polo grounds great ‘Game of Thrones’ Season Three Set Visit
“You’re wearing the wrong shoes” a member of the Dragon Unit production team politely informed me as I squelched through some Northern Irish puddles. Straight ahead in a puddle of his own stood Frank Doelger, the Hollywood super producer dressed in fisherman style rain gear equipped with John Lennon sunglasses and Crocodile Dundee head gear.
This wasn’t a remake of a muddy battle scene for ‘Braveheart’, but instead the set of one of the decade’s most hotly anticipated recurring series, ‘Game of Thrones’. Located way up the north of Co Antrim, season three of the HBO fantasy adventure is currently filming scenes at Shane’s Castle, the historical landmark which now lies in ruins, surrounded by 2,600 acres of greenland. Despite the torrential rain, ankle length mud and the odd location change, Dragon Unit had been tented up and ready to shout “Action!” from 6am.
On set in full costume, provided by Michele Clapton (Sense Sensibility), were stars of season two Gwendoline Christie and Nikolaj Coster Waldau, who play skilled warriors Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister. Both characters’ season three plot lines continue on from season two, with the pair filming intense scenes for episode two at Shane’s Castle bridge yesterday. Executive producer Doelger said filming is usually 10 12 hours per day, with just one scene being filmed between five and 10 takes each time. Episodes one and two are being directed by Daniel Minahan.
Both Christie and Coster Waldau ploughed on through their four takes, with grass mounds, scattered leaves and ropes among their props. With a hair dryer on standby for Coster Waldau, not even an ever so slight wardrobe malfunction with his tarnished robe could dampen their spirits.
The location, Shane’s Castle, formerly Eden duff carrick, is a ruined castle from the 14th century. Its former proprietor was Baron William O’Neill, and a descendant of his, Shane MacBrien O’Neill, renamed it Shane’s Castle in the 18th century. Shane’s Castle was previously used for ‘Game of Thrones’ seasons one and two.
Doelger, the Emmy Award winning man behind the scenes, has worked as an executive producer on a variety of productions in Hollywood, from HBO TV series ‘Rome’, to Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s ‘Into the Storm’, starring Brendan Gleeson and Iain Glen. Commenting on filming at Shane’s Castle, Doelger said he prefers the combination of filming both on location and in the studio: “If you’re in the studio everyday it gets very claustrophobic and it’s not as much as a challenge. At the same time, if you’ve been in the rain and the wind and dealing with all those problems then going to the studios is great. The two new stages they’ve built for the Titanic Quarter are absolutely fantastic, they’ve really been a great, great benefit to us”.
The studio Doelger refers to is Belfast’s Paint Hall Studio, which has been the centre of action for the two previous ‘Game of Thrones’ seasons. It offers state of the art green screen facilities which were used extensively for water scenes for season two, and continues to be used for the more technical scenes of season three. The Titanic Quarter is the most recently built site at Paint Hall, which is set on an eight acre site, equipped with five workshops, a green room, and an electric al substation.
Doelger refers to the Irish crew as “terrific” to work with, and says “70 per cent of the people on the crew are local this season. I think Belfast really wanted us here, they did everything they could to make us feel welcome. In a lot of places where you film people are a little bit jaded, they’re not particularly welcoming, and you get a sense that they’re in it just for the money. I think here you really did get a sense that people wanted to build an industry and really wanted to make it work”.
A large part of enticing HBO to Northern Irish shores was down to Northern Ireland Screen and Head of Marketing Moyra Lock, who travelled to the US to meet with HBO chiefs in a bid to market the Northern Irish locations. Speaking earlier this year, Lock said Northern Ireland Screen “mounted extensive marketing campaigns to position Northern Ireland as a worldwide location for production.” The organisation then got Antrim born producer Mark Huffam on board, who invited Doelger himself over to Northern Ireland.
Doelger recalls: “I came here for the first time when I was invited by Mark Huffam, who was trying very hard, and was instrumental in getting the production here. He invited me early on in the conversations when HBO was deciding where to do the show. I think there were various cities being considered and he asked me to come take a look around and I was very impressed in what he did and what he had to show us. I think he found us a perfect match between material and city”.
