'Game of Thrones'

Apr 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Blair Jackson



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For scenes with actors talking while on horseback, production sound mixer Ronan Hill opted to go primarily with RF mics.

For scenes with actors talking while on horseback, production sound mixer Ronan Hill opted to go primarily with RF mics.

Game of ThronesHBO’s new 10-part series, Game of Thrones (starting April 17), is based on a best-selling series of American writer George R.R. Martin epic fantasy novels called A Song of Ice and Fire, of which A Game of Thrones is the first book. Four gargantuan tomes have been published since 1996, with three more promised, plus there are also prequels and many tangential products (games and such) already out there or to come.

Production sound mixer Ronan Hill mixes on a Cooper 208D, recording to a Sound Devices 788T.

Production sound mixer Ronan Hill mixes on a Cooper 208D, recording to a Sound Devices 788T.

Set in an undefined time that bears some similarities to Europe in the Middle Ages, but also has characteristics of other epochs and cultures, and elements that are pure fantasy, Game of Thrones is a dense and complex story. It’s set in the Seven Kingdoms of the Westeros, each ruled by a different “House,” each with its own history and complicated personal and historical entanglements. There’s a snowy land, a desert land, great fortresses, battles, betrayals, sex, court intrigue, dragon eggs and even some murderous undead—quite a spectacle.


From HBO: Making 'Game of Thrones'

Season One was shot in Northern Ireland and Malta (and for the pilot only, Morocco instead of Malta), using mostly little-known American, British and Irish actors. The 21-week shooting schedule for the 10 episodes was fast-paced and intense, as the action moved between numerous outdoor locations around Northern Ireland and to sets built on a huge soundstage complex in Belfast known as the Paint Hall, which at one time was part of the Harland & Wolff Shipyards where the Titanic and many other ships were built.

“The Paint Hall is this aircraft hangar–sized building with four cells [each 16,000 square feet] for constructing sets, but it was purpose-built to paint ships and not for recording sound,” says production sound mixer Ronan Hill, himself a Belfast resident. “It’s got metal walls, and I think we initially reckoned it had about a 4-second reverb time, so right away that is something you have to plan for. We have a lot of large sets, and the nature of this period [in the story] means there are no glazed windows, so things are opened into the void. And the nature of lighting is they like to have the option of lighting from above so they’re not necessarily enclosed at the top either. So it’s shaping up very nicely, sound-wise, as you can see. [Laughs] Then you’re also dealing with special effects with fans to make whatever’s supposed to be outside the windows move, and all the other issues.

“Hopefully, for Season Two, if it gets green-lit, they’ll continue making progress in trying to improve the four existing cells, and they’re also building another two stages at the Paint Hall location,” Hill continues. “But even with the challenges, it worked out fine and it was nice to have some respite from going in the elements.”

Much of the series was shot outdoors in sometimes remote locations—always a challenge for production mixers. “We’ve been on locations that are right on top of a mountain where it means getting up very early, cross-loading onto four-wheel-drive trucks, getting up to the top of the mountain and being up there for the day to work,” Hill says. “For that one on the mountain, we drove an hour-and-a-half [out of Belfast] to get there and then it’s half-an-hour up the mountain, so it’s a very long day. But it was beautiful and isolated. The flip side of that is they’ll find another location in woods beside a main road, on a flight path. Those are situations where you might go more heavily into radios [RF mics]. You’re trying to get the mics more isolation so you can keep the background out as much as possible and hopefully they can also take a little bit more out of it in post if possible.

Hill has primarily worked on various UK television series (Bel’s Boys, The Invisibles) and independent films (Five Minutes of Heaven, Hunger, The Eclipse—all critically acclaimed) over the course of a career that goes back to the mid-’90s. During that time, his production sound rig has evolved from stereo DAT to an 8-channel digital recorder and 8-channel mixer. “The mixer I’m using is a Cooper 208D, which is really my favorite piece of kit,” he says. “[The show is] recorded onto a Sound Devices 788T 8-track, which is also a great machine. Before that, I had a 744, and actually I still keep that on my cart as a backup machine.

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