[lounge music] ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ – The best response you canhave to a payoff in a thriller is someone goes, “Oh, right, I forgot, of course.
” [multiple voices chattering] [Narrator] On Storyoffers a look inside the creative processfrom today's leading writers, creators, and filmmakers.
All of our contentis recorded live at Austin Film Festivaland at our year-round events.
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[waves] [kids screaming] [wind] [witch cackling] [sirens wail] [gunshots] [dripping] [suspenseful music] [telegraph beeping, typing] [piano gliss] From Austin Film Festival, this is On Story.
A look inside the creativeprocess from today's leading writers, creators, and filmmakers.
This week's On Story, Game of Thrones co-creators, David Benioff and D.
– When we pitched HBOoriginally, we said this is notabout a million creatures fighting a millionother creatures, in a giant fantasy environment.
This is about people, it'slike War of the Roses? It's like Lion in Winter.
[paper crumples] [typing] [typewriter ding] [Narrator] In this episode, Game Of Thrones co-creators, David Benioff andD.
Weiss detail the process ofadapting George R.
Martin's bestselling books intoan epic HBO series, which changed the landscapeof modern television.
[typewriter ding] – What an incredible featpulling this show off was.
And so I'd really loveto hear about how you all approached itand your pitfalls and your successes and the things youlearned from it.
– You know, before wecould go into HBO, we had to convince Georgeto let us pitch it.
And so we had ameeting with him, along lunch meeting where we, where he sort of questionedour, our bona fides, which were few, 'cause wehadn't actually made anything.
And we had never worked in TV, so the end of this lunch washim giving us a test question of who was Jon Snow's mother, which hadn't beenrevealed in the books yet.
And because we got that right, I think that's why wegot the chance to.
to do the show.
We pitched the pilotepisode in detail, and we really, we toldthe story of the pilot and we had a back andforth routine where we, he take a scene, I'd take a scene and we really kindof gave them a sense of how this would feel.
And the pilot was contained, itall took place, pretty much– almost all took place in the, there was the North and then there wasthe Daenerys beds, but it was, two locations.
And we stripped it downin such a way that it was understandable tosomebody listening to it for 20 minutes.
And then we gave avery quick overview of who the families wereand the main players and like what they were after.
But we didn't, we really keptit intentionally very vague.
And, and we, you know, andwe mentioned the highlight, we mentioned the bitwhere of course we told them about Ned's head, coming off and we told themabout the dragons being born.
And yeah we told them thethings that made them realize the things that wouldmake people go [beeps] when they saw them andwanna keep watching.
So they knew thosethings were there.
But we didn't really explaina lot of the details, 'cause I think people'sability to follow something like thatverbally is really limited.
– It's terrifying 'causepitches are always a little bit nerve-racking unless you're the kind ofperson who likes pitching, in which case you're insane.
[audience laughs] And because if- the more youcare about it obviously, the more you want it, themore stressed you are.
And we wanted this desperately, we were so in lovewith these books, and so believed in whatthe series could be.
And we were warned before, we were pitchingto Carolyn Strauss, who was President ofproduction HBO at that time.
And we were warnedahead of time, Carolyn's a really tough pitch.
She will not smile.
She will not laughat your jokes, she's just gonna stare at you like you know, she'sa stone cold killer.
So we were preparedfor that and we came in and we did our littlesong and dance thing and I think towards the very endshe actually chuckled, right? I mean, I don't know if shelaughed, but she sort of.
– I think we made her laugh.
– Kind of like her lip kinda.
– Felt like a victory.
[audience laughs] – Was it a part of the pitchthat was that funny? – I don't even rememberwhat it was.
– It was literally-Four years ago yeah.
– She laughed when the kidgot thrown out the window.
[laughing] [typewriter ding] – The pilot that you'dfirst done, you guys said was not good.
Can you talk aboutwhat, so what happened? Like, so what was in that pilot that wasn't goodand what did you do? – It was sort of a film/TVhybrid in a lot of ways.
In terms of theproduction design, in terms of this shooting, the scheduling, the shoot, all of this stuff was donein a way that was probably had more in common withfilm than television, but it needed to bedone on a TV budget.
