'Game of Thrones' cinematographer reveals the unexpected perils of filming: 'They were going to pull us all off the cliff'


Daenerys Targaryen rides Drogon into battle for “Spoils of War.”


Warning: Spoilers forward for “Game of Thrones” season seven.

“Game of Thrones” is a sequence identified for its staggering visible achievements and epic feature-film ranges of manufacturing high quality. INSIDER not too long ago spoke with Robert McLachlan, a two-time Emmy nominated Director of Photography who introduced eight whole “Game of Thrones” episodes to life, together with the iconic “Rains of Castamere” from season three.

McLachlan’s last two episodes he labored on for the sequence were season seven’s “Spoils of War” and “Eastwatch.” He gave INSIDER the scoop on how Kit Harington practically was a kite on set, why the sequence is actually getting darker earlier than your eyes, and the way the crew felt with all the manufacturing leaks arising this yr.

Kim Renfro:
How did you first become involved with “Game of Thrones?”

Robert McLachlan:
I used to be requested by David Nutter, who’s most likely one of the greatest administrators working in tv and who I might identified from earlier initiatives, to be a part of him on it, which was an actual thrill. Although I will be trustworthy, at that time solely season one had aired and I hadn’t actually paid rather a lot of consideration to the present. I heard a bit bit about it however I assumed, “Swords and sorcery? I feel I’ve outgrown that.”

When I received the name to do i my agent was all excited. He stated, “Dude, you’ve got to watch this present. Check it out.” So I went again and actually sunk my enamel into it. It was a no brainer. Nobody turns into a cinematographer to shoot police procedural reveals or hospital reveals or sitcoms or God is aware of what else — you grow to be a cinematographer to shoot huge, epic scope initiatives like [“Game of Thrones’] with lovely units and unimaginable actors and unimaginable writing and scope.

Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow in “Eastwatch.”

Helen Sloan/HBO

Do you keep in mind your first expertise on set?

As a matter of truth, I keep in mind it very vividly. I might flown in from Vancouver, and David had flown from LA. We were picked up in Belfast and brought straight to the manufacturing workplace, jet lagged and all.

Then we walked throughout the avenue to the Titanic Studios the place they’ve all the huge units and on the Belfast harbor entrance. They were capturing a dinner desk scene in the Red Keep, and the set was tented in to preserve the smoke in and extraneous mild out as a result of it was a darkish scene.

As I used to be making my approach onto the set by this maze in the darkish, I actually ran into Jack [Gleeson] who performs Joffrey. I had this transient, terrified, embarrassing visceral response. It was, “Oh my god!” then “Oh, jeez.”

Jack Gleeson as Prince Joffrey on “Game of Thrones”


I felt like a goof. I have been doing this a very long time, however simply having by no means skilled anyone on the set and simply watching the present, after which strolling in and actually bumping into King Joffrey … I am embarrassed at myself for my response, as brief because it was.

Well certain, of all the folks to by accident stumble upon!

Yeah, actually. My second impression was simply as soon as we noticed the set. Nobody who’s gone on that present has ever seen larger units or extra spectacular costumes or extra lavish set dressings. I imply they actually, actually get it proper. That’s one of the causes, as a cinematographer, you’re keen on capturing it as a result of half your job is finished when you might have one thing so lovely to .

Has the expertise of being on set modified since season three, given how the scale of every episode retains ramping up?

The producers have carried out an amazingly good job of engendering an unusual quantity of loyalty amongst the crew and getting them to come again yearly. Shooting an episodic sequence, and particularly one thing on this scale, is extremely onerous. It requires folks to be away from residence for a very very long time. Usually there’s rather a lot of attrition, and there is a lot of crew turnover, which of course is de facto unhealthy as a result of then you definately’ve received to get someone else up to velocity and get them to actually know the present.

McLachlan was behind the digital camera for the Red Wedding episode, “Rains of Castamere.”


All the folks engaged on [“Game of Thrones”] have been there completely from the get-go. Certainly the key digital camera division folks, our digital camera operators, our lighting technicians, our grips — rather a lot of them have been there from the very starting, in order that they actually realize it.

If something, whereas the present has gotten larger, in rather a lot of methods the operating of it simply will get smoother and smoother as a result of all people is so aware of it. I feel that, together with the wonderful, collaborative, artistic tradition of excellence that is fostered, it begins proper at the high and it goes all the approach down. It’s one of the most dedicated and devoted crews I’ve labored with.

One factor I’ve observed is how the present has grow to be actually darker season by season — not simply thematically however lighting-wise. How does that have an effect on your job when it comes to staging scenes?

