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HBO’s New Direction and Prequel News

An interesting set of reports from yesterday touch on HBO’s future and the future of Game of Thrones.

First, the Belfast Telegraph reports that allegedly staff at Paint Hall—the massive studio space used by Game of Thrones as its main base of operations for all of its seasons—have been told that the prequel pilot ordered back in June will begin filming this October.

Suffice it to say, if true, this is a very fast production path by HBO standards. By way of comparison, the original Game of Thrones pilot was ordered in November 2008 but filming did not begin until October 2009—almost a full year after. And Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen show had a pilot order in September, and began filming in May, eight months later.

If the Telegraph’s report is accurate, it’ll just be four months from pilot order to pilot shoot. But it’s important to stress that caveat—it’s entirely possible that October will see the beginnings of pre-production, such as set building, location scouting, and costuming, rather than actual filming. What can it mean, however, if this tight deadline really is true?

We have two thoughts on it.

First, as the article notes, Lucasfilm apparently booked the studio for filming the planned Obi-Wan Kenobi Star Wars film that has long been rumored… but last month, word was out that that and other spin-off projects were on hold as Lucasfilm reconsidered its plans. Still, if they are holding on to the space while they consider, this gives the Jane Goldman-produced pilot a very narrow window to use Belfast as its base.

Second, and more intriguingly, is the possibility that they’ve already lined up a director and perhaps even one or more lead actors, but they have a very narrow window in which they can get them together to film the pilot. We can’t help but note that Jane Goldman’s frequent collaborator, Matthew Vaughn, currently has no films in production in which he’s set to direct. While he’s announced a 3rd Kingsman film and even plans to reboot Kick-Ass, industry sites such as Deadline, Variety, and IMDB Pro do not have any information on when these are set to film. We have previously speculated on the possibility of Goldman bringing him on board to direct (and, almost certainly, to get an executive producer credit), and maybe this rapid move to pilot and Vaughn being apparently available could fit together. Or perhaps not.

A very different news item from the New York Times, on the other hand, raises some possibilities for the future of Game of Thrones as a franchise. Per the article, HBO employees gathered in New York City for a talk with the AT&T executive who is now head of Warner Media following the telecom giant’s acquisition of Time Warner, HBO’s parent company. Per the report, which is based on audio of the event leaked to the paper, AT&T has high expectations for HBO to greatly increase its content development and acquisiton, for the purpose of competing with Netflix (which plans to outspend HBO 4-to-1 this year) and the like.

In particular, a candid exchange between John Stankey, the new head of Warner Media, and Richard Plepler, HBO’s CEO, reveals a very clear bottom-line for AT&T:

“Also,” Mr. Stankey said, “we’ve got to make money at the end of the day, right?”

“We do that,” Mr. Plepler responded, to scattered applause.

“Yes, you do,” Mr. Stankey said. “Just not enough.”

We’re guessing that there’ll be deep concern among HBO executives about a push to produce much more content, when HBO has long prided itself on being very careful and fairly discerning in what it produces. It seems entirely possible that HBO has been conservative in its efforts, but how much more liberally can it create new content without quality suffering? It remains an open question.

In any case, it goes without saying that AT&T’s focus on getting more engagement—more “hours a day” in which viewers watch HBO’s content—and spending more to get it could mean that the interest in having more than one Game of Thrones spin-off off the ground could be heightend. As HBO said after the announcement of Goldman’s pilot, the other three pitches were still under consideration. We would not be surprised to hear, this year or next, that a second pilot is comissioned, with a possible eye to having two shows on air in separate halves on the year… or perhaps even some wilder efforts, such as an anthology show, something animated, or even mini-series or films, to exploit whatever potential AT&T and HBO sees in Game of Thrones as a lynchpin franchise.

 

 

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