For my friends who are interested but won’t be purchasing the Season Five set. Only the parts with Ciarán are transcribed. And there is a bit of meta-commentary, courtesy of Linnet.
MS: Hi there, this is Michael Slovik, the director of episode 501.
DF: I’m David Franco, the cinematographer.
CH: And this is Ciarán Hinds, who plays Mance Rayder.
MS: Great, so David and I are in New York, and Ciarán is in London.
CH: I’m looking forward to seeing this.
MS: And indeed Ciarán just told us that this is his first time seeing the episode.
CH: Yeah, who knows what might happen?
MS: Now how did that happen, Ciarán, that this is the first time? Because now it’s been a month and a half since it aired.
CH: Oh, I was in the Shetland islands, working on a project [Shetland series 3 with Douglas Henshall], way up in the North Sea, and, I suppose, was busy enough not to have access to all the modern technology we have nowadays. So… that’s the reason why, although I have been informed by several people of… what went on. (Laughter.)
MS: And it was indeed very, very well received!
CH: And Michael, you did episode one and two, isn’t that right?
MS: Yes, I did.
CH: Yes, you did, with David. Okay.
[Young Cersei seeks her fortune from a witch in the woods.]
MS: And this is actually a very interesting scene, because I’m told that it’s the first flashback in Game of Thrones history. And there’s a question. One of the nice things when I was reading the script was, you start reading it and you don’t know who anybody is, and we don’t really give it away until the end of the second scene here.
CH: But they are obviously two very prominent players in the story, I imagine.
MS: They are revealed to be, absolutely, and these two are–two young actors and they were absolutely wonderful.
CH: And where did you shoot this piece? Was this in Ireland?
MS: This was right outside of Ireland. And the young blonde is Isabelle Williams and her friend is Nell Steinbarth. So we really still don’t know what’s going on here, which David and I found to be intriguing. One of the interesting things about this combination of shots right here, is that this shot was shot on location, in the woods outside of Belfast, and now we are into a set, so David… David, the problems of shooting part of a scene onset and part of it outside, combining the two?
DF: Yeah, mainly you are dealing with a natural environment, where you have a situation, and then recreating it completely onstage from scratch. With a bit more control, but having to start from nothing is always a bit of a challenge.
DF: And this was trying to emulate a bit of Marlon Brando appearing in “Apocalypse Now,” which comes out of the shadow…
Brando in “Apocalypse Now.”
(Laughter from David and Ciarán.)
DF: It’s a reference, as a visual.
MS: It’s a wonderful actress named Jodhi May. When I first read the script, she was not exactly what I had envisioned. I had envisioned, you know, your stereotypical much older, maybe craggy faced type of a witch [as the character of Maggy the Witch looked in the GoT book], and David and Dan fell in love with Jodhi’s performance, and indeed, we all did.
CH: She’s a terrific actress, really beautiful actress, very considerate. [May played Elizabeth Jane opposite Hinds in The Mayor of Casterbridge.]
MS: She occupies that space extremely well. Really owns it.
[…on the skills of Nell and Isabella.]
CH: And where did you find the actresses, the young actresses?
MS: They were both cast out of London. Because we’re based in Belfast, almost all the casting is done via videotape, or internet. Golda’s a tremendous, tremendous casting director and she brings a wealth of riches to the table.
MS: And here’s where we find out… so now it’s undeniable who it is, and didn’t they look very similar? It’s wonderful.
DF: Again, there was a little stage piece, and then we are out on location.
CH: I always find it remarkable, the work that David for example does, to take us from the studio to the exterior, with the absolute belief you have in it, while watching it.
MS: And the effects guys, the work that they do to extend… because really, none of these big buildings existed. I got a lot of gratitude from Ian Beatty right there, who had to go up and down the stairs in that armor, many many times.
MS… And I did get to work with Charles, but he didn’t say much.
CH: [On the shot of Charles Dance] That’s fabulous.
MS: And one of the great things, Ciarán, about you and your castmates out there, they just receive new directors and new people so warmly, I never once had to warm up to everybody, it was just terrific how people embraced us and brought us into the fold, just great.
CH: That’s great to hear. I imagine it would be these two, who are phenomenal in the story. I never had the joy of meeting either of them because my storyline was quite separate, but they are fantastic together and separately as well.
MS: You bring up a really interesting point, and that is, because there are so many different lands and different stories, a lot of the actors don’t get to meet each other.
CH: No, never came across them at all. And one always wonders… what they’re like in real life (laughs). It’s kind of strange, but… especially when one has such respect for their performances and what they bring to the show.
