Game of Thrones season four is nearly upon us (it premieres in the UK at 9pm, 7 April, on Sky Atlantic). Ahead of the series we catch up with location manager Robbie Boake for some behind the scenes shooting secrets.
“We do things akin to feature films,” says Boake. “If not at a higher production level at some stages.” Game of Thrones has two completely separate shooting units running at the same time, and crew manages to film in multiple countries simultaneously – rotating between Croatia, Iceland and Ireland. “It is a multi-headed beast,” says Boake, “Kudos to them for making it work. To move around, especially in multiple countries with so many cast members it is a very big thing to orchestrate – that would be [producer] Chris Newman and his team doing a fantastic job on this.”
For Boakes, the varied and rich landscapes of Ireland are perfect for the majority of the series. “In a story as diverse as Game of Thrones, you have hot temperate areas where you need ferns, for warm feelings, and the colder more carnivorous areas north of The Wall for the different geographies in the story. [Ireland] is a really good place because you have all those different options available within a strike.
“There are so mainly varied landscapes so close to Belfast,” explains Boake, “you’ve got lovely rolling hills, the coast of Antrim, pretty much whatever you need is within an hour of Belfast.”
Despite the convenient and scenic location, the cast and crew do not travel light: “We travel with a lot of accessories,” explains Boake, remembering shoots he assisted on around the Belfast area – some of which came with serious kit. “We use military-spec tracks and fields to support our unit base.”
Some Game of Thrones scenes, including battles and events, have up to 200 people in them. One of the trickiest parts of filming is keeping all those people comfortable. “If 200 extras are involved there is an extra challenge to keep people warm, fed, and provide shelter if it’s raining,” says Boake.
“Looking after a few hundred people a night from a service perspective is quite a challenge. From a creative perspective it’s more about finding the right [place or location] and making sure it can tell the story the best way.”
There are varying types of locations, explains Boake. “On some occasions we build something quite significant in the middle of nature or in a quarry or in a beautiful area of someone’s estate. Those builds can take between four to 16 weeks, if it is a castle or something that is going to be standing for a while.”
Despite the large-scale operation, the crew leaves without a trace. “In some cases it is remarkably simple and the landscape is so gob-smackingly beautiful, you might have a party of actors on some kind of journey,” says Boake, “a few days later there is no sign that there has been any film crew there. I will do the walk through with the estate owner at the end and literally pick up the last plastic bottle. Or if there is anything at all that hasn’t been left how it was, we would repair it or make some plans to fix it to leave the relationship intact for future filming.”
Watch Game of Thrones season four at 9pm, 7 April, on Sky Atlantic