Huffam went on to produce 10 episodes of season one, and obviously left a lasting effect on HBO and Doelger who returned to Northern Ireland two years in a row. Naomi Liston, key assistant locations manager to HOD Robert Boake, was in charge of sourcing Northern Irish locations once the production had gotten the green light to film there. Liston told IFTN sourcing the right locations can take hours of driving around the countryside until you find the exact spot. Reading the scripts is a big part of her job, and matching Northern Irish countryside to Riverlands, North of the Wall and South of the Wall can sometimes result in getting “lost down a lane”, or she may find “there’s a tumble down of what looks like medieval building or barn and you’ve got your location there”.
Liston continues: “It’s about knowing what’s out there. The estates, and all the estate owners are great, they’re so helpful, they love us, they keep asking us back and they get phone calls from friends from other estates and they phone us up and say ‘we’ve got this estate come and take photos’ so we come and take photos of them which is great”.
Doelger echoes this statement: “Because Belfast is not a place a lot of tourists came to, a lot of people in our crew either from the UK or United States, even if they’ve travelled, have not been here, so I think the fact that everybody came here and were very very impressed with the crew, how welcome they were made to feel. It’s changed their attitude towards the city. It’s been very good for us and I’m hoping it’s been very good for Belfast as well”.
Back on set, the Dragon Unit was carefully filming scenes for episode two of season three, by mounting a camera on a crane at the side of Shane Castle’s bridge to get a shot which went from the water of Lough Neagh right up to over the bridge where Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister continued their scene. Production assistants were on hand to carefully place mounds of grass along the characters’ walk way, checking that each mound of grass was the same colour as the last to ensure continuity. Brown leaves were scattered along the path and walked on by production crew to give an autumn feel.
These scenes are due to be aired at the end of March/early April in 2013. Post production will be carried out by Yellow Moon in Co Down and a US based post production house in spring of 2013.
IFTN can exclusively confirm HBO does have plans to ask Armagh native Brian Kirk to return to the director’s seat for future seasons. Kirk directed three episodes of season one and his latest TV project, ‘Gilded Lilys’, is currently in post production. Doelger said: “Brian is not coming back on season three, he’s been busy on other projects, but actually all of our directors are always invited back depending on their schedule and our schedule. We hope to see him, he’s been very busy since he left us, I think the episodes he did got a lot of attention and were very helpful to him, so we hope he comes back.”
IFTN can also exclusively reveal season three will move production to Redhall Estate next week, a privately owned country house located in Carrickfergus in Antrim. Production will then move to the Quoile Pondage Nature Reserve in Downpatrick which is situated on either side of the River Quoile. The set designers are currently building a jetty for these scenes, which has been described as “quite tricky and hard going”, as a boat of light will be used for the scenes.
Previous Northern Ireland locations used include Audleys Tower in Castleward in Co Down, Tollymore Forest near Newcastle, and the Mourne Mountains. When production is complete on season three this November, all six counties of Northern Ireland will have featured in ‘Game of Thrones’ from seasons one to three. Production will move to Iceland after it wraps in Northern Ireland to take advantage of the authentic snowfall.
Doelger said production will begin on season four in April 2013, and he is hopeful HBO will return to Northern Irish shores again, despite the media giants requesting a financially friendlier location.
“Every year HBO ask us to examine all the various options out there because there are places with more generous tax credits [than Northern Ireland] and I think that as the show gets more expensive that pressure will mount. But if in fact the [UK] tax credit does pass, I think our future here will be assured,” said Doelger. Although he admitted to not knowing the official budget himself, he did say the show’s budget was “significant”. ‘Game of Thrones’ received funding from the Northern Ireland Screen Fund supported by Invest NI and part funded by the European Regional Development Fund.
Other regional links include newly announced cast member from Armagh, who joins returning cast members Aidan Gillen, Michelle Fairley and Jack Gleeson.