At this year’s New York Comic-Con earlier this month, I got a chance to meet some incredible women who helped shape and capture the world of one of TV’s biggest shows of all time, Game of Thrones. The HBO series just finished its 8-season run earlier this year and the fantastical series based on The Song of Ice & Fire books by George R.R. Martin is probably the largest endeavor in television history. One of the key women behind the scenes was Helen Sloan, principal unit photographer on the series since day one. At the Insight Editions booth on the NYCC show floor, Sloan was signing exclusive copies of her forthcoming book, The Photography of Game of Thrones, co-written by Michael Kogge and licensed by HBO, and available now for pre-order. I got a chance to speak to Sloan about her time working on the show and her upcoming book.
Geeks of Doom: You were the principal photographer for Game of Thrones. For us laymen who know nothing about being on the set, does that mean you’re there shooting all the time?
Helen Sloan: All the time. I’ve been on set every day, every episode since the pilot.
Geeks of Doom: Wow, all eight seasons?
Helen Sloan: All eight seasons. 1.4 million photographs, all the costumes, our team did those. Literally I get to meet every single person involved, I get to go to all the workshops, all the stores, the armory, talk to the blacksmith, I get to meet everyone. I think I had the best job. I’m spoiled.
Geeks of Doom: How do you sort through 1.4 million photographs to craft this book, The Photography of Game of Thrones?
Helen Sloan: With great difficulty and a lot of emotions. I mean going through this book, I’m not just going through the story of Game of Thrones, I’m flicking through all these people I’ve worked with for ten years, all these memories, these places I’ve gotten to go to. I’m thinking about the photography team. It really was a labor of love and for the last year making this book, there’s been so many ups and downs. I mean I hope people find what they want in there. I hope they find their favorite characters and their favorite moments. But we’ve worked very hard to make everyone happy.
Geeks of Doom: Game of Thrones was probably the largest scale TV production ever. What was your biggest challenge being on set and what were your favorite moments as the photographer?
Helen Sloan: The biggest challenge I think for any of the crew was always going to be the weather. It rains a lot in Ireland, but that’s why it’s so beautiful and green, you know. But we had a lot of weather conditions, very difficult conditions. We had 55 night shoots in a row in season 8 and that was just a real challenge mentally to go through that. It was very cold and there were difficult scenes. In season 8, every time we killed someone, it was particularly hard because we were actually really saying goodbye. They weren’t going to come back next season, that was it. The best bit of it was just being a part of this show, getting to go places; I mean in f*ckin’ New York and I have a book, this is wild! This is something I could have never written in my story. Game of Thrones has changed all of our lives and I love the fact that so many people have enjoyed it and it’s brought people together. They have watch-parties and games at work, I’ve seen so many people dressed in cosplay; to be a part of this is amazing.
Geeks of Doom: I was peeking through the book and as a fan of the show it’s incredible. The one shot I noticed was [characters’] death scene and I’m thinking wow, that’s them. How are shots like that achieved? Do they lay there after the cut for you to get the shots in?
Helen Sloan: Sometimes they’ll hold for me, but really not very often. I try not to do that, maybe ten times over ten years. For most things I feel it’s more respectful as a photographer to let the actors do the scene and not have them do it again, because it’s very emotional and they have to go deep to find the emotion. Obviously something like standing over the top of the bodies, I’m going to come in at the end and get my shots. It’s so close up and intimate. For the first part I’m just hanging out, shooting away, being a photo ninja in the background.
Geeks of Doom: Along with being here at New York Comic-Con promoting the book with Insight Editions, what are you working on now? What projects do you have coming up?
Helen Sloan: I do have some secret stuff that I’m talking about with people and I’m really excited about it, but I can’t say much. That’s always the way it is. I’m going to have a bit of a rest also.
Geeks of Doom: Game of Thrones, was that easily the biggest production you ever worked on?
Helen Sloan: Ever. I keep saying that if someone took Helen during the pilot and plunked me into the middle of season 8, it’s just mind-blowing how much the show grew in terms of scale. You had four units filming, hundreds and hundreds of extras, thousands of people working on the show, hundreds of cast, it’s just nuts.
An array of Helen Sloan’s 1.4 million photographs can be in the gorgeous hardcover book from Insight Editions, The Photography of Game of Thrones, releasing on November 5, 2019 and available now for pre-order. Check out all Insight Edition’s collections at their site.
[NYCC 2019: Game Of Thrones photographer Helen Sloan with Geeks Of Doom’s Dr. Zaius.
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