You know what? I feel you are actually on to one thing. I feel the present has gotten darker over the years. If you watch season one once more, there’s rather a lot of unmotivated backlight. Even day exteriors, you may inform that they have been lit.

The cinematographers who’ve been doing it since then, I feel we’re all very a lot on the identical web page the place we’re making an attempt to be as naturalistic as attainable. [We want] to make these units and places really feel as in the event that they’re completely not lit by us, however solely by mom nature or some candles or what have you ever, in order that it feels extra naturalistic albeit enhanced in some circumstances.

A shot of Brienne and Sansa inside Winterfell’s citadel.

Helen Sloan/HBO

In season seven, of course, winter is right here. For the day inside in Winterfell or Castle Black or Eastwatch, in the previous we had the shutters open out of necessity in order that some daylight may make its approach in. That was your main lighting supply. There was this rule there that no person on this world would burn candles in the daytime as a result of they are a luxurious merchandise. They’re far too costly.

What’s occurred is now, with winter actually right here, there was a consensus that it will appear daft for them to have the shutters open when it is so bitterly chilly out. Why would they try this? But on the different hand it actually makes it rather a lot more durable for a cinematographer to justify some naturalistic mild in there with out so overdoing the candles or the fireplace or what have you ever. I feel you are completely proper. It has gotten darker.

For your episodes this season, what was the most difficult scene for you that wasn’t associated to Drogon or the epic “loot prepare battle” sequence?

For me, the stuff that is shot in the studio and in phases and in managed environments are the best ones to method since you’ve received all your lighting devices obtainable to you. You’ve received lovely units to work with, and you’ll management the setting to a really finite diploma. The drawback is whenever you’re outdoors and also you’re doing intimate scene which may take a pair days to shoot.

An excellent case-in-point is the one the place Jon’s on the bluff [at Dragonstone] and Dany is available in and Jon meets the dragon.

Jon comes face-to-face with Drogon.

“Game of Thrones”/HBO

We shot that on a cliff face in Northern Ireland proper on the very tiptop of the island. As a cameraman you are praying for constant climate greater than something as a result of whenever you’re capturing one thing over a pair of days, it is truly solely going to have 5 minutes of display screen time.

One of the unstated or unrecognized jobs of the cinematographer is to preserve a consistency and a visible smoothness to it in order that nothing ever throws the viewer out of the story so it would not “bump.”

The first day we were filming on that bluff, it was overcast and completely good in phrases of character for Dragonstone. Overcast [weather] makes very flattering mild for the actors so they give the impression of being good irrespective of which route you are trying. As quickly as the solar begins coming out, you’ve got received an issue if it is coming in at an unattractive angle.

What occurred up there was, first of all, it was an extremely onerous location to get to. All the tools had to be carried up by hand. One of the hallmarks of “Game of Thrones” is that they will not draw back from a tremendous location — irrespective of how onerous it’s to get to. We go locations on that present that no present I’ve ever been on, even huge options, would even take into consideration going. This was one of them.

We’re glad Kit Harington stayed on the floor.

Helen Sloan/HBO

The drawback each days was that there was a howling gale blowing, and it was blowing in the direction of the ocean off the land. In truth, it was blowing so onerous that we had to put a security cable on Kit Harington when he was assembly the dragon as a result of his cape, which may be very heavy material, was about to flip him right into a kite. We were afraid it will blow him proper off the cliff. I am not kidding. It was that windy.

Oh my god.

Yeah. There was a well being and security man measuring the wind velocity. A pair of occasions it dipped too excessive however then it receded once more. But if it had stayed up there, they were going to pull us all off the cliff.

In phrases of sad tales for me, that was the largest battle. Had it been overcast and never windy, it will have been the best scene we did on the complete shoot. Instead, the climate turned it into the hardest two days for me. At the precise reverse finish of the spectrum, for example, the scene in the catacombs the place Tyrion meets Jamie was the most enjoyable set.

I beloved engaged on that set. It all exists there in Seville, Spain. We simply had to black the roof of this huge sequence of arched colonnades over. It’s truly the place they constructed the Spanish Armada lots of of years in the past.

It was all pitch black inside. Then it simply grew to become a query of recognizing a couple of torches round in the proper locations so that you simply received pretty sense of depth and pushing some smoke in. I exploit smoke all the time if I can, partly as a result of it is justified on a present like this from all the torches and candles, but in addition as a result of it offers it extra of a Renaissance portray really feel. I feel that subconsciously transports the viewer to the interval and the time and the place.

