By Arlett Ramirez
Assistant Web Content Manager
AUSTIN, TX – David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the creators of the critically acclaimed, Emmy-winning series “Game of Thrones,” spoke at a panel at the Austin Film Festival (AFF) this past Saturday where they shared with fans how they made George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy novels into a television series.
Benioff and Weiss’ AFF panel was scheduled in the ballroom of the Austin InterContinental Stephen F. Austin at 3 p.m. Fans waited in a line outside the door and in the streets for over an hour or more for a chance to secure a seat in the panel. AFF volunteers began handing out yellow tickets that meant fans for sure got a seat.
Before the panel, Benioff and Weiss were at the AFF Awards Luncheon which caused them to be a few minutes late. However, when they arrived, they apologized to fans and the panel began.
Executive Director and co-founder of AFF Barbara Morgan served as the moderator during the panel where she admitted she was a huge fan of “Game of Thrones.” Hardcore “Game of Thrones” fans know that the series is based off a wildly popular book series that starts with “A Song of Fire and Ice” written by Martin. Morgan also told fans that no questions pertaining to the highly divisive season eight would be allowed.
Both creators admitted how they struggled to create a television series from the books since Martin’s books were very “unproduce-able.” They had to compress and condense the book material to make it able to be made into a television show, meaning they had to convince Martin to allow them to make it into a series and pitch it to HBO CEO Caroline Strauss.
“We knew it had to be a film/TV hybrid that had more in common with film, but also had to be formatted on TV with a TV budget,” Weiss said.
The problems didn’t stop there. “The original pilot was a huge problem,” Weiss said. “There was unclear dialogue. Like knowing that Jamie and Cersei [Lannister] are twins who are in an incestual relationship is a huge part of the plot. The way we first wrote it didn’t show that they’re twins.”
Casting was a difficult process as well. Weiss admitted it was challenging to cast the right actress for the character of Arya Stark since at the start of the series she’s a young, innocent girl who witnesses her father’s beheading, then becomes a well-trained assassin in later seasons. They finally found the perfect Arya Stark with Maisie Williams, who shined in the role each season.
Both admitted that they struggled to find the perfect Khal Drogo, “We didn’t know who to cast as Khal Drogo. We went online and found a ‘Game of Thrones’ fan casting website where they wanted Jason Momoa to play Khal Drogo. We contacted him and he auditioned.”
When the first season was close to wrapping up, they realized that episodes were only 40 minutes in length when they had to be 50 minutes.
“We had to write short cheap scenes to make up for lost time and this helped the viewer get to know the characters better,” Benioff said. They also began to deviate from the source material. One of these scenes were between Cersei and her husband Robert Baratheon in King’s Landing discussing their marriage.
“Game of Thrones” has faced criticism of its depiction of violence and gore since the very beginning. The episode “The Red Wedding” had fans mourning the death of Robb Stark, Catelyn Stark and his pregnant wife Talisa Maegyr. Theon Greyjoy was tortured brutally by Ramsay Bolton in the majority of season three.
Benioff and Weiss recognize that some scenes were “cringey and too much,” specifically a scene with The Mountain in the first season where he kills his horse after losing a tournament.
“We went to far sometimes,” Benioff said. “I haven’t looked back at Theon’s scenes but I understand why people were mad. I watched an episode of ‘Ozark’ where Jason Bateman has his fingernails ripped off and I got it.”
The battles in “Game of Thrones” weren’t without violence either. Benioff said that the Battle of Blackwater Bay in season two was almost not filmed because they had run out of money. However, they knew that they had to film the battle because viewers wouldn’t understand the season without it. They begged HBO for more money to film and eventually filmed the Battle of Blackwater Bay.
Battles in “Game of Thrones” grew from small productions to large and extravagant productions. They essentially got better with every season. Benioff and Weiss credited this to the fact that the “core group was kept together.” Miguel Sapochnik, the director of many “Game of Thrones” battles, Benioff and Weiss talked about the importance of shooting battles from the point of view of a character. They wanted to pin it to a character since the sets and camera were fake. By focusing on a character’s point of view, it would appear more real.
One of the most well known characters in “Game of Thrones” is the Night King, the leader of the Army of the Dead. Benioff and Weiss spoke about the first scene they shot with the Night King where he holds a newborn infant and turns him into a White Walker with a touch of his finger. Weiss said that they baby was literally put on a block of ice just like the episode shows.
Benioff and Weiss stopped Googling “Game of Thrones” because reactions were too intense. They stopped way before season eight premiered. They also admitted that their biggest influence in making “Game of Thrones” was Martin and his novels.
On Monday Oct. 29, two days after their AFF panel, Deadline reported that Benioff and Weiss walked away from their much-publicized deal with Disney’s Lucasfilm to launch a feature film trilogy in 2022.
In February 2018, Disney’s Lucasfilms announced that Benioff and Weiss would usher in the next trilogy of “Star Wars” films. Fans reacted with excitement. However, the excitement fizzled out when the divisive last season of “Game of Thrones” premiered, and fans questioned if they had the ability to create a great Jedi saga.
Benioff and Weiss signed a deal with Netflix in August that was reportedly worth $200 million. The pair attributed the departure to their upcoming Netflix projects.
Featured image by Juan Garcia.