Warning: Spoilers for “Game of Thrones” season seven. If you aren’t caught up on the series, read at your own risk.
Remember when Daenerys rode Drogon and fried the Lannister army? That battle sequence was inspired by “Apocalypse Now.”
Business Insider recently talked to Robert McLachlan, a “Game of Thrones” cinematographer who worked on season seven episodes “The Spoils of War” and “Eastwatch.”
McLachlan talked about why he loves working with smoke, what inspired the look and feel of the Loot Train Attack, and why a health and safety officer had to interfere with production. He also told us about a simply lit scene from “Eastwatch” that he is obsessed with.
McLachlan has also worked on other big “Game of Thrones” episodes including season three’s “The Rains of Castamere” and “Mhysa,” as well as season five’s “The Dance of Dragons” and “Mother’s Mercy.”
McLachlan talked about what it was like to shoot such an epic battle sequence for one of the biggest shows on television:
'My initial reaction after reading the outline of this (Loot Train) battle was, 'Oh boy, this is not gonna happen quickly.''
'My other thought was, 'We're gonna need lots of cuts and shots.' It's a really daunting action sequence. This battle is massive, so it was important to keep the momentum. We were also under a lot of pressure, since the Battle of the Bastards was one of the best battles ever filmed, including television and movies.'
'For cinematographers, consistency often measures the quality of our work. So thank goodness there was smoke involved. Smoke helps with consistency when you're shooting exteriors, but I also love the way it looks, especially with the sun shining behind it.'
'For inspiration and reference, director Matt Shakman and I looked at the Napalm scene in 'Apocalypse Now' and 'Saving Private Ryan.''
McLachlan and Shakman wanted the brutality of the battle to feel realistic.
'More so than movies, I often seek inspiration from fine art. In this case, I looked at one of my favourite painters, J.M.W. Turner.'
'Turner's paintings have a horrible beauty to them, and I really wanted to capture that.'
'Since we wanted black smoke, we had to burn diesel. After a few days the cast and crew were hacking. Our faces were black, even though we were wearing masks.'
'And the actors couldn't wear masks, since they had to be on camera. The HBO health and safety officer told us we had to stop using the diesel,' McLachlan told Business Insider
'Early on, we knew we couldn't shoot the battle entirely from Dany's perspective. Every frame the dragon is in just costs too much money.'
'So that was when Jaime's POV came in, and more briefly, Bronn's. Jaime's already been through war, and witnessed the Mad King, and that changed him,' McLachlan said. 'But we wanted this to feel different, like the first A-bomb drop. The nature of war has completely changed. An early outline described the action of the battle in broad strokes, with no POV. If it didn't have the POV from Jaime and Bronn, it would have been pointless mayhem.'
'We got lucky that the heavy smoke was such an important part at the beginning of 'Eastwatch,' as Tyrion walks through the wreckage.''
'The heavy smoke in the aftermath is so dense. We cranked the smoke machines, and all that ash you see on the battlefield is recycled grey paper. Because of the sun, this scene was prepared months in advance. But there was one morning where the fog was so bad that you couldn't see your own hand.'
'My favourite scenes in both the episodes I shot this season are the simplest, but the most satisfying.'
'I love bringing the dark, beautiful moments to life. In episode four, I loved the scene where Arya and Sansa reunite in the crypts below Winterfell. And in episode five, the scene between Jaime and Tyrion among the dragon skulls below the Red Keep. I populated it with torches for some subtle light. That scene was incredibly acted, decorated, and written -- and one of the best, most exciting things I ever got to work on.'
''Game of Thrones' is quite unusual. I have shot about 500 episodes of television, worked on feature films, and with 50 different directors, and I've never been on a set like this.'
'Until 'Game of Thrones,' I had never been on a set where everyone, from the cast to the crew, is as engaged in the story and the characters, and is fully committed to making it as good as they possibly can. From the showrunners to the people busting their a---s sweeping the beaches of Dragonstone between takes so there's no footprints on camera.'
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