This coming December, Netflix will release the first season of their upcoming fantasy series The Witcher, but this story has existed long before Henry Cavill was cast in the role of Geralt. Written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, the saga has been adapted into a movie, a television show and a trilogy of games before becoming Netflix’s most anticipated new original series. It is no surprise, then, that the show’s filming in The Witcher‘s homeland this April was an important milestone for the creatives behind the show.
Polish site naekranie.pl was on location at Ogrodzieniec Castle during the filming of a sequence which will open the season one finale (hint: it involves many of the series most famous mages). We’ve translated the highlights below!
Filming in Poland lasted exactly two days, and the sequence was later continued in Hungary at Egri var masolata. Even so, The Witcher‘s two days in Poland proved quite eventful. We’ll begin with a snippet from the article, just to set the scene.
Imagine this: you are standing near a huge medieval castle surrounded by clouds of smoke, creating the impression of artificially created fog. For this, long hoses were used, through which the smoke was pumped, and gradually and regularly released through small holes. On the walls, there were additional devices that … scared me so many times that I was looking for the iconic dragon from the Polish Witcher! The filmmakers turned them on suddenly, and the roar that came out of them resembled a dragon or another creature.
When this smoke was inflated quite a lot, the aura around the castle was indeed disturbing. Especially that next to it was an old tree like from a fantasy production, so when you saw a character from afar, it unclear whether it was a human or a magical being. This only shows how, with simple means, the whole atmosphere was built on the set, so that the actors could empathize with the roles. No green screens could be seen at the castle itself, so the creators relied on the real scenery that Ogrodzieniec provided them. A green screen was used a bit later for outdoor scenes in a nearby forest next to huge boulders that look like they were taken out of the fantasy world.
“We care about balance,” said Executive Producer Tomek Bagiński on location. “We want to shoot the camera as much as possible, but of course there are moments that either cannot be done on set, or would be absurdly complicated and expensive, then we use the computer. We use computer effects where we need to, so we usually try to create it organically on the set. This approach helps actors and the whole crew. I know that a computer is a phenomenal tool for a filmmaker, it helps a lot. Visual effects that can be created are impossible to achieve by any other methods, but they are not always worth creating.”
Several scenes were shot in Ogrodzieniec that day. The first took place inside the castle and atop the castle walls. This is a scene that was famously leaked by a Polish YouTuber, featuring Mahesh Jadu‘s enigmatic mage Vilgefortz of Roggeveen leading a group of mages across the battlements. One of these mages is the series’ star Anya Chalotra, The Witcher‘s Yennefer of Vengerberg. Joining her are Anna Shaffer who plays Triss, MyAnna Buring who plays Tissaia and many more. The scene can be glimpsed in the above video.
Next is a sequence featuring Triss and Tissaia:
Anna Shaffer (Triss Merigold) and Anya Chalotra (Yennefer) were filming on the set that day. The first one looks amazing up close. The color of her hair that matched the dress showed that it was really the Triss that one would expect. I was surprised all the more that in the first trailer the scene involving her did not emphasize her characteristic hair color, because she definitely stood out on the set.
At the end of the day, we watched the scene under the castle with Triss and the character known as Tissaia (MyAnna Buring). Both were on a small hill, where Triss knelt on the ground and probably cried (the actress wiped her eyes). Undoubtedly, it was quite an emotional moment and extremely demanding. It was already evening, so the temperature dropped significantly. The heroines had to act in their dresses throughout their scenes (when not filming they were wearing jackets). Imagine a dress made of thin material in which you have to derive emotions, although it is maybe 5 degrees Celsius outside. And even this seemingly simple scene was filmed by the crew for several minutes, creating frames from different perspectives, ending with close-ups.