[David Franco says that the GoT actors are so dedicated, they stand in for their own lighting…]
CH: The lighting in that shot was just gorgeous, David.
[Introducing the scene between Tyrion and Varys, who have escaped from King’s Landing; Tyrion has been confined in a crate during the escape]
MS: And of course the first thing he’s going to look for is something to drink… Both of these actors, Peter and Conleth, they know their characters well that you start off at a much higher level, and really as a director, you try to stay out of the way… keep from ruining it. They’re just so terrific.
CH: Oh, he found that drink.
MS: Yes. And it’s also interesting that we had Conleth speaking in the background, out of focus, but our attention was on Peter in the foreground, doing what he was doing. But we don’t miss a beat, we get the entire story… in fact all of our senses are enriched and fulfilled… […] [I had to laugh about “our senses being enriched” given what happens next…]
MS: Yes… and that was very interesting because they had gone through the entire process of building a rig for us, for the throwing up. We ended up just pouring it into his mouth and having him spit it out. (Laughter all around.)
CH: What’s extraordinary as well about the program, I think, is between the direction and the visuals… the editing, to juggle so many stories at once is quite phenomenal. I keep being taken into the present moment…
CH: …Look at this. I leave this to you…
MS: This was something that we previsualized early on, and they knew it was a big storypoint, so we started very early, and almost all of that is animated visual effects.
MS: Again we’re on a set now. They have the most… when you first come onto Game of Thrones, you walk onto these sets, and they’re enormous, these things are just beautiful and detailed. Deb Reilly, the production designer, is just phenomenal.
CH: And all the sets are in Belfast, is that right, Michael?
MS: Yes, all the major sets are in Belfast.
CH: Okay, that’s phenomenal to me, because you do think you’re in some other exotic location, and when you see the tents and the darker pieces, I understand that, but when you see the light that’s being used here, you’re absolutely convinced that you’re somewhere exotic in Europe or Africa.
DF: Lots of light, actually, I’ve never seen so many lights, the first time… the size of the set, and the number of huge units…it’s quite breathtaking.
MS: They have more lighting equipment on this show than I’ve seen on any feature film.
[…The scene shifts to Castle Black and the Wall.]
CH: It looks bloody cold.
MS: Well, winter’s coming.
MS: The most asked question that I get is, where is this stuff shot?
DF: Me too.
DF: And I always say, where they painted the Titanic [Belfast]. And it’s as impressive.
MS: And indeed, they have a set that is forty or fifty feet wide, and where they’re standing now, we have a nice wide shot when we come to the end of this, but the rest of it is all manufactured, it’s all green screen, anything you see in the distance there.
DF: The set, I call it the Big Meringue. Because it’s basically white snow sitting on the stage.
[MS tells an anecdote about this location: when they were scouting, they got in four-wheel drives and started driving up this mountain.]
MS: I am going, Chris… there’s no way they’re going to let us shoot up here… every piece of equipment has to be brought up on a four wheel drive, I mean, we would never do this in the States. And he just looked at me and smiled [and said] “Well, we do it all the time.” […] Locations like this are ubiquitous in Northern Ireland, and it’s a beautiful place to work, and everywhere you look, there’s this green, and there’s the rolling hills…
DF: Yeah, there’s no compromise on the location…that’s what’s amazing too, on this show…
CH: Are you fairly high up, there? When you’re shooting this? Are you up in the Glens of Antrim or something?
DF: No, this is fairly flat…
MS: This is in a park. This is right outside of town.
CH: Oooh. You’d never know.
MS: No, you’d never know, and also there’s nothing to give it away, we didn’t erase that much here.
MS: Here we are in the Red Keep. […]
CH: How many locations, Michael, did you go to, when you were shooting these episodes?
MS: In terms of countries or in terms of individual episodes?
CH: In terms of countries.
MS: Our two episodes took place in Northern Ireland, in Spain, we did one scene in Spain, and in Croatia, we were in two cities in Croatia.
CH: Right, okay.
MS: Which is a whole logistics problem in itself.
CH: I should imagine, yes.
MS: These guys are magic together, I think they’re just phenomenal. Ciarán, are there sometimes situations where you get with other actors, where you feel it’s working so beautifully and organic, it’s not a chore at all?
CH: Yeah. I think those moments, they… they can arrive unbidden. Or sometimes because of the sympathy between fellow actors. Or indeed, if it’s very challenging, it can also produce some fireworks. But I think you can tell, because both Peter and Conleth are phenomenal actors, how easy they are in their skins, now, in the characters. But also from the very beginning, when I watched the early episodes, before I was asked to join in, they’re just phenomenal actors, so by now, as an audience, we have a complete belief in who they are, and whatever situation will arise with them, they take us, they lead us completely into their storyline. And what’s interesting, is they’re both… two very strong characters, as well as two wonderful actors. And that’s what we enjoy watching.
