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SYFY WIRE New York Comic Con 2019

NYCC 2019: Game of Thrones' official on-set photographer took over 1.5 million BTS pics

By Brian Silliman
Daenerys gives a speech in Season 8 of Game of Thrones

The game may be over and the wheel may be broken, but the legacy of Game of Thrones will endure for a long time yet. The most enduring thing for those who worked on the show was undoubtedly 10 years (or so) of memories. The filming experience of the record-setting Emmy Award winner was truly an adventure of a lifetime for those who embarked on it, and Helen Sloan, the official on-set photographer for the series, was there the entire time. She came to NYCC 2019 and recounted her adventures, alongside production designer Deborah Riley (from Season 4 onward), and SYFY WIRE was there to get all of the stories, information, fire, and blood.

Over the course of the series, Sloan captured over 1.5 million behind-the-scenes photos, many of which will soon be available for fans to savor in the new book The Photography of Game of Thrones. The book doesn't come out until November, but visitors to NYCC 2019 can stop by Booth 1946 and get an inscribed advance copy of it. Based on the photos they showed on a looping slideshow throughout the panel, it looks to be more than worth it.

So what exactly did Sloan's job involve? "I just got to take 360 degrees of photos of cool stuff for 10 years," she said. "I shot the scenes, and I also got to shoot the behind the scenes, to document that weird ballet of what the crew does. I got to meet everyone involved, which is the best part of my job. I learned something new every day from all of the incredible artists I was surrounded by. I got to shoot the posters, too."

How did she get the job in the first place? She used to do photography for the circus, and joked that she went from one group of clowns to another. According to Sloan, 50 percent of her job is knowing how to do it, and the other 50 percent is luck, in terms of who you meet and when. She definitely seemed to feel like she lucked into it, but was very grateful to have done so. 

As for Riley, she had a long dry patch before booking Thrones, and then had a long interview process with the bosses David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. Once on board, being in the middle of Castle Black, a fully immersive set, the audacity of the production immediately stuck out to Riley.

In terms of difficult locations, Sloan mentioned being on the top of a glacier (presumably the Fist of the First Men), when her water bottle froze instantly in her hand. When it came to shooting sets, she said, "all of them were challenging in their own way." Little jail cells proved difficult, because you're dealing with fitting around 50 crew members inside. It might have been a challenge, but Sloan maintained that she had the best job ever, and wasn't about to complain.

What was the biggest surprise for Riley or Sloan while shooting? Riley was always gobsmacked by the size of the crews they had, while Sloan was constantly amazed by how much attention the show got. She mentioned that she truly got the full breadth of the show's fandom when Madonna tweeted about Game of Thrones.

Since Sloan came on at the start, she didn't know what she was in for. "Thank goodness it grew organically, bigger every year," Sloan said, because if "Season 1 Helen" was thrown into the Battle of Winterfell, then she would not have been able to handle it. Riley came in after the show was popular, however, and received some negative attention from the toxic side of the fandom based on nothing more than her IMDb page. She said that she had to make some firm decisions "right then and there."

In terms of her first Thrones photo, Sloan joked that "It was probably a picture of the back of the truck to test the camera." While getting a bit emotional, she remembered that her real first photo that made it onto the internet was from the pilot's famous prologue. She also remembers being nervous, because that photo was on a site that had a comment section. 

As far as her final photo? It hasn't been seen yet, but she reveals that it is a selfie of her and her assistant, covered in the dirt of King's Landing after the ... actions ... of Daenerys Targaryen during the penultimate episode of the series.

As for the photos themselves, they played throughout the panel, to the point where it was hard to focus on anything else. What was possibly the most surprising thing about them was seeing how much of the effects on the show were practical — for example, Beric Dondarrion's flaming sword is actually on fire in all of the behind-the-scenes shots. Riley commented on the practicality of it all, and also how looking at the photos is like "looking through a family album."

This includes the cast, of course, and Sloane remarked that she once found Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister) frightening. In one moment he was having a "scary dad scene" and she was a bit afraid to be caught in his eyeline. She mentioned it to him, and his response was (which she retold in a hilarious impression of Dance), "Darling, I'm an actor, I make all these people disappear, just do your job." Sloane said that she felt like she might as well have just been knighted.

Riley seemed partial to Rory McCann (The Hound), who she said was particularly funny. She refused to reveal who any "troublemakers" were, as she didn't want to get anyone in trouble. The bonds of this family still run strong.

"A lot happens in your life in 10 years," Sloan added, "and these are the people I've been seeing for 10 years." They all lived through it together, and there were nice little moments. When referring to the book of photos itself, she calls it "a decade of everyone's life." 

Sloan's amazing photography can be seen in The Photography of Game of Thrones, which can be pre-ordered here. Riley's artwork and designs can be seen in The Art of Game of Thrones, which can be pre-ordered here. Both books are as beautiful as a summer day in Highgarden. 

Click here for SYFY WIRE’s full coverage of New York Comic Con 2019, including up-to-the-minute news, exclusive interviews, and videos.