The American Society of Cinematographers

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Return to Table of Contents December 2015 Return to Table of Contents
Vanja Černjul
David Greene
Christopher Norr
Crescenzo Notarile
Fabian Wagner
ASC Close-Up

Game of Thrones, "Hardhome"

Cinematographer: Fabian Wagner, BSC

This marks the second consecutive ASC Award nomination for Fabian Wagner, BSC, for his work on the HBO series Game of Thrones.

The medieval epic has a unique working methodology: two full units, called Dragon and Wolf, are brought aboard each season, and they shoot multiple episodes simultaneously. “For our fifth season,” Wagner says, “we were mostly shooting in Northern Ireland, Spain and Croatia. The Wolf unit started in Belfast, then moved to Croatia, then moved to Spain, and then returned to Belfast. The director, cinematographer and first AD always stay together, but we change units as needed for each episode. If I’m shooting with Dragon unit on Monday, on that same day Rob McLachlan [ASC, CSC] might be shooting with his director and the Wolf unit. Then, on Wednesday, I might move to a different location and join Wolf unit to continue my episode, while Rob moves to Dragon.”

“Hardhome,” the episode for which Wagner is nominated this year, was shot mainly with the Dragon unit.

“The number of days we have to shoot each episode varies depending on what’s happening in the episode,” he says. “Some episodes have major battle sequences, which take a lot longer, of course. Episodes also often span different countries and locations, and there are often breaks in the schedule. We may shoot for a few days and then pick up a week later with a different unit in a different country. That’s one of the really great things about a schedule like this: you have time to prep with your director.”

The battle sequence in “Hardhome,” which unfolds over the latter half of the episode, took 16 days to shoot. “Just organizing and planning that part of the episode was key to everything we were able to achieve,” says Wagner. “Shooting in Belfast in November, we had fewer than 10 hours of daylight, so we had to plan and execute very carefully. We had up to four cameras rolling every day. I was operating the fourth camera, and that allowed me to jump in and shoot extra bits whenever we wanted to and it worked in terms of lighting.”

The primary camera on Game of Thrones is the Arri Alexa XT, but each unit also carries a Red Dragon and a couple of Black Magic Cinema Cameras. For lenses, the filmmakers carry a set of Cooke S4 primes and a range of Angenieux Optimo zooms, including 15-40mm, 17-80mm, 24-290mm and 28-76mm.

There were four other cinematographers on season five of Game of Thrones: McLachlan; Greg Middleton, CSC; Anette Haellmigk and David Franco. “There is great communication between us,” Wagner asserts. “We all know each other really well and have become friends. Everybody appreciates and respects the others’ work. We can pull up frame grabs from any scene whenever we need a quick reference before we approach the same set. We all talk and share our ideas and approaches.”

Asked why he chose to submit “Hardhome” for ASC Awards consideration, Wagner confesses, “I’m not sure, really. Usually I don’t like submitting things that have extensive CGI, but a lot of the efforts in this episode were achieved in camera. Also, the episode is like a cell — it starts in sera and becomes bigger and bigger. There are lots of sets in there that I really enjoyed lighting, and the battle scene is a powerful sequence. I also enjoyed the collaboration among all the departments; every department was truly at the top of its game. This nomination is also a huge testament to the Game of Thrones crew, who give everything they have all the time.”

Here is the 4-minute clip reel Wagner submitted with the episode:


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