MS: It’s really interesting because Varys has a plan, he has a direction, and he’s selling Tyrion on his plan. This is quite a long scene and it’s extremely hard, very difficult for two actors to own and to keep us interested for that length of time. You’re just sucked into their characters and their actions.[…] [I wouldn’t call this scene long. In theatre, actors routinely hold the attention of an audience for (gasp) several minutes of dialogue at a time. This is what happens when your target audience is 20-year old males. You think in terms of nonstop action.]
CH: Yeah, and I think the stakes are high, and I think they both know it. And that leads the audience to invest in it.
MS: And we had our own similar stakes to work with, at the end of the episode, that we worked with together.
CH: Where are we now?
MS: In her receiving room [of Daenerys, in Meereen], yeah, the audience chamber, in the top of the pyramid. It’s beautiful. Look at David’s lighting.
DF: That’s a stage as well, obviously.
[Discussion of the lighting; Michael left David to his own devices with the lighting.]
MS: But I respect the idea that I’m a guest, I was a guest director here, and David had an entire episode of seniority over me! (Laughter.)
CH: Oh that was it, I see, you were stepping into his terrain.
MS: I try not to [interfere], I really do, Ciarán, except if it’s a story point, something that you want to see in silhouette or that you don’t want to see, then that’s the only time that you chime in…because what’s most important is that it feel of a piece and that it feel of the same piece that everybody has been tuning into for four years.
CH: Right, yeah, of course, I guess the tone can’t change dramatically, it’s like jump-cut editing, if you started to take a whole different slant to it, it wouldn’t fit into the natural story rhythm.
MS and DF: Here we go.
MS: One of my favorite scenes, not only of Game of Thrones, but of my life. This scene just kills me every time. Ciarán, what was it like? I mean, these are two guys who respect each other, to a certain degree, I think, like each other, and they’re both arguing for what they think is right. And they can’t come to consensus.
CH: Yeah, I think the scene is beautifully written. With you guiding us through it, I guess we just have to be as open… to the possibility that things might change. I mean, he’s a stubborn man, Mance, a very determined man. He’s thought this through. But it’s interesting because of the relationship. Jon Snow’s a strong young man, and he believes that he can convince him the other way. There’s a possibility of change, but he doesn’t seem to be… I think it’s for his own dignity and pride, that he has to go the other way, that’s what he has to face up to here. [MS starts to say something.] He does make sense here, Jon Snow, he makes absolute sense in this scene. Sorry.
MS: No, no, you’re absolutely right and there’s so much mutual respect here between the two, which I find the compelling quality of this scene. And what’s really interesting is that it was not a very big space that we were working in, it was quite small.
CH: Oh that’s right, it was quite tight, wasn’t it. And as I remember, you guided us round it very delicately. And opened up the space to make it look bigger, actually, than it probably was.
MS: I remember well, working together to find the moment to physicalize the separation, and then his re-approach of it. One of the great things about working on a show like this is that we did have, oh, maybe a complete hour to work all this out. (Laughter.)
CH: Yeah we did more than just bish bosh bang it out. We said physically, what relationship would we be to each other, exactly. Because it is difficult to move, especially when you could play the whole thing without movement, because it’s about a dialectic, or an argument. But the movement is important. [I love it when he uses words like “dialectic.”]
MS: Yes, I remember we tried it, and we felt that we needed to get some tension, some physicalization of… I mean, this moment here is just… [This is the moment when Mance asks how they plan to execute him, and is told he will be burned at the stake. A little muscle just below his right eye starts to twitch. I have no idea how he did it, but it’s the one sequence in this episode which earns the adjective “phenomenal.”]
CH: No, I think you did, Michael, I think you did, and we went, all right. It was your brainwave, it was.
MS: And it has my favorite line of both episodes for me, which is “The freedom to make my own mistakes is all I ever wanted,” and it’s such a great line for life.
CH: Daniel and David, they do keep writing great dialogue. Very argumentative and witty. Some zingers can fly out during the dialogue.
MS: I mean, what is it like to sit and look Kit in the eye, an actor of his quality, the two of you, it really was an honor to just be in the room when we did this. [“An actor of his quality”? I noticed this in the commentary to the final episode of Season 4 as well: the directors on GoT appear to believe that Kit Harington is another Laurence Olivier or Daniel Day-Lewis. Have they not seen Pompeii??? As a matter of fact, in order to look Kit in the eye, CH does have to sit. It’s not a bad metaphor for their respective experience and abilities. To give him his due, Kit is good in GoT. But he’s no Ralph Fiennes. I think this is an example of the Game of Thrones echo chamber of hype. If something is repeated often enough, people start to believe it.]
