Shooting Game of Thrones with the ARRI Alexa

If you’ve been watching HBO’s Game of Thrones — which reached a bracing, dispiriting climax at the end of the ninth episode, which aired Sunday night — you know that life is hard for heroes, and that just about everyone in the universe created by novelist George R.R. Martin is morally compromised, downright duplicitous, or borderline evil. You also know the show has an impressively crisp and detailed look that makes the most of its grungy settings, detailed production design, and reliable instances of nudity, sex and violence.

Game of Thrones, already gearing up for production of a second 10-episode season, is shot with ARRI Alexa digital cameras in Northern Ireland and Malta by a team of cinematographers that included Alik Sakharov, ASC, Marco Pontecorvo, AIC, and Matt Jensen. ARRI has posted an interview with Pontecorvo and Sakharov that details the production workflow on the show, including their thoughts on the low-light performance of the camera. Here’s an excerpt.

ARRI News: Did the camera’s sensitivity … prove advantageous, and did you waver from the base sensitivity of 800 EI?

Alik Sakharov: I found the 800 EI rating of the camera very comfortable – it sat perfectly. There were occasions where I was pushing the camera to 1600 EI, and I have to say that I didn’t see much noise. One of these scenes was set in a crypt and I barely lit it at all – it was basically all done with candles. The colorist sent me a message and said that I obviously knew what I was doing because the image was perfect, but I had no idea what I was doing. I just relied on the camera! In general I lit it very much like I would a film set. The demands of the camera were not huge. ARRI has gone to great efforts not to create a monster that requires a lot of attention. I wasn’t a slave to the technology. The technology was there to help me, and the results were the same if not better than film.

Marco Pontecorvo: The sensitivity was useful for scenes set at dusk, but generally I was using my normal 35mm lighting package. I shot all of the interiors at 800 EI, and the exteriors were 500 EI. I suppose I was using a bit less light than normal, but not a huge amount. My approach was very similar to working with 35mm. I didn’t really use it, but I saw in the tests that it’s still good if you have to push to 1600 EI. If you need it, the ALEXA is there – put it like that.

Check out the full interview at ARRI’s news site.