It’s a fantasy world populated by sword-bearing and chainmail-clad warriors. And while it may look like our own Shane’s Castle, for the purposes of fantasy it is instead the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.
The makers of HBO’s worldwide blockbuster Game of Thrones moved into the leafy grounds of the 1345 castle ruins near Randalstown for the latest shoot in its third series filming.
And the Belfast Telegraph was invited for a peek behind the scenes of the global smash hit show which is being filmed mainly in Northern Ireland.
Sworn to secrecy, I was issued with directions early yesterday morning which saw me travelling along a myriad of winding, pot-hole littered lanes.
Directed to a car park close to the set, I did a double-take when a fully costumed actor leapt out from a Peugeot 206.
The makers are almost paranoid about any details of the hugely popular production being leaked — to the extent that I was instructed to remain in my car until told otherwise. Phones were also banned on the shoot.
Once allowed out of my car, I was bussed to the scene of the filming, trundling across a muddy but impressive bridge taking centre stage in the shoot.
A huge camera crane was in place at one end of the bridge with a hamlet of tents housing the latest recording technology.
The scene being shot featured two of the show’s leading characters — Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie).
The crew spent all of yesterday shooting a two-minute clip — standard practice apparently.
True to form, the weather was atrocious with the actors taking shelter under umbrellas between takes.
At one point a shout went out for a hairdryer to be hastily brought to the site — a reminder that modern day comforts weren’t far from hand.
Executive producer, Frank Doelger, watched every move.
Asked about what impact the Northern Ireland climate has on filming, he replied: “We have been rained out in Malta, rained out in Croatia and snowed out in Iceland so everywhere we’ve gone to in addition to Northern Ireland has been challenging as well.
“The overcast look has been very good for us, it has given us great contrast to some of the sunnier locations we have filmed as well.”
The third series of the show is being filmed across Northern Ireland after the runaway success of the first two seasons.
And Mr Doelger said they are delighted to be back.
“Northern Ireland is doing a lot of things right,” he said.
“You can find an incredible range of locations that are very easy to reach which give great scale, great scope.
“It’s been a fantastic experience and everybody in the local community, the property owners, all the shops, all the restaurants, hotels, all the local services have done a great job. I think that it’s been as beneficial for them as it has for us.”
To date, Game of Thrones has generated a reported £43m for the local economy. Mr Doelger said it has also provided a massive boost to local film and television producers due to the new skills staff sourced from here have gained.
The crew say series three will take 180 days to film — 80% of that taking place in Northern Ireland — for the 10 episodes.
And according to Mr Doelger, writer George RR Martin is rattling out material as quickly as he can for forthcoming series.
Asked what we can expect from the third series, Mr Doelger gave nothing away.
But the confident look behind his wry smile gave an indication that fans are in for another treat when it airs next spring.
Series 4 could depend on tax incentives
By Chris Kilpatrick
It has put Northern Ireland film-making on the world map after its first two series.
And if those behind Game of Thrones get their way, they will continue to create the global blockbuster on these shores.
Speaking at yesterday’s shoot at Shane’s Castle, executive producer Frank Doelger said the introduction of new tax incentives for film-making would help to keep the series in Northern Ireland.
Mr Doelger said the production team is keen to return but “the challenge for us will be two-fold”.
“One is that we do want to keep the show fresh and have to keep finding new locations,” he said. “I think also the passage of the UK tax credit is important. If it does come in and applies to high-end television that will make a huge difference for us.
“That would definitely be a deciding factor. If the tax credit does pass then I think our future here would be assured.”