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8 things we learned on the set of George R.R. Martin’s ‘Nightflyers’

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There aren’t many things qualified to fill the yawning hole between Game of Thrones seasons (not to mention books), but if there’s one thing that stands a decent chance it’s another George RR Martin adaptation.

Enter Nightflyers. Based on a novella Martin published back in 1980, it’s the story of a spaceship crew on a mission to investigate a strange alien signal.

Earlier this year, Mashable paid a visit to the studio where Nightflyers is being filmed in Limerick, Ireland. We spoke to the cast and crew, took a tour of the (very large, very expensive) set, and unearthed some details about the show.

From the inevitable GoTs comparisons to George RR Martin’s involvement, here are some of the main things we learned…

1. The show will be different to the book.

George RR Martin’s Nightflyers novella may be vast in scope, but length-wise it’s only 88 pages. The action is fast-paced, the back-story is minimal, and the ending is fairly decisive. The TV show adaptation looks set to be a whole different ball-game.

“I think all the characters are different from the book,” Eoin Macken, who plays the ship’s captain Karl D’Branin, told us. “They just used the book as a source material and they changed it all.”

This sentiment was echoed by the majority of cast and crew we spoke with on set.

“The ship has a whole different feel to it than the novella, which is an old, creaky, different deal,” Brían O’Byrne, who’s playing a character that doesn’t even appear in the novella, said. “We are encouraged to take our first script as the starting point, rather than the other source material.”

Gretchen Mol, who plays Dr. Agatha Matheson, told us she did read the original story — but it wasn’t very similar to the pilot script she read. Even the characters and their individual focuses, she explained, are different in the show. “There are a lot of things that have surprising twists,” Mol said.

Although certain characters and plot points will remain similar, it sounds as though Martin’s novella has been taken more as a core concept than an exact blueprint — something that show-runner Jeff Buhler has altered and ultimately expanded upon.

2. George R.R. Martin is involved, but not heavily involved.

If any Thrones fans reading this are feeling frustrated at the thought of another side project distracting Martin from The Winds of Winter, don’t worry. It doesn’t sound like the show’s taking up too much of his time.

“He’s had numerous contacts with Jeff and they’ve settled on a number of things,” supervising producer Sean Ryerson explained. “I think he’s the consciousness that’s rattling around in the attic whenever we do something.”

Despite that, Ryerson stressed that Martin isn’t involved with the series on a day-to-day basis. He was part of the initial discussions with Buhler, he’s listed as an executive producer, and he’s available — but he’s not writing or signing off on scripts.

3. It’s not going to be a space version of Game of Thrones

“In no way, shape or form will it fulfill that wish,” said Ryerson, when confronted with the idea that some people might tune in expecting a new, space-based Thrones. “This is something that’s entirely different, and George RR Martin’s got a pretty big imagination — and I think he’s got a big enough imagination to do different things over the course of his career, and this is certainly different to Game of Thrones.”

Jodie Turner-Smith, who plays a genetically engineered human called Melantha Jhirl, echoed this sentiment.

“I kind of shy away from it being, ‘Oh, it’s the next Game of Thrones’, because it’s a completely different genre,” she said. “If people go into it expecting something like Game of Thrones it’s not going to be what they get.”

4. …But it sounds like it’ll be just as dark.

While Game of Thrones would probably be best classified as fantasy drama, Ryerson described Nightflyers as more like psychological horror — a story that sees its characters crumble mentally.

“[The show’s] genesis is closer to what’s happening to people’s unconscious when they fall apart,” said Ryerson. “And how, when you begin to fall apart, does your unconscious exacerbate it, accelerate it, or do you have strength to fight it? […] A lot of people in this don’t have that strength. 

“They really, really wish they had. But it gets just so hard and so scary that they collapse.”

In short, it sounds as though Nightflyers will have at least one similarity to Thrones — it’ll be just as grim.

“If something’s going to happen [Martin] looks at it square in the face and does it,” said Ryerson. “And I think that’s what happens here too. People are in terrible psychological fear and he doesn’t look away and he makes you go through it.”

You can bet there are going to be numerous shots of people in mortal peril throughout 'Nightflyers'.

You can bet there are going to be numerous shots of people in mortal peril throughout ‘Nightflyers’.

