'Game of Thrones' producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss on adapting the unadaptable

DB-Weiss-David-Benioff

Image Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

Writer/producers David Benioff (Troy, The Kite Runner) and D.B. Weiss (author of Lucky Wander Boy) have been itching to bring George R. R. Martin’s best-selling fantasy novel Game of Thrones — and the rest of his Song of Fire and Ice series — to some kind of screen for nearly five years now. But the sprawling books — which Martin says he wrote to be “unfilmable” — proved every bit as tough to adapt as they’d seemed. Still, with the April 17 premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones, they will declare victory in that particular war. They talked to EW exclusively on the Belfast set about the challenges of bringing the fanboy fave to life.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you first hear of the books?
DAVID BENIOFF:
We had both been fantasy fans growing up, but I wasn’t that interested in reading another [series]. But I got about 300 pages in and I called Dan [Weiss] and said, “Have you ever heard of Game of Thrones? You should read this, because unless I’m crazy, it’s one of the best things I’ve read in a while.” I’m a slow reader, and the really frustrating thing was two days later he’d finished the first book.
D.B. WEISS: There’s usually a moral calculus at work where things happen to people for reasons. But in this world, the best people are not safe and the worst people end up much better off. It’s a lot more like our world.

Did you immediately think you would try to make them into a TV show?
DB:
When the books were sent, it was to do as features. Within a week of the time when I finished it, we said, “We don’t know how to do this as a movie.” To do the first book even as a three-hour movie, you’d have to cut 90 percent of it. I’d never worked in television before. I’m used to adapting books, and sometimes you have to be ruthless, but in this case we loved all the storylines and the characters.
DBW: There wasn’t even a theoretical way to be ruthless with this story, because every piece props up every other piece.
DB: It was around this time that the fourth book hit the bestseller list, and we started getting calls from studios saying, “We think we figured out how to make this work, cut this and that.” But we weren’t interested in that kind of mutilation. So the only way to do this would be as a series. And from the beginning HBO seemed like the only way to do it because it is such a sexy story.
DBW: There was one play to be made, and luckily it worked.
DB: No one’s better at exploding genre, whether it’s gangsters or cowboys or cops.

What have you had to change in adapting the book for TV?
DBW:
We’ve had to simplify some of the warfare stuff to make it comprehensible to people who don’t have a table full of maps and charts and family trees in front of them.
DB: And Ned’s lieutenant, Jory, basically gets all of the lines of the lesser lieutenants.

How is Martin involved in these kinds of decisions?
DBW:
It’s a lot of late-night emails. George watches all the casting videos and tells us who he likes. We listen to a lot of his recommendations.
DB: He came for the [filming of the] pilot, and I think he’s coming back here again. He wrote episode 8.

Were you worried about taking on something with such a rabid fanbase?
DB:
It’s great, actually. You have people who are so obsessed with the books that we can really make a case for why we need to be so attentive to the details, even if it’s the writing in a book that you can see only if you pause the Blu-ray. Somebody’s gonna do that.
DBW: I think in a sphere of endeavor where it’s such a struggle just to let people know what you’re doing, to have people who are compulsively obsessed with what you’re doing, it’s kind of hard to be upset about that.
DB: On a very basic level I don’t know that this series would exist without the fans. It’s an expensive endeavor, and no one’s ever really done epic fantasy before on television. There have been attempts at epic fantasy before on television, like Xena and Hercules, but on this scale it hasn’t been done.

How do you handle the intense fan reactions online to every decision you make?
DB: I try to not get too much into it. You have to man up and do what you think is right for the series. No matter how good it turns out to be, someone’s going to complain about something. But by and large fans have been very supportive and enthusiastic.
DBW: When we do dip in and see what people are saying, it’s been gratifying. There tends to be a snarky negative quality usually to these things, but with this there has been an overwhelming amount of support.
DB: Because the books are so big and detailed and intelligent, the fans tend to be intelligent.
DBW: It is kind of a self-regulating base. We really are doing everything we can. We devoted our lives and shipped our families out here for a reason.

Read more:
‘Game of Thrones': George R. R. Martin talks HBO show
‘Game of Thrones’ sneak preview: Heads will roll!
‘Camelot’ vs. ‘Game of Thrones’ vs. ‘Borgias’
InsideTV Podcast: ‘Game of Thrones’ brings graphic sex and violence to TV


Comments (14 total) Add your comment
  • crispy

    FYI: It’s A Song of Ice and Fire.

  • LG

    I am so excited to see this series – it’s why I just signed up for HBO!

    • Ted

      Agreed, signed up for HBO 2 weeks ago just to watch Game of Thrones. So excited!

  • Michelle

    I am so excited for this! If the first 14 minutes are anything to go by, this series is going to be EPIC.

  • Cajo

    I wish David Benioff would adapt his novel City of Thieves into a movie. That book is amazing.

  • Kevin

    I’ve already watched the 14-minute preview twice. I wasn’t sure if I should, since I don’t want to ruin the beginning on the 17th, but I couldn’t help myself. If the rest of the series is as good as that was, then David and Dan did a great job. I can’t wait to see some scenes, like the golden crown, play out on screen.

  • whuzz

    Oy, with the “fanboy” nonsense, Armstrong. This ain’t Twilight or a Bieber concert.

    • Jacob

      I think you’re thinking of “fangirls.” Fangirls are crazy. Fanboys are just loyal. Do you get the difference or are you trying too hard not to be”mainstream?”

      • buffyluva

        well, i’m a girl, i’m not crazy and i love these books. what does that make me? why does gender need to come into play?

      • jodipo

        uhoh, Jacob is an idiot… maybe you should go read Twilight dude. I can see you being team jacob all the way

  • mamba Debra

    Although I am not into “pornographic” entertainment, Game of Thrones lived up to my expectations (although I fast-forwarded the porno bits). However, I was disconcerted by the last few minutes when an innocent boy witnessed a scene which I, a mature adult was loathed to view (and then callously punished as if he were at fault). Nudity is not a problem (I enjoy a beautiful female body), however, incest and animalistic copulation in which a child is present is problematic for intergenerational and inter-gender viewing. If children his age are not allowed to view PG 13 entertainment, why are they allowed to play a role in anything that borders on pornographic material? Where are our values? Parents beware!

    • Andy

      @Mamba Debra, I really doubt that the child actor watched his co stars simulate sex during that scene, if that is what you are concerned about. And the actor’s what, 12? You are more comfortable with a 12 year old watching an EXECUTION than one adult, concensual, non nudity sex scene? Where are our values, indeed.
      Maybe your kids shouldn’t watch so much tv to begin with. It is a show for adults, not Barney. It was never marketed for children. However, I would let my kids watch it if I was older, as it shows strong role models who stand for honor, and striving for decency and what is “right” (That little girl, for example). Sorry if this was a long reply.

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