The reason why the epic HBO series Game of Thrones, shot in Malta last year, opted for Croatia for its sequel was in no way related to the Dwejra sand saga, the US cable TV giant said.
“We are shooting different scenes for the second series and Croatia was able to offer us the look we needed for those additional locations,” it explained. Malta was replaced by Croatia, which may not have an active film industry but is popular for its variety of unspoilt and unexploited locations.
The production, based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is also shooting scenes “beyond the Wall” in Iceland, according to a Game of Thrones news website, which said the Croatian sites would serve as some of the southern locations in the new series.
“For those Maltese extras and fans who had hoped to see the production shooting there again, this must be a disappointment,” it said, adding that much of the filming was centred on scenic medieval city Dubrovnik, where casting for extras is ongoing.
Last year was the first time a TV series of that calibre was shot in Malta and it was hoped it would not be the last. HBO renewed Game of Thrones for a second season after its premiere was watched by 2.2 million viewers.The Malta Film Commission said it was looking into why the production had not returned. On the one hand, it was almost logical – and probably anticipated – that it would, for the continuity of locations.
“We were pursuing that line of thought and trying to contact the production to find out why it did not return to Malta,” said Film Commissioner Peter Busuttil, who was “waiting for the right time and hoping for the right answer”.
He had also anticipated that the reason could have been “simple and related to the storyline”. The different kingdoms that feature in the fantasy series required different climates and locations, he assumed. Moreover, the character central to the Malta scenes, Lord Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), was killed, he pointed out, saying it was a plausible explanation for the production to move elsewhere.
The filming of Game of Thrones in Malta lasted over six weeks and several heritage and sensitive sites were used, including presidential palaces, forts, prominent houses, streets and squares – and Gozo’s Dwejra, which featured only fleetingly in the 10-part series, but was the location of an environmental fiasco when construction sand was strewn over the rocks.
Mr Busuttil had not excluded the disaster at Dwejra during filming could have been one of the reasons why the production did not return and was seeking to clarify that.
Following the sand saga, the local production company was fined €86,500 and ordered to pay the cost of cleaning up the mess.
Mr Busutill said he would have “certainly liked things to be handled better across the board”. You learn from mistakes, he added, pointing out that if a production came to Malta once he would like it to return – even in the long term.
“Once a production chooses Malta, 50 per cent of the job is done but the other half is proving it was the right choice. No repeat business does not necessarily translate into a bad experience but we would still have questioned why the production did not come back,” he said. Sinbad, for example, shooting in Malta until February, was planning to return if it gets the green light for a sequel, Mr Busuttil said. The commission’s remit and that of all stakeholders is to get repeat business. “That is my vision,” he said.