Game of Thrones is the television series that has it all—dragons, zombies and epic battle scenes. Its mix of dramatic power plays, graphic violence and beautiful scenery has made it hugely popular the world over. But between all the swinging swords and windswept clifftops, how does this juggernaut manage safety and risks on set?
Preparation is the secret for Australian safety expert Roger Graham, who has worked in film, TV and live theatre for 30 years.
“Safety in film and television is more of a project-management thing with high-risk activities as opposed to general workplace health and safety,” Graham says.
“You have to develop a whole strategy of how to manage people on the set to make sure they don’t do anything crazy. But if something does happen, you need to know how to respond to it effectively.”
Graham, whose credits include reality TV shows Survivor and Grand Designs, says safety co-ordinators are responsible for both cast and crew.
“TV viewers tend to look through the eye of the lens and see a cast of 20 people,” he says. “But in fact there’s a crew of 150 people behind the camera and they all have to be looked after.”
From cliff to coast
Game of Thrones is filmed over multiple locations including Dubrovnik in Croatia for King’s Landing, rugged Ouarzazate in Morocco for the fictional Yunkai, Iceland for the land beyond the show’s famed wall and Northern Ireland for Winterfell. For each of these locations, heads of departments conduct a reconnaissance of the area to make sure the site meets their aesthetic and narrative needs.
Safety consultants also examine locations to provide advice on risks and how to control them.
“Obviously if it’s right next to massive cliffs, it’s not necessarily a no-go situation, it’s a case of how much safe space we have to set up,” Graham says.
“Space for the camera department and the director’s area so they can watch their monitors and be a safe distance from the drop. How far are we from a hospital, from a paramedic?
“It’s a matter of controlling the inherent dangers and making sure there’s no elevated risk coming with us in our behaviours, our attitudes and culture.”
Behind the blood and guts
More than 16 million people tuned into the premiere of the seventh season of Game of Thrones, expecting the usual gruesome scenes they’ve come to know and love. And while the scenes rely on lifelike weapons at the cast’s disposal, most of the swords, axes and daggers used in fight scenes are made from foam, plastic or wood.
While this means the risk of injury is reduced, Graham says actors still need instructions on how to use these props safely, including warming up before they bound on set to engage in combat. And the rationale goes beyond just personal safety.
“You’re protecting the person that’s there,” says Graham, “but you’re also protecting the brand [of Game of Thrones]. It’s a product and it doesn’t need to be associated with stupidity and injury so you’re also protecting the shareholders who have put a lot of money into it.”
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