $45 million U.S. With a ten episode order, this would average at $4.5m an episode, a significant amount of money by most standards in the industry. On top of this, we had additional reports that the production was estimated to inject as much as £20m ($30m) into the economy, an interesting figure that has provided one of our own estimates regarding just what this budget means.

The thing that has to be realized when trying to decide what the budget means in terms of the production is that a host of factors make this production different than other, comaparably-budgetted HBO productions such as Carnivàle and Deadwood. Chief among them? A foreign location, Northern Ireland, which has only recently pushed to become a major location for international film production. With this fledgling industry comes a great deal of opportunity as far as production costs go. The Northern Ireland government has made many efforts entice productions through generous tax breaks, cash incentives, and other support.

So, what’s the purchasing power of a $45 million production in Northern Ireland, compared to a show in the United States? Good question, and one we’re going to try our best to answer. We welcome comments, additional analysis, and any relevant facts and figures that can help develop our first try further.

Achieving the Epic with Visual Effects

While all our present information from George R.R. Martin indicates that HBO is expected to give a decision somewhere around March on whether they will order a season of Game of Thrones (US, UK), the finishing of filming on November 19th has led to an understandable question: what next? We’ll try to answer, and speculate on, two of the primary tasks before the production now that principal shooting is done: visual effects and post-production. We are by no means experts on these (or, indeed, any) facets of film production, but we’ve collected information from across the internet that will allow the experts to speak for themselves.

An Introduction to “Game of Thrones”

In January 2007, Variety broke the news that HBO had optioned the rights to George R.R. Martin’s award-winning, bestselling epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Since then, the pilot has been filmed, the series greenlit, and the production date was set as July 26th, 2010. The series teaser released in June of that year confirmed that the show’s set to premiere in 2011.

So, it’s been a long journey, marked by an incredible amount of buzz for a show that for a long time hadn’t even received a season order. Fans of the series have rallied around the production, and TV critics and commentators have shared their support for the project. What makes Game of Thrones so special, to inspire such appreciation?