It needed to be donewithin a TV time frame.
So it was very, everyone involved was kinda figuring out howto make something like this for the first time.
And it just, it tookmore than one try, which we were very fortunateto get a second chance because I think they weremost likely about 50/50 on whether or not togive us that chance but.
– A lot of the mistakeswere very basic, elemental, writing mistakes, you know, exposition mistakes.
Like I had thisthing we both did, but it's like, I don't wantany lines in there like “Oh, sister, what doyou think about that?” Like, “Sweet sister, what.
?” None of that crap, I don'twant any of that.
And so then we showedthe pilot to these guys, who were three of thesmartest writers out there, Craig Mason, Scott Frankand Ted Griffin and the final scene of the pilot for people who've seen the show, you might rememberit's Jaime Lannister and Cersei Lannister are havingsex at the top of the tower and it's supposed to beshocking because they're twins.
– He saw us.
– It's all right, it's allright, it's all right.
– He saw us.
– I heard you the first time.
What the littleclimb aren't you? How old are you boy? – Ten.
[sighs] [breathing heavily] The things I do for love.
– It's not shocking if youdon't realize that they're, brother and sister.
] They're related.
– None of our three brilliantwriter friends knew that.
Because we hadn't made it clear.
And so now if you goback and watch the pilot thatactually aired, you'll see thereare a lot of lines, where Jaime's like”Sweet sister.
” What, you know, all of these.
[laughter] which are terrible, but atleast you know by the end that they're brother and sister.
– So how did you get throughthat first year essentially? And what did youtake away from it? – Well, after themisadventure of the pilot, we thought things arefeel pretty smooth now.
And, a couple months beforewe wrapped on season one, we got a phone call fromGina Balian, who is our brilliant executive atthat time, she's now at FX.
And she, she said, “Guys, have you seen thatthe timings have come in, like the early timings on thefirst cuts of the episodes?” And we were like, “Yeah.
” And she said, “Whoa, 'cause you know they're coming inreally short, right.
” And we're like, “Oh yeah.
” And some of our episodeswere clocking at like 39 minutesand 42 minutes.
And what had happenedwas that we had written our original scripts, which had all, you know, timed out properly, butthen as you start making the season and youstart running out of money, we'd been cuttingall these things.
And, and so we had thiskind of a fluid two months before the end of season-of shooting season one, and we were a hundred minutesshort of a viable season.
And we had virtuallyno money left, which meant that we had to write all these really cheap scenes.
So they tended to betwo or three handers just people in a room talking and the scenes thatyou could just shoot in like in a morning.
And it was terrifying at first and then it became fun because there were allthese scenes that weren't, because of their nature, they weren't reallyplot related, you know, like the, the central plot scenes were already in there.
And so these werescenes that had to be interesting enough tojustify their existence, but they didn't reallymove the plot forward.
So in some of my favoritescenes from the first season, like Dan wrote thisgreat scene between King Robertand Queen Cersei.
And it's because we realizedthat we didn't have a single scene withthe two of them alone together in therest of the show.
– We haven't had a realfight in nine years.
Backstabbing doesn'tprepare you for a fight, and that's all therealm is now, backstabbing and scheming and[bleep] money-grubbing.
Sometimes, I don't knowwhat holds it together.
– Our marriage.
[laughing] – It was really thefirst time I think that we'd started outwriting these scenes.
And these weren't scenesfrom George's books.
And so this was the first timeI think we deviated at all, really from thecentral narrative.
I think we got to know thecharacters a lot better, by that point we'd alreadybeen working with these actors for several months, sowe knew their voices.
They were in our heads, when you're writingfor King Robert and you have Mark Addy'svoice in your head, or a Cersei with Lena, it– just a huge boon.
And that was again, a weird circumstance where our inexperienceended up kinda helping because we learnedso much from that.
[typewriter ding] – So, you know, you weren'ttrying to just make the books right? You were.
– Yeah, I mean, I'd sayI'd say the first season it was actually quitefaithful to the first book, and the second season, maybe 10% less, every season gota little bit less.
Partly, just because, yeah, as Dan said before, George's story kept gettingso much bigger and bigger.
