Jeanie Finlay was first exposed to Game of Thrones in, of all places, a storm. This was in April 2011. “I was stranded in St Louis because there was a tornado, so I saw it in my hotel room with the rest of the world for the first time.” While the British filmmaker was, pun unintended, blown away by the swords, sex and sorcery-packed fantasy series based on the books by George RR Martin, she didn’t become a superfan; work and family commitments demanded more of her time.
But little did Finlay know she would again encounter the award-hoarding juggernaut in yet another storm, this time it was the Beast of the East blizzards that swept across Europe last year. She was then up to her ears in a top secret project: documenting the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, an epic assignment which required Finlay to soak up all things related to the show, and devote 14 months of her life following the massive production to Northern Ireland, Spain, Croatia, and Iceland.
The resulting work, The Last Watch, is no EPK-style behind-the-scenes featurette, but a fly-on-the-wall feature-length documentary which Finlay and her team spent seven months putting it together in the editing suite, assembled from 950 hours of footage. “I wanted to make a film without interviews, so you have to shoot a lot material,” Finlay, 42, tells 8 DAYS in a phone conference from London. “Editing was an enormous challenge, but it was a challenge I love because I got to write the film during the editing process.”
Since the documentary premiered last week (May 27), Finlay has received a lot of positive feedback. “Lots of people who have seen the documentary said they haven’t seen a frame of Game of Thrones but now they want to dive in. I think people have [no idea] about the scale of ambition and the amount of work that went into the show. The reason people love Game of Thrones so much is that it is so vast.”
What else does Finlay hope audience will take away from The Last Watch? “I would invite all of them to come to Belfast, Northern Ireland, and experience the real-life Game of Thrones landscape,” she says. “I hope they would find a connection to a show that was made so far away yet is dealing with universal stories of emotional journeys.” Here, she shares with us her memories of making the documentary and her thoughts on the ‘Coffee Cup’ controversy.