By Aisling Meath
A wealth of West Cork talent has gone into creating the magic that resulted in the HBO series Game of Thrones, the world’s biggest TV series that is watched by audiences in 170 countries and is now in its eighth and final series.
Based on George RR Martin’s fantasy saga novels A song of Ice and Fire and set in the fictional Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, the sex and violence filled show received 132 Emmy award nominations, with 38 wins.
With production costs reportedly between -m per episode, talented West Cork creatives have been involved in costumes, epic stunts and the sound in challenging conditions including temperatures of -25 degrees; all-night shoots and mud, lots of it.
Security has been so tight for the final series that its Belfast production base had government airspace protection warding off drones, and scripts were shared on a triple-locked app rather than on paper as fans remain enthralled to see who will win the Iron Throne.
Fiona Goggins from Schull worked on the costumes for the series.
‘When I moved to Belfast to study for my masters in fine art, I never dreamed that I would end up working on the world’s biggest TV show,’ she said.
After her studies Fiona started an artists’ studio and gallery in Belfast making props and costumes for corporate and staging events. This led her to working in ‘breakdown’, a specialist area of TV and film.
‘Breakdown is responsible for the ageing, dying and conditioning of costumes,’ she explained.
‘It can range from adding shading, to making a garment look sun-damaged, ageing armour, adding sweat patches, or the extremes of making someone look burnt, frozen or murdered. Good breakdown is really important to make people believe in the characters and magic of the story.
‘During season six I moved from the comfort of our workshop to the wilds of the days on set. Mud, blood and more blood!’ she said. ‘I worked between the principal characters, the hundreds of background artists, horse riders and the incredible stunt team.
‘We broke world records,’ continued Fiona, ‘the longest night shoot, some of the biggest stunt performances ever attempted, and probably the most coffee ever drank on a job!’
Season eight was by far the biggest and boldest with the epic battle scenes so the production was huge.
‘We had to make sure everyone was dressed to make “story sense” for continuity, which was one of our biggest challenges,’ said Fiona who saw that sword rips and blood stains were appropriately applied to every garment in her care.
‘We dressed over 35,000 people, often starting work at 3am and working until sundown. There was no world outside GOT for that year, we had to eat, sleep and breathe the show for 11 months. The ‘Beast from the East’ hit and we all faced out to stand on the battlefield right through the night. Snow and mud aside, it was the trip of a lifetime and the craic was most defiantly had,’ she said.
It was in the middle of the battlefield during season six when Fiona bumped into a former classmate from Schull Community College.
‘There on the side of a hill I got a tap on the shoulder only to be greeted by the familiar face of Marc Redmond,’ she recalls. ‘I’d last seen Marc in Schull Community College before he ran off to follow his dream of becoming a stunt man! Now here we were years later working together on GOT.’
Marc runs Budo fitness centre at Driftwood Hostel Skibbereen. He was the stunt double for one of the main characters Jon Snow, working closely with actor Kit Harrington to perform the dangerous stunts that translated into spectacular TV.
A member of Stunt Guild Ireland with an amazing portfolio, including Ultra Violet with Mila Jovovich and Gen X Cops directed by Benny Chan, Marc is well used to being flung off balconies and despite a few bruises really enjoyed working on GOT.
‘We had tough schedules for the night shoots,’ recalls Marc, ‘but it was amazing to be involved despite the long hours; which as well as filming included rehearsals, getting into costume, and applying prosthetics which took hours to apply and then more hours to take off again! And we had to make sure we were wearing our thermals as it was freezing at times.’
Caleb Clarke, who grew up in Skibbereen, and is bass player with the band Good Dead Me was also among the West Cork GOT contingent in a previous series. He formed part of the ‘Army of the Dead’ ransacking of ‘Winterfell’ along with other work as a background artist.
‘Security was very tight and they put stickers over our phones so we were not allowed to take photos on set. Everybody had to sign a confidentiality clause to protect the plot and we also had to promise not to cut our beards!’
Former world champion Skibbereen rower Mark O’Donovan played a part in a rowing scene in an early series. He was filmed rowing a wooden medieval boat made by Dave Nolan from the Gearagh Rowers club. Dave was also a rower alongside him.
‘They even stuck dirt underneath our fingernails,’ laughed Dave.
Mark added: ‘It was a great experience working on GOT. I enjoyed filming in Spain and it’s incredible how successful the show has been.’
Leap’s Danny Crowley had a major role to play as head of sound on the show.
‘It was par for the course to spend many weeks in a muddy battlefield, working in driving sleet knee-deep in fake blood, mud and horse poo. It was extremely glamorous; like being at the worst music festival for months,’ he laughed.
Danny got his first break in the film industry during his Leaving Cert year when War of the Buttons came to West Cork. ‘It was supposed to be a few days work experience which turned into a full time position as a sound trainee,’ recalls Danny.
He built up his career and worked on many successful productions such The Other Boleyn Girl and The Young Offenders to name but a few. His expertise led him to being head of sound on GOT.
‘I was responsible for recording the actors’ dialogue, making sure it was loud and clear, intelligible and free of background noise. We use boom mics overhead just out of shot and radio mics that are hidden under the actor’s costumes,’ Danny explained.
‘On GOT, this posed a unique set of problems as the characters were often wearing armour which is extremely noisy and dresses made with corsets which creaked with every move. My team of four worked closely with the costume department and hair department to design microphones into the costumes and to weave them into wigs. It takes a lot of time to get it just right – to be audible as well as invisible, and we have a lot of tricks up our sleeves to make it work. We spent about three weeks before a new costume was introduced, looking at solutions. In GOT you could have 20 speaking parts in one scene, so co-ordination was intensive. Managing batteries in the mics without having to get the actors to totally undress every four hours was tricky and time-consuming, depending on the costume.
‘Time was also a constant pressure on a show of this scale and holding up the shoot to firefight problems was not an option. You always had to have a back up plan for your back up plan!’
The show was shot in NI, Canada, Croatia, Iceland, Malta, Morocco, Scotland, Spain, Iceland and the US.
‘Different locations also posed different problems. Facing -25 degrees when shooting on a glacier meant that we needed methods of keeping equipment up to temperature and ourselves as well! It was also a three hour trek across snow covered country to get to the glacier in the first place!
‘We flew straight from Iceland to Croatia to shoot, 60 degrees in the difference, and just enough time to prep and start shooting immediately. Most days we were up at 5 or 6 am and finished at 8pm. It was high pressure and exhausting but also fun!’
Danny credits GOT with introducing fantasy to a wider audience and allowing it to be taken seriously as a dramatic medium.
‘The sex and violence created a noise and people were not used to their hero’s being brutally dispatched but I think overall the anti- hero storylines and political machinations of it rang through for people, it was very new and very fresh.’