He didn't write itwith television producability in mind and we had to compressand condense in ways, you know, to make itproducible for television just 'cause if we'd included all the charactersthat were in the book, we were running upagainst a situation where people would just, you'd be droppingthe balls of the, the Tyrians in the Dante's and the Aryas thatyou cared about to service these new people.
So at certain point, we made the decision, we stopped puttingpieces on the board for the most part and start, you know, playing with, with the pieces thatwere, were already there.
– It's possible we shouldhave made that decision like a season earlier.
] Not entirely possible.
[laughing] – I remember, you know, whenwe were outlining season one, and at that point it was just the writer's room wasreally just the two of us and Bryan Cogman.
And we would talkabout the season and we would startputting, you know, scenes down on index cards and putting the cars upon the board as you do.
And the different plotlines had different colors, you know.
So for instance, not season one but then lateron Arya would have yellow and the Danny storylinewould be green and so forth.
I think by season five we had.
– Season four orfive was the most, and at one point I think wehad 11 or 12 different colors on the board.
And I remember lookingat it and wondering “Is this gonna actuallymake sense to anybody?” Well, so some personon the internet.
[laughing] Created this, which wasreally helpful to me I started my own.
– It will be helpful to me too.
[all laughing] – That just came.
– Forgot about him.
showing this thing thatjust gives the families and the main characters.
– Oh thank you, God.
Yeah, where was thiseight years ago? Coulda used that.
Oh, her notes are on the back, we don't wanna.
There is a lot of online stuff that was actuallyuseful to look at 'cause there's some great maps online and you know, theywere actually better than the maps in the books.
– We're both kindageographically challenged.
We don't have a very goodsense of where we are in space.
So having mapping mapsof where these things were happening was, was helpful.
– Did you really sit downand try to boil those concepts of what thebooks are about down before you started your process of creating the showso that you.
In other words, what didyou use as your foundation to build the episodesout of the seasons? – I don't remember thename of the Russian poet, but there's somefamous Russian poet who read his poem and thensomeone in the audience said, “Do you mind explaining? “I didn't totally understand.
You mind explaining the poem?” And he read the poem and that was his responseis like, that's it.
And I feel like it'ssuch a complex story and I don't think weever tried to reduce it to kinda like end the theme.
And people would ask.
And so sometimes you'd haveto have kind of a prepared answer.
But the honestanswer for me is we, we didn't have like a.
Game of Thrones isabout power and family and like how the dynamics, and that's all true, you know, it is about power andit is about family.
But I think it's alsotrue that you could have two shows that are, have the same themes and they're wildly different and one's good and one's bad.
And ultimately it's like, it's about the complexitiesthat you're trying to depict It's the characters.
And, and to try to kinda cramit into a single aphorism isn't helpful for me.
– I mean, the biggest influenceon us obviously was George.
I mean, he's the reasonwe got to do this.
He's the reason that it exists.
And obviously we wanted, we loved his booksmore than anything and wanted to do them justice.
But you also, it's very hardto work on something for 364 and a half days a year for 10 years withoutfeeling like it's your own.
I think Steve Martinonce said something close to paraphrasing, but he said somethingto the effect that every adaptation process is like a marriagethat ends in divorce.
[laughs] And he said, sometimesthere are amicable divorces, sometimes they're ugly divorces.
He goes, you always startwith the best of intentions.
You're gonna be faithful, you know, forever.
And then you start tohave some other ideas and you start to stray alittle bit and in a way, but just because of thescope of what George created, we, I think we ended up with what ended up being avery amicable divorce from the source materialbecause we ran out of it.
[typewriter ding] I think it's interesting though that I think wewere all for years with network television, just regular networkTV led down this path.
Like you didn't havereally big things that were unexpected happen in general networkdrama, you know, and so obviously thattable's turned completely, but you all really took itto an extreme in some cases.
I mean, you'd bringa character in and lead us to believe theywere gonna do something.
And be a much biggerpart of something and then all of a sudden, boom, you know, Hodor kills.
– I think that's why we hadsuch well behaved actors.
[laughing] – And sometimes it'sjust casting.
I mean the hard home episode, we cast this incredibleDanish actress for a really small role that was originallywritten for a man.
