Helen Sloan is the woman behind all of those amazing ‘Game of Thrones’ photographs. She spoke EXCLUSIVELY with HL about how the show became a phenomenon, her future with the ‘GoT’ world, and more.
The Photography of Game of Thrones from Insight Editions is available now. Helen Sloan, the official principal Game of Thrones unit photographer, has compiled her most iconic shots from the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning HBO show for this book. Helen stopped by HollywoodLife’s New York City offices to promote the highly-anticipated book. “I think it sounds cheesy, but it’s the job of my life and I know that,” Helen told HollywoodLife. “I learned my craft on this job. This job shaped me as a photographer and so many of the crew. It also changed the face of the country where I live. We were famous for a war. We were famous for people blowing each other up, and now when tourists come, they don’t ask about that. They ask about Game of Thrones and that changes everything. For a TV show to do that means so much to us as a country. To be able to build a family for 10 years and to get so close to actors, I feel like I’ve had a secret insight into all these different worlds. Because usually on a job, you don’t get close to people in the way that we have, so I feel like we have much more insight. I have much more insight than I would have gone in 10 different jobs over a decade.”
Game of Thrones is one of the most popular shows on the planet. After the first season, the show exploded in popularity. The series finale broke the show’s record with 19.3 million viewers. “To go all these random places in the world, and just see your photos on t-shirts… There’s always someone somewhere talking about Game of Thrones or quoting it or it’s on a mug or key ring. It’s fantastic. We’re all so proud.”
Helen was with Game of Thrones from the very beginning. With her photographs, you could feel the emotion through the picture. Helen said that she shot her photographs while the cameras were rolling. “I always feel like it’s unfair to ask an actor to just pose because you’re taking them out of their moment, out of their performance,” Helen said. “So I think it’s really important to just be there, and be invisible, and capture what they’re doing as an actor. Because that’s where it’s at. That’s where the moment is. It’s during a take.”
Game of Thrones shot everyone from snowy mountains of Iceland to the warmer, sunnier Croatia. However, there was one set that was particularly difficult to shoot. “I think any time there was a jail cell, they were horrendous,” Helen noted. “Or the Starks’ crypt underneath Winterfell. It’s an actual crypt, like in the bottom of a ruin. So you’re standing there, and obviously, during a take, you have to be really quiet. Don’t move, don’t make a sound, and there were spiders just dropping, and you knew there was a giant spider on your neck, but you couldn’t move, you couldn’t shriek. There were bats right above your head. You could hear them kind of rustling. It’s a crypt. It was scary. So I think that was difficult, but then these tiny little cells that we had to shoot in. It looks fine when you get in there. But then you cram in like 30 crew, 10 of which are big, giant dudes, and then suddenly it’s a sardine tin of smelly filmmakers.”
The biggest episode in Game of Thrones history was undoubtedly season 8’s “Battle of Winterfell.” The episode took 55 night shoots but Helen admitted she would “do it all again” if she had to. “But if I had to do that again, I would probably do a few things differently. I feel like I might get better thermals for that. It was hard. It was 55 night shoots, and so you’re going into work at 6 in the evening, finishing at 6 in the morning, but it’s not just going to work. It’s going to work in a field in minus conditions in the rain and snow. Everyone’s tired. It’s dark. There are bodies everywhere. There’s fake blood everywhere. It’s weird. Everyone’s stressed, everyone’s cold. It’s really hard work. There’s a lot of effects. It was difficult conditions and it was difficult work. It was the first episode I’ve ever watched that made me cry because I was so flipping proud of the crew for the work that we put in. It was really, genuinely tough, and we thought we’d had it tough before. The mental fortitude of 55 night shoots in a row in minus conditions took a lot. It really took a lot.”
Even though the show has ended, Helen doesn’t think she’s done with Game of Thrones. “I don’t think my journey with Game of Thrones will ever be over. I think I’ll be talking about this job until I’m a decrepit old woman who can’t remember what Game of Thrones is. I genuinely think I’ll be talking about it for the rest of my life and that’s fine.” The Photography of Game of Thrones is out now.