Jaime and Tyrion talking in the “dungeons” of the Red Keep.

Macall B. Polay/HBO

For a present that usually has these huge, epic scenes, the occasions when it sits and breathes a bit bit extra alongside Ramin Djawadi’s rating are additionally actually unimaginable. We have not seen Tyrion and Jaime in the identical room for awhile in order that was a very nice one.

That jogged my memory of a scene I did in season 4 the place Jamie comes and visits Tyrion in the dungeon the place he is being held for supposedly killing Joffrey. That was, once more, one other one of my favorites as a result of it is a actually well-written scene in a easy location between two actually terrific actors.

Those are the scenes that you simply do and you recognize you recorded them rather well so that they are going to actually sing on the display screen. You go residence feeling very content material at the finish of these days.

Since you talked about Dragonstone and the way rather a lot of the seaside and cliff scenes were all on location, when these shoots were occurring there were rather a lot of manufacturing leaks and photographs popping out.

That’s true.

What was that like for you as the crew on set?

Well, my crew and I, it is not our job to preserve the paparazzi away, so we do what we are able to. Sometimes if the grips might help by placing up an enormous sheet of material on a body or one thing [they will]. Security folks patrolled the perimeter of the place we were capturing, and so they did a fairly good job however they may solely go to date.

Daenerys and Jon talking on the walkway was one of the leaked set photographs.


We were capturing on that Dragonstone seaside, which is Zumaia Beach in northern Spain. On a really far distant hillside you possibly can see these little specks over there. But after we checked out them by the lens on our digital camera, you possibly can see they all had enormous, lengthy telephoto lenses. There’s not a lot you are able to do about that. It was too huge an area to put a protect up in order that they could not them.

Then the huge leak ones that we noticed, which we were actually stunned at, were the ones when Tyrion and Davos pull up on the seaside with the boat and have that scene with Gendry and the Gold Cloaks. That’s truly an extremely remoted seaside — in the summertime it truly serves as a nude seaside as a result of it is so remoted.

Two miles throughout the water, there were some guys with telephoto lenses and a ship. I could not imagine how good the images were of what we were doing on that seaside. Those all hit the web. There’s not a lot you are able to do about it. You hope for the greatest.

I feel one of the largest surprises for us was after we were doing Cersei’s stroll of disgrace in Dubrovnik on season 5. We had a physique double to do the nude half for Lena Headey.

Lena Headey as Cersei on season 5, earlier than her Walk of Shame.

Helen Sloan/HBO

We’d do a shot with [Headey] sporting a smock, after which we would do an an identical shot together with her physique double. I feel the physique double thought she was going to be at the very least briefly one of the most well-known folks in the world as a result of the paparazzi were going to be going loopy. But the safety folks in Croatia did such a tremendous job that, in spite of being proper in the coronary heart of the Old Town of Dubrovnik, no person received a single shot of that complete factor.


I assume what I am saying is — so far as the leaks and the pictures are involved — generally you win, generally you lose. It’s a bit irritating, however you recognize what? What are you able to do? I imply you do what you may. Apart from that, the relaxation of us put our heads down as a result of often we have got a lot, a lot larger issues to cope with, like making an attempt to get all the photographs we’ve to do in a really brief day.

A nonetheless from one of the leaked movies of Gendry on the seaside with Davos.


In the case of that seaside, for example, the tide could be out in the morning and also you’d have a stage that was 300 toes lengthy. Then you’d work as quick as you may. But earlier than you knew it, each your toes were soaking moist, and also you had 20 toes of seaside left. Somehow you are making an attempt to make it seem like it did whenever you began at the starting of the day. Those are larger challenges than worrying about some man with a telephoto lens two miles away.

Do you might have any concept should you’re coming again for the last “Game of Thrones” season? Have any talks about that began?

They’re already prepping, however I am not going again. It’s a really lengthy season. They’ve already been there for a month or so. Literally, I simply wrapped “Ray Donavon” for Showtime, and I have been doing that present reverse “Game of Thrones” for 5 years now, often with a few weekend in between.

I am prepared for a relaxation fairly frankly. I am fairly joyful to sit on my “Game of Thrones” laurels. Between this season and “The Dance of Dragons” [on season five] and “The Rains of Castamere” and the Walk of Shame episode, I really feel like I’ve had a large number of luck. I imply actually go to the American Society of Cinematographers’ clubhouse for conferences and there is 100 guys there who’d reduce off their arm for an opportunity to do one episode of “Game of Thrones.” For me to have gotten to do eight episodes and chunks of a number of others, I am very, very lucky, and I am fairly content material.