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