And then someone said, “What if this was a woman?” We didn't change anything.
We didn't change the dialogue, we didn't change thecharacter's name, Carsey.
We just cast this greatactress from Borgen.
– Birgitte Hjort Sorenson.
– Yeah, And she's just so good andso charismatic that you're, I think as you'rewatching you're like, well there's no way she'sjust a one episode character 'cause like she's gonnabecome something important.
– I'll never trusta man in black.
but I trust you Tormund.
If you say this is the way, we're with you.
– And then she dies.
And that's really casting, I mean ultimately.
– Well I mean I think itwas all, it was about, initially it would timeout the episode nine would be when a bigthing would happen.
Then you deal with theaftermath in episode 10.
You did that fora couple of years.
But then at a certainpoint that becomes within the context of the show, people familiar with the show becomes a predictablemove and like, so we said let's killJoffrey in episode two because nothing big ever happens in a second episode of anything.
Like the secondepisode is always the one that you can kinda, you can wait to see later because people come outswinging into the first episode 'cause they wanna convinceeverybody this is great, keep watching it, you know? And then once they'vegot you on the hook, they feel like they canrelax the tension a bit.
So that was just aplace where, you know, we had discussed it couldhave the possibility of it happening inthe first episode and we thought that'skind of obvious to come out with withthis big, you know, this inciting incidentor whatever you would call it in the first episode, let's wait untilthe second episode, really milk it in the whole, you know, make a big long weddingsequence that seems like it could be aboutanything except this and then have thatcome at the end.
– Mmmm, good.
Needs washing down.
– If I please your grace, Lady Sansa is very tired.
[coughs] No, but wait here.
[coughs] – Your Grace.
[coughs] – It's nothing.
– A lot of it were just, their decisions were made in the context of theshow as a whole, you know, like what have we donebefore and what would, what would be a moresurprising or more interesting way to do the same thing later? [typewriter ding] – HBO, lot of risks alwayswith their content and certainly it wasalways ahead of the curve.
And you guys thoughreally went so deep in this brutalityin some cases, but yet when you gotinto the battle scenes, I mean, they were pretty, pretty incredible.
I mean, you had alot of that in there, but maybe it's becausethe shots were, they, you didn't linger onthe death and destruction in the battle scenesas much, you know.
– It's weirdly easier to doin that context because you know, there's so much going on and it needs to feel, it needs to feel likebeing there would feel, which is frenetic and you know, disorienting and chaotic.
– Well you'll never.
[yelling and chaos] – It like in thatbattle of the bastards where you got the shotchoices were really interesting 'causeyou were so, you were really focusing on justthe horror of being in it as opposed– And so were you, wereyou guys active in that, those choices or wereyour DPs really working.
– Yeah I mean the two, is mostly the two of us and Miguel talked a lot, you know, exhaustive exhaustivelyand exhaustingly about the importanceof shooting the battle from a point of view.
[yelling and chaos] There were three points of view.
Even like when, when Sansa rides in, we wanted, even if itwas a big giant wide shot that gave you kind of thegeography of the battle, we wanted that tobe from someone's potential point ofview if possible because it's what preventsit from seeming like what a lot of specialeffects driven battles.
They all look a certain way and there's a video gamequality to them and it's because there is noreal camera lots of the time.
So when you can do anythingand you do anything like you're swoopingaround with the gods eye kinda point of view of acamera that doesn't exist in a set that doesn't exist.
It can start to feelvery fake very quickly.
And we wanted topin it to character.
[typewriter ding] – I really don't look at thatshow as a fantasy show.
I do look at it as ashow about humanity, you know, like, or the lack of.
– Well, what HBO has been sogreat at doing for a long time is taking reallyestablished genres, maybe entire genres andblowin' them up, you know, so Soprano's tooktwo gangsters and The Wire with thecop drama and The Westerns withDeadwood and on and on.
And that's the samekind of approach we want to do with this.
So yes, it's a storywhere ice demons are real and dragons are real.
But some ways, I thinkit was a resistance to Lord of The Ringsand both the books and also the Peter Jacksonadaptation and you know, and that was in our pitch, it was like this is, it'snot Lord of The Rings, it's not gonna be a millionorcs versus a million humans.