The last scene on that day was a procession through the forest, led by the character Vilgefortz of Roggeveen (Mahesh Jadu) and Yennefer. Again, a seemingly simple scene – walking through the forest. The first two characters are talking [and in time they must stand]. Even such a thing requires corrections, the aforementioned smoke and all the details are to be in line with the creators’ vision. It was a team’s meticulous demonstration repeating this sequence several times for the expected effect. This pace had to be slowed down and the actors had to position themselves a little differently. In fact, the fixes on the later takes were nuances, but important, because the devil is in the details.
Though that completes the filming report, the journalists were able to speak more with Bagiński. When the producer was asked about his decision not to direct an episode for season one, this is what he had to say: “I had a lot of responsibilities during the first season. I was one of the main producers with knowledge of the Polish context. The decision not to direct was made together with Lauren, because it was clear early on that I should be one of those people who look at the whole season, not at two episodes or one episode.”
Bagiński explains that each director was in charge of a specific part of the story. “The works are divided into blocks, and they have different dates, so as a director you cannot grasp the whole. However, I have a role in the whole story, the characters and building this world. That’s why we decided that, for the first season, the role of the director is not yet for me. I admit that after spending half a year on the set of The Witcher, I know much better what to [do]. There are no such productions in Poland.”
Regarding the filming in Poland, Bagiński said fans would recognize the castle easily in the show. Moreover, he teased the sequence itself. The article notes: the scene is supposed to be spectacular, and in the center are mages responding to a threat. Readers of Redanian Intelligence know the one (click the link below for the details, but expect spoilers).
Hissrich also told of her relationship with The Witcher‘s author, who worked as a consultant on the show. “I love Andrzej Sapkowski. We have a very good relationship. Recently, he visited the Witcher set. It was exciting for me and I think for him too. We’ve been talking since I started working on the show. I think it must be difficult for him as a writer, that something he created is reshaped by someone else.”
“Despite our constant consultation, I am sure that when he arrived on the set, he wondered what he would see. He had tears in his eyes and it was amazing. I think that he was moved by how much passion we put into this project. It’s not about budget or momentum, but about how the whole team feels it. He spent the whole day with us – he met the actors, talked to the directors and heads of individual departments. Of course, he also met Henry. He watched us shoot one of the biggest stunt scenes this season with Geralt. Henry plays his stunt scenes himself. It was amazing that Andrzej could watch it. Even Henry himself was stunned. He came up to Andrzej, wiped the artificial blood off his face and shook his hand. They got along well.”
In another report from Small Screen Magazine, Hissrich addressed her relationships with the series’ passionate fanbase. “There were moments when interacting with fans was a bit overwhelming. But in the best way possible. In my line of work, there is nothing better than writing something that’s so exciting to so many people. But you also need to know that many of those people won’t be writing ‘Great job! I support what you’re doing!’ but the exact opposite. It’s an element of fan involvement. I’m glad that on Twitter I got to talk to fans on both sides, even those who harshly disagree with our vision.”
The first season will mainly focus on The Witcher‘s short stories, collected in the books The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny. “The short stories are crucial in building this world and in introducing the characters.” But Hissrich promises the series will flesh out backstories that were only mentioned in the books. One example is Yennefer’s origin story. “I made that a challenge. In the show we tried to show events that in the books were only someone’s memories.”
Next, the journalists met with Anya Chalotra and Freya Allan, who portray Yennefer and Ciri. As it was one of their first interviews for the show, the actresses were a bit nervous. When they were asked if they were prepared for the show’s popularity, Chalotra said: “I don’t think you can be prepared for this.” Allan then said: “At least we go through this together.”
Despite being nervous, Allan was also excited to share her experience. “Playing Ciri comes naturally to me, which showed during the casting process. That’s why I really wanted this role. Both Anya and I are perfectionists, so no scene seems easy. But there is something in Ciri that I can immediately relate to.”
Chalotra also described her character: “She’s fearless, intelligent and stubborn. She can’t be rattled, and she emits this almost magnetic energy.” When the journalist attempted to sneak-in a question about the Djinn from The Last Wish, Chalotra refused to provide spoilers. “Good question, but you’ll have to wait and see.”
The Witcher releases on Netflix December 20.