In preparation for the April 17 premiere of HBO’s new fantasy series, Game of Thrones, journalists met with producers David Benioff, D. B. Weiss and series author George R. R. Martin (upon whose novels the TV series is based) and managed to get some interesting tidbits regarding translating the epic series from the printed page to the TV screen. Pop Culture Zoo was present on the calls and got the following questions answered:
POP CULTURE ZOO: A Game of Thrones is such a massive book. What process did you guys go through to break it down into ten one-hour chunks?
DAN WEISS: We got several packs of notecards. And it really was just kind of going through the story, pulling out what in each section of the story what we thought was essential, and what we couldn’t do without, which is kind of an embarrassment of riches with George’s books. It is such a well-conceived and fully dimensionalized world on all fronts.
But it was really just about putting it out there on the big board and seeing what you ended up with. And then there were places where we would diverge a little bit in terms of perspective. There is a feast scene, for instance, in the pilot that’s going on. In the book it’s from Jon Snow’s point-of-view, but we’re thinking that we’ve got one of those rare instances in this show where we have got many, many principle characters all together in the same room.
So we expanded that a bit so we could go into Ned interacting with Jaime and going to the queen interacting with Catelyn, and there were places where we would change perspectives. There were places we would outright invent scenes to put across things that we felt were hard to get across without new scenes. By and large it was really kind of feeling our way into the story and breaking it down into episodes that seem to stand on their own and make coherent sense as television episodes and just seeing where we ended up.
POP CULTURE ZOO: This story has a legion of characters, all with varying degrees of shelf life. As far as casting, were there any issues with attracting actors to some of the richly dynamic characters that have a limited life?
DAVID BENIOFF: Well I think it probably it cuts both ways where you have actors who are being asked to make a very long-term commitment. You are telling somebody that yes, I will give my commit to six years or whatever it is of this show. And then yes, on the flipside, there are people who Ė it is like there were varying people. The actors came in with varying levels of foreknowledge of the book. So I think most of them had read the books by now.
So yes, there are some unpleasant surprises. I am sure people who find out that they don’t stick around quite as long as they might have liked. But there is also the fact that nothing is written in stone. And who knows, maybe somebody who doesn’t make it all the way through the books will get to stick around for a bit longer than they do in the books. We’ll have to see.
POP CULTURE ZOO: George, you write the script for one of the episodes this season and I was wondering if it was at all difficult, several years later, to get back into the heads of the characters at the beginning of the story?
GEORGE R. R. MARTIN: No, not really. You know, Iíve wondered whether it would be, but the world and the characters are so familiar to me, that was pretty easy, actually. The hardest part about writing the script was getting used to the new software that I had to use – the screen writing software. Itís been about a decade since Iíd last written a teleplay and of course I had used a different software back in my day. So I had to make certain accommodations to getting used to the new standard. But once that was over it went fine.
POP CULTURE ZOO: David and Dan have both alluded to the fact that they have changed certain things, even expanding in places and possibly altering the fate of a character or two. Did they have talks with on these changes or did you m to their own devices?
GEORGE R. R. MARTIN: Thereís been a few conversations about that. I donít want to get too specific here because it would spoil things. I know thereís one character who dies in the first season on the television show who does not die in the books until, I believe, the third or fourth book and who dies differently than the way they had him dying. So I, you know, flagged them to that so that theyíre aware of that.
But they decided to go ahead and keep their take on it. So if we get to a third season and to the place where he originally died and we havenít diverged too much from the main story line they will have to make some sort of corresponding adjustment there because they will no longer have that character around to kill a second time. So, you know, we have to be careful of stuff like that. And thatís where, hopefully, I can be of use to Dan and David by telling them when theyíre running into something like that.
Other tidbits revealed during the conference calls:
- Benioff and Weiss were originally asked to make the first book in a feature film. They quickly decided that they only way it could be made was as a series of episodes.
- Both producers were drawn to the characters of therst and foremost and a ten hour format allows them to really focn the characters.
- Should the series be a success, season two would definitely cover the second book, A Clash of Kings. Beyond that, the producers foresee possibly needing more than a season to depict the latter books.
- George was involved in all parts of creating the show and was consulted on things ranging from casting to what dragons look like in Westeros.
- The sequence during the opening credits of each episode will definitely change as kingdoms within the show rise and fall.
- At the end of the cast and screening of the pilot, George’s wife, Parris, told David and Dan, “You didn’t fuck it up.” That was a high point for them both.
- It was strongly hinted that due to Richard Madden’s performance, Robb Stark may not be destined for the same fate on screen as he has in the books
- The producers always envisioned Sean Bean as Ned Stark and Peter Dinklage as Tyrion and, luckily, they were able to get them for the show.