And you know, ourhobbits get [beep], I mean it was very like[crowd laughs] darker, it's more sexualand it's very much HBO.
– Genre on television is a, is a tight rope.
It's very easy to fall tonally.
I think it's veryeasy to fall either into like a veryarched direction or you know, kind of a, it can get go campy or you, we were always 15 degrees away from Monte Python andthe Holy Grail.
Like every scene you're like, if you changedthese three lines, this is the Holy Grail.
But, and it's alsojust difficult with, I mean you wanna, wewould always endeavor as David mentioned earlier, to kind of like withterms of fantasy, exposition andfantasy proper nouns.
It was almost like a gameof Jenga where you're, you're trying to pull outas many of them as possible without the wholething falling over.
And the first pilot wepulled out one too many and the whole thing fell overand it didn't make any sense.
But we even goingforward we tried, you know, we triedto keep that stuff to a minimum because wedidn't just want it to appeal to a fantasy fan base.
We wanted them to love it and we wanted likeour parents to love it and people who playedprofessional football to love it.
And we kinda want it toreach a wider audience.
And to do that we, thetone was very important.
Like dragons, peopleriding dragons is a very difficult thing.
Like Amanda, David's wife would be constantlysending us emails of just like thecheesiest like cartoons of people on giant birds and.
and like, you know, likemy little pony stuff cause she's like, that's what this lookslike if you do it wrong.
And the first time we'vegot her on the dragon, we, you know we hadnever done that before and there are a lot ofthings that don't look right or they look silly whenyou shoot someone riding an imaginary beast that way.
And we kinda figured out how to make those shots lookgood more often than not.
[dramatic music] ♪ ♪ – The blood work looksbetter in season eight than it did in season two.
And, you know, the stunt work just kept gettingbetter and better.
Everything just keptimproving because largely because wehad the same team and we all got moreexperienced together.
[typewriter ding] – You basically made 30-somefeature films.
So, so that's, I mean, over eight years, which is more than anyfilmmaker out there, you know, pretty much.
That was, I mean, that'san not just that, but you, they had so many of thosewere massive set pieces.
They had to be exhaustingthough to shoot those.
Well, they sure werefor Miguel Sapoznik and you know, I think for, I'd say the firstthree or four years, we never missed anight shoot, you know, four years, probablyfor four seasons.
And it was sometimearound season five or six when I was standing there atfour in the morning in Belfast, you know, looking around, I was like, I wonder if I just sort oflike back away if anyone's.
– Like Homer fadinginto the hedges.
[crowd laughs] It's kinda disappearing.
Will they noticethat I'm not here? – So by the time Miguel didthe final season battle at Winter Fell which wereall night shoots for, I mean he shot 55 straighton location and then I think another10 in a row off location.
So it's something like 65straight nights for Miguel.
I think it was over70 for the crew, which is debilitating.
I mean, it's just, you know, for anyone who's everworked on a night shoot, it's tough doing 10 straightweeks of them.
– It was really, it wasthe feeling that everybody waspulling together to accomplish something thatwas bigger than any of us.
It was something veryenergizing about that.
I would say that theadrenaline of just getting to do the greatest job on earth and being lucky enough to havethe greatest job on earth.
It really was.
It was, you know, you'd wake up in the morning afterfour hours sleep and you neverquestioned for a second, like, “Why am I getting out ofbed and doing this, ” 'cause this is what Idreamed of doing since I was eight years old.
[typewriter ding] – You've been watching OnWriting Game of Thrones on On Story.
On Story is part of agrowing number of programs in Austin Film FestivalsOn Story project, including the On StoryPBS series, now streaming online, the On Story radio program, the On Story podcast, and the On Story book series, available where books are sold.
To find out more about On Storyand Austin Film Festival, visit onstory.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ [projector clicking] [typing] [typewriter ding] [projector dies] [piano gliss] In this episode, Game Of Thrones co-creators, David Benioff andD.
Weiss detail the process ofadapting George R.
Martin's bestselling books intoan epic HBO series, which changed the landscapeof modern television.