CH: By his nature, he’s very open, Kit. And whenever he plays Jon Snow, he’s got this sort of slight, sad look to him, because he can see that life is not going to be a bowl of cherries. It’s going to be a continual struggle. [Kit does have a sweet, sad look here.]
MS: Here’s my favorite line. And that little smile, Ciarán, oh my god, that… the hairs are standing on my arm. So pitiful. [This is as close as Mance gets to a smile–he smiles with his eyes, but the corners of his mouth only go from downturned to horizontal. Still, onscreen it gives the impression of a smile.]
CH: Yeah, I won’t see Kit no more.
MS: (Laughs.) Well, you’ll see him.
CH: I’ll feel him.
MS: As this shot evolved, what was this like, for you to walk out and look down on this?
CH: It’s… oh, when did we shoot this, nine months ago. [That would be approximately September 2014.] It was quite huge, because there was an atmosphere that you had created, Michael, David, and I remember his whole team working. It was all very quiet, it was all very respectful. It was actually arranged in this quarry, to build an atmosphere that we could all work in, which is very hard, especially because this is an exterior. And without this music that’s laid on top, but to give it the space, and the time, and the weight of ultimate decision-making—you made it happen, you made the space open for us to do the work.
MS: Well thank you. It was quite easy to do with the quality and the dedication of the people that are there. What people may not know is that sometimes when you get entire casts together like this, it can feel more like a social event (laughs).
CH: While I was upstairs waiting, there was all kinds of shenanigans going on, I can tell you.
MS: Exactly. But what was really interesting, and we didn’t have very much night to do this in. We were shooting it in one of the shorter nights, we were in the summer, and that far north, there’s very little night, so we broke it into two nights, where we shot in one direction in one night, and the other direction in another night, and we were basically done by one or two in the morning. We ran a very efficient machine.
CH: I remember that. I remember you being vastly economical with time, and thinking, this could take forever. And yet, sometime around 11:30 in the evening you said goodbye to me and said, “We’re going to shoot them going the other way.” And it was sweet, rather hot memories, I guess.
MS: And also built in was stuff like, we had kids there, and the kids have to be off at a certain hour, so everything was pre-planned with this.
CH: I was just going to say, in your preparation, you managed to include almost every single person, and their attitude to it, during the shooting of this scene.
MS: What was interesting was when David and I would go to meetings, they were talking about all kinds of visual effects, like face replacement and how are we going to burn Mance, and all of this other stuff, and I kept going to everybody: “We’re not going to do any of that, we’re going to keep it simple, we’re going to compress… this is where a little bit of experience as a director of photography comes in, because you know what you can get away with, with the camera, and all.
[Melisandre lights the fire–she who puts the “bust” in combustion.]
MS: But David saw it immediately. I remember, in preproduction, I remember Frank Dolger being convinced, and everyone was talking about all the effects, and [he] goes, “It’s not a scene about a guy burning. It’s a scene about a guy not burning.” Because right when we get to the engulfment of the flames, it gets cut short a little bit. But all these little pieces we had planned out very efficiently ahead of time. And you just killed it up there.
MS: That indeed is a stuntman right there. That’s a stuntman from behind. On the second night, I believe, we did that.
CH: Oh, right. I didn’t know that.
MS: And shots like this we did, remember, we just put a little bit longer lens on, and we put a fire bar in front of the camera?
CH: And you moved the firebar across? Yeah. Does that cheat the distance, that we see?
MS: It does. The longer lens does. It compresses the fire into you. Right there, something like that. And I just sat next to the effects guy, raise it up, bring it down. And we just sort of played it like a conductor conducting an orchestra.
MS: Great moment. That’s your last look.
MS: And that was a dummy, at the end…
MS: We did it one direction, and we had a dummy. So…
CH: Bloomin’ ’eck, Michael! Fantastic. That’s the first time I’ve seen that. But the whole storytelling of it is fantastic. That was extraordinary what you made of all that, wonderful.
MS: Well, I thank you. And you made it, you guys made it so easy. This is Michael Slovis, the director, saying thank you to Ciarán and to David for coming in today.
DF: Same here, David Franco, the DP.
CH: And Ciarán Hinds who played Mance Rayder. And what a great pleasure it was to be involved in this.
MS: Oh, it was such an honor to work with you. I enjoyed it immensely.