Image: Jonathan Hession/Syfy

5. Not all the characters are going to make it out alive.

Okay, actually Nightflyers will have another similarity to Thrones: the deaths. Yep, judging by everything we heard on the set visit — including talk of characters being frozen and set on fire — it seems pretty likely that not everyone will be making it through the story unscathed.

Andrew McCarthy, who directed two of the show’s 10 episodes, pretty much confirmed this. He spoke about a storyline which sees the main crew encountering a new ship, complete with some new characters — and when someone asked about the fate of these new characters, his answer made clear the type of show Nightflyers will be.

“You know when you meet somebody in like, minute three of the show you go, ‘Ooh, dear,’?” He said. “We meet some new people and do we kill them off? I don’t know. We’ve killed a couple of people, but there’s some people that might not be killed.”

Anyone who’s read Martin’s novella will know that the body count is fairly high. We don’t know that the show will follow this exact same pattern, death-wise, but it seems fair to say that not getting too attached to people might be the safest approach.

6. Not all the action will take place on the ship.

Although most of the filming for Nightflyers has taken place in the Limerick studio — and, more specifically, inside the giant skeleton of a spaceship that has been purpose-built within the space — there will be some scenes that take place elsewhere.

The ship’s “memory suite” is one of the reasons for this. A new addition to the story, this is a room that characters in the story visit to re-experience specific recollections.

“These things are extremely visual,” Ryerson explained. “So D’Branin has the memory of his child and his wife and the way it was when the world was falling apart. And so we found locations here to do that.”

The 'Nightflyers' characters spend most of their time trapped onboard the ship. But there will also be exceptions.

The ‘Nightflyers’ characters spend most of their time trapped onboard the ship. But there will also be exceptions.

Image: Jonathan Hession/Syfy

7. It sounds like everyone has their own personal demons.

Martin’s original novella is so short and action-packed there’s little time to get into the characters’ backstories. The show, however, has a lot more space to delve into these.

D’Branin’s obsessive thinking about his family is just one example of the various personal demons the ship’s occupants have to deal with, which become more and more pronounced the longer they’re confined within the ship. Thale, a telepath aboard the Nightflyer, has to deal with his own spiralling abilities. Royd Eris, the ship’s captain, has to contend with the difficult relationship he’s shared with his mother — something actor David Ajala characterised as the Eris’ own “internal horror”.

From the sounds of it, this is where the bulk of the show’s tension will come from; as the ship travels closer to the alien signal, everything gets increasingly claustrophobic — and the characters retreat even further into their own minds.

8. They’re clearly hoping the show goes on for a while.

The amount of money invested in the Nightflyers set was clear from the minute our tour began. They haven’t exactly built a full-size spaceship, but it’s not far off — there were huge, sprawling corridors, detailed designs and various teams busy at work throughout the epic construction. The investment was clear, and Ryerson was even clearer in his response to the suggestion that Syfy and Netflix might be hoping the show runs for a while.

“It’s an enormous investment,” he said. “If it doesn’t, ouch! We’ve invented film in Limerick, and I think over the next five years we’ll create an enormous film community here. 

“We’re pouring resourcing into training people, pouring resources into mentorships, into university, etc. We have a really big commitment and a strong feeling we’re okay – that we have something that will last.”

The 'Nightflyers' set is filled with sprawling corridors like this.

The ‘Nightflyers’ set is filled with sprawling corridors like this.

Image: sam haysom/mashable

The level of detail around the set was pretty clear to see.

The level of detail around the set was pretty clear to see.

Image: sam Haysom/mashable

Sometimes it was easy to forget we weren't in an actual spaceship.

Sometimes it was easy to forget we weren’t in an actual spaceship.

Image: sam haysom/masahble

Look, there was even weird gooey stuff on the table in one room.

Look, there was even weird gooey stuff on the table in one room.

Image: sam haysom/mashable

All 10 episodes of Nightflyers will be debuting across all SYFY platforms timed to the beginning of the linear telecast starting 2nd Dec. Episodes 1-5 will debut Sunday, 2nd Dec. through Thursday, 6th Dec. at 10/9c, and episodes 6-10 on Sunday, 9th Dec. through Thursday, 13th Dec. at 10/9c with limited commercial interruption across all platforms.

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