Scouting Westeros

Game of Thrones location manager Robert Boake on the joys of searching Northern Ireland for scenery fit for television's most epic tale

In the words of Franklin D Roosevelt, 'happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.' Fitting, as Creativity Month draws to a close. A full 31 days that have been dedicated to those within and those striving to enter the creative industries.

The creative aura that surrounds Northern Ireland grows ever stronger. As an increasingly popular destination for film crews around the world, it has welcomed some of the world's biggest production companies to shoot our stunning backdrops in all their splendour. Companies made up of a team of hundreds, each specialised in their own creative skill. Camera, scriptwriting, location scouting, costume design…the callings are endless. However, there is one question that often crops up in the world of creativity, regardless of chosen industry. How exactly do we get our foot in the door?

As part of Creativity Month Robert Boake, the supervising location scout for HBO’s award-winning Game of Thrones, which premieres its seventh and penultimate season on July 16, spoke to Culture NI on the opportunities within the world of location scouting, his day to day activities when on the job and how exactly one would achieve a career in his specialised occupation.

A keen photographer and a creative background in the arts were to provide a platform for Boake to grow. He assisted a location manager friend on a job and scouting work soon followed. Before long Boake was managing his own locations. 'I started driving vans and cleaning bins, just to get a feel for it,' he explains, 'and within a few years, I was professionally scouting and managing for productions and loving it.'

GOT

Photo by Robert Boake

Now South African-born Robert looks over the settings for arguably the biggest show in television, in addition to plaudits on a variety of different productions, including Dracula Untold, Macbeth and Snow White and the Huntsman. The breathtaking beauty of the Seven Kingdoms is a result of Robert and his tireless team’s dedication to obtaining a setting saturated in perfection.

'I am tasked with creatively interpreting the scripts and then based on that, finding the locations that I think lend something special to the scenes written from someone’s imagination', he says. 'I ask myself before I leave to start driving and researching, "How can the location best tell the story?"'

Boake identifies the northern coastline and Mourne Mountains as two elements of Northern Irish nature that play a pivotal role in the telling of George R. R. Martin’s beloved novels. 'They lend themselves beautifully to the dramatic scenery required to make Game of Thrones as epic as it is, year after year.'

The island's elegant surrounds are just one of many pull factors for those attempting to craft an immersive visual experience. Boake is quick to point out that there are many other reasons why Northern Ireland is such a popular place to film, amongst them a proactive filming commission, internationally acclaimed film crews, affordable studio costs and a friendly population.

There’s a lot more to a location manager’s occupation than just finding the ideal setting. When searching for regions of interest Boake looks for 'something that not only ticks the boxes of the storytelling, but hopefully adds its own special aspect or character'.

'You need to be patient, diplomatic and a good negotiator, being able to establish relationships of trust is a crucial asset to a location manager's skillset', he says. 'During filming time, you could be up at two or 3am to start the day and make sure that the location is prepared before the usual crew arrive. We have a growing contingent of international fans attempting to get into some of our sites, even though the locations are not always safe, so that is an issue we spend a lot of energy on.'

Financial work may not be as exhilarating as chasing diehard fans off dangerous location sites, but it remains an essential component. Boake expresses that 'unexpected issues crop up which you have to work around, so budget management is crucial.' He adds: 'It’s also very important that we pay fair wages to location owners and respect and look after the places we film in, not just because it means you can go back and do it again, but also because it’s simply the right way to go about business.'

Residing in the reality of Westeros sounds like both a challenging and rewarding business. It’s truly a talent to be able to dictate which location will compliment a scene to perfection. Slaver's Bay of County Antrim, Dragonstone of County Derry~Londonderry and the King in the North’s camp in County Down. These have been creatively plucked from the very nature that surrounds us, and transformed into a captivatingly dangerous world dominated by dragons, corrupt queens and vengeance.

GOT

Photo by Annie Leibovitz

I’m keen to hear of the opportunities that reside within the world of location managing. It’s an appealing venture no doubt, but are there many vacancies within Boake’s line of work? 'Yes, there absolutely are,' he assures. 'Never has NI been as busy or exciting a place to work in for these industries. People with ability and talent can definitely find themselves a space in an expanding industry. I interview around 10 to 20 candidates a year when I am setting up my crew, just to see who is out there.'

'Dailies' is a term that refers to people who are employed as part of the crew only for the days which they are required. Boake finds that the concept of a ‘daily’ provides a helpful insight into the most reliable crew members, making it easier to identify a perfect candidate for a role. 'Location managers also talk to one another about crew and once you get a positive reputation in one crew, the chances are that word will spread and you will receive work from other productions', he says. 'It’s just that first step of getting yourself seen and that takes tenacity.'

As our conversation draws to a close our tunnel of focus turns to how to forge a career out of location managing, right after my optimistic questions about season seven of GoT are politely refused. We’ve established that the opportunities are there, but how do you reach out and grab them?

'Get stuck in,' Boake simply states. 'If you want to learn, get your CV together and email, call, knock on doors. Talk to NI Screen who are our fabulous filming facilitators and drivers of the film and television Industry here in Northern Ireland.' Concluding, he offers a few final words of wisdom: 'Get into a crew on any job, small or large and work hard. You will soon be given more responsibility if you prove you have a problem-solving ability or a creative flair. If you can just get into a job, you will gravitate to the area you work best in.'

See more of Robert's work at www.rblocations.com and look back on more stories featured throughout the duration of Creativity Month 2017 here.