When you really think about it, it has to be pretty tough coming in as a guest director to helm an episode of an established series. The cast, crew, and fans have already gotten used to seeing things done a certain way, so your creative vision might be squelched by the status quo.
Multiply that by a zillion, and you get what Michael Slovis ("Breaking Bad"/"CSI") signed up for when he agreed to direct the first two episodes of season five of "Game of Thrones." MTV News hopped on the phone to chat with Slovis, getting the scoop on everything from Braavos to Dorne to Brienne's latest fight scene.
Find out what Slovis had to say below!
MTV: You had a pretty daunting task this episode -- you had to introduce not one, but two major new locations. How did you want to capture Braavos and Dorne? What did you want to convey to the audience when they got their first look at these new places?
Michael Slovis: When you’re bringing in something new, it’s really important to capture the quality that the showrunners want and the art director wants, and what’s going to be important moving forward...
The Braavos location is a small sort of castle building in an outcrop just south of Split. We knew we were going to be shooting in there, so they started integrating the concept drawings into what actually exists. Then when you get the script, you start figuring out where you’re going to locate each of the pieces. From that point on, anything that is not there practically, you start considering how you’re going to add things or take away things with visual effects... It’s a long process. I was in pre-production on this show for six weeks before we shot a frame. That is longer than most because, you know, I was new to the show and had to be brought up to speed. I arrived in Belfast and then was taken to Croatia and then to Spain. There was a little bit of educating the new kid on the block kind of deal.
MTV: Braavos made Arya seem so, so small in comparison. I'm guessing that was intentional?
Slovis: You had to do the tie in to the House of Black and White. So the town of Braavos was almost like an interstitial little piece, because it’s really not in my episode. My job was to set it up for when you come back to it in subsequent episodes, so it’s familiar. We do pass through it on the way to House of Black and White -- which, by the way, it’s all connected.
What was really important is the sense that it’s a fishing town, with all that netting that goes around. You can see that [Production Designer] Deb Riley put a lot of swags of material. Some of it is to cover up things we didn’t want to see, but most of it was to create the sense of this market place in the middle of Braavos.
MTV: And the impression I got from Dorne was that it's somewhere I'd really, really like to live.
Slovis: Well who wouldn’t? Look how beautiful that is. It’s supposed to be warm, and in the south. I think everyone’s supposed to want to live in Dorne. Look at the gardens there, they are gorgeous, and the architecture is so unique. I’ve never seen anything quite like that castle in my life.
MTV: How much of it was already there?
Slovis: Go online and look at the Royal Alcázar -- that’s exactly it! We didn’t add, we just shot it. All of the foreground stuff inside the castle and inside the garden is exactly what we had. What they did was clean up anything modern above and beyond the walls.
MTV: Then of course, you had that great outdoor chase sequence with Brienne and Podrick. Can you walk me through the filming of all that?
Slovis: We did the horse chase in one day. It was like a military operation. My incredible first assistant director Richard Graysmark just pulled off a miracle that day. You know where Podrick ends up on the water, there? Originally, I had envisioned that scene and sword fight to be out in the middle of that stream. That stream was really just a water run-off for this farm where we were shooting, and it was only maybe 3 of 4 inches deep, and it was a crossover... We prepped the area, and I had this amazing vision of the fight going on in the water, and horses splashing and kicking up water.
But on my way in to work that morning, they call me and tell me we can’t do the fight where I wanted to. I asked why not, and they told me it’s a raging river. When I got there I saw what you see on film, which is this raging white water river coming down. It was really high, the horses wouldn’t go in... It’s hard enough on a film set to take a scene with two or three characters and turn it on the day, it’s near impossible to do it when you have stunts, horses, fighting, special effects, visual effects, blood and all of the factors that go into a "Game of Thrones" thing.
MTV: It seemed like a real turning point in Brienne's story, as well. What did you think was going through her head?
Slovis: I loved that moment, where she rides into that close up and she sees Littlefinger and Sansa riding off -- the whole idea was she is now divided between her quest and her heart. Now she knows where they’re going. Does she just pursue off with Sansa and follow through on that? How seriously does she take her responsibility to Podrick? We wanted to leave you with a question of which way she’s going to go, so that the surprise is when Podrick’s life is really in peril, it’s a surprise that in she rides and saves the day.
MTV: I was kind of surprised! Gwendoline Christie is so fantastic in all of her fight scenes.
Slovis: A fight on feet is hard enough, but to fight on a horse is so hard. To stage it is so hard. All I can tell you is those two actors are some of the most joyous -- well, the whole cast is just unbelievable. These two guys are just hysterical together; they are so much fun and so terrific and so giving, and welcoming of a new filmmaker. Words couldn’t even begin to express how much fun I had on a daily basis with Gwendoline and Daniel, they are the most lovely people.
MTV: Were there any favorite shots you filmed in the episode, that you were dying to include when you got the script?
Slovis: Do you know that shot where [Maester Aemon] has to break the tie, and the shot starts on his face and then the camera makes it boom down and it reveals in the foreground that the stacks of chips are even? At the end of that -- because I saw that shot in my head ever since I read the script -- he looked at me, we did that take, and he goes, "Good job, Michael!" That made me laugh, that made the whole room laugh. But it really was such a great moment when he stood up and felt his way forward and put that token on it, that was wonderful.
MTV: Finally, having done two episodes, now -- I'm curious what it's like, going from country to country and location to location. Do they all feel as real and alive and different as they do on the show?
Slovis: I have never been on a show before where the sets speak to you as much as on "GoT"... When you walk into the Red Keep, it’s so beautiful, it’s so photographic. It tells you how you want to tell the story. When you walk into Dany’s receiving room at the top of the pyramid with the big throne and the staircase leading up, it tells you -- it screams at you how you want to shoot it.
But nothing comes close to screaming at you how it wants to be shot than the top of The Wall. Because when you walk into the studio, you look up at it, and you have to climb up. I think it’s thirty feet, and you’re going up a multi-staircase to get up to the top of this thing. And all the equipment is on lifts and all this stuff, because eye-level is thirty feet up in the air... You feel dwarfed by this room, because the ceiling of this place is eighty feet...
All of the art and visual stuff, which includes wardrobe, props, set department, art department, make up, hair... they keep everything looking and feeling as if it’s of a piece. And then your job as a guest director is to come in and to fit in to that culture, keep it feeling of a piece but make sure that you put your own little spin on it. Not to reinvent it, but to fit in to the culture of the show and to, you know, put your own little take on it. That’s all.