I have been fortunate enough to DP some of the best programs on television, but nothing compares to the scope of Game of Thrones, which has become a worldwide phenomenon. I served as one of five DPs for seasons 4, 5 and 6, DPing six episodes (“The Laws of Gods and Men,” “Mockingbird,” “The Gift,” “Hardhome,” “Battle of the Bastards,” and “The Winds of Winter”).
The one thing to understand about Game of Thrones is that you can be more cinematic there than on any other TV show I’ve worked on. On Game of Thrones, all the different aspects come together for a certain look and feel. It’s a wonderful show to work on, with a fantastic production team and huge support on a creative level. As DP, you really have the freedom to “go dark.” A lot of TV shows usually want a brighter TV feel. This has changed in the last few years and Game of Thrones is the best example.
However, as a DP doing only two episodes a season on any TV show, you have to adhere to the look and the way that show has been set up. You go in, honor what’s been done before, and try and bring in your own style as much as possible, without going too far away from the established look.
Beginning with the pilot, Game of Thrones has always used Cooke S4/i primes, which is great because I have been using the Cookes a lot and I know them very well.The S4/i lenses have been the “go to” lens for British TV for a long time. I started using Cookes early on, I think probably on the first TV drama I DP’d. Cooke lenses have a look I like. It’s a fast lens that’s both sharp but has a nice soft feel to it. I always like to go back to Cookes, even if I’m using something else on a project.
For Game of Thrones, we shoot simultaneously with two units and two crews, each with two ARRI Alexa cameras for each unit (although we have used four cameras per unit when needed). The director and DP always stay together when moving between the units (named “Dragon” and “Wolf”), shooting in Belfast (all the interior sets and exterior locations), Spain, Croatia, Iceland, and Morocco (for season 2).
All of our interior sets are prelit usually and each DP comes in and changes it to their liking. The sets are usually lit with big tungsten units. On exteriors, it depends on each DP whether they would use tungsten or HMIs.
We have almost the entire Cooke S4/i range on Game of Thrones. The show’s “look” is a combination of the lenses and the Alexa. That look speaks for itself, and the Cooke S4/i primes are definitely a part of that.
Fabian Wagner, BSC, is a German-born cinematographer who is currently shooting Warner Bros.’ Justice League for director Zack Snyder.