Game Of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Daniel Brett Weiss interview

David Benioff and Daniel Brett Weiss spoke on how they met, wrote the script, and shared other Game of Thrones exclusives.
2019.09.23 03:10


Worldwide recording-breaking TV series Game of Thrones. David Benioff and Daniel Brett Weiss, showrunners of the series, made a secret visit to Japan this summer. ☆Taku Takahashi (m-flo), a big fan of Game of Thrones, did an interview with Benioff and Weiss where they spoke on how they met, wrote the script, and shared other Game of Thrones exclusives.

▼Interview Movie

☆Taku:So David, you used to be a bouncer at club, is this a fact? It’s on Wikipedia but is this true?

David:It’s a fact, yeah.  I was bigger back then though, and it wasn’t a very violent club either so there weren’t that many altercations in the first place.  But yeah, I worked door at a little club in San Francisco.

☆Taku:And Daniel, you used to be an assistant for musicians?

Daniel:Well my best friend from college, he was the assistant to Glenn Frey, of The Eagles.  And so for a couple of months I helped him out, and was Glenn Frey personal assistant, and I would do whatever Glenn told me to do.

☆Taku:So you guys met in Dublin at school. I was wondering how did you guys crossed paths initially?  Did you have a similar hobby, what brought you guys together?

Daniel:Both of us ended up at a Masters graduate program in Trinity College, in Dublin.  And both of us had the idea that we wanted to be academics, to be english literature professors, and we both loved irish writers James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Jonathan Swift, people like this.  So we ended up, two Americans without any Irish ancestry at all, in Ireland, in the same class, and very quickly realized we had a lot in common, before we even spoke with each other because we were both two American guys in Ireland, who weren’t actually Irish.  And.., David can tell a really really interesting and exciting story about our time together.

David:Well, the first night we went out together we went to the nightclub, and I liked Dan right away and we became friendly very quickly, and somewhere in the midst of this night, Dan came up and he was with two women and he said “We’re taking off”, and I said “Oh my gosh”, and I watched him walk out of the club and I was just like wow this guy is the biggest stud I have ever met and I was so impressed, and so you know, that’s why I started following him around everywhere.

☆Taku:Ok, fair enough.  But after that you went back to America right? You didn’t start working together immediately right?

David:No, so as Dan said, we both thought we were gonna be academics, and I wrote my dissertation on Samuel Beckett and Dan wrote about James Joyce.  And it was while I was writing this paper on Beckett, and realizing that I spent 6 months writing this paper, and 2 people were gonna read it, ever.  and at that point I knew I could never be an academic.  I mean I don’t need a million people to read my stuff, but maybe a few hundred or a couple thousand.

☆Taku:Look at you know though right, all these people watching your show.

David:Well this was never a part of the plan.  But yeah, we ended up both living in Los Angeles, and I introduced Dan to his wife, so we became closer and closer.  And Dan had written screenplays before and I had never written one, so the first screenplay I ever wrote I wrote with Dan.  Which was a very terrible horror movie called 『THE HEADMASTER』.

Daniel:I think it might be better than you remember.  I think once we make it you’ll realize all the hidden genius in that work.  No, it wasn’t great, but we ended up spending lots and lots of time together, but you don’t know what it’s going to be like to spend all day everyday with someone for 10 years until you actually do it, so there are a lot of unknowns.  For all either of us knew, we would murder each other after the first year, so the fact that this worked out the way it did on a personal level, that our families got along the way they did, and our children got along the way they did, that was a happy accident that we never could have predicted.

David:It’s never too late to murder each other.

Daniel:We might murder at the end of this interview yeah.

☆Taku:I’m a part of a music group called m-flo and there was a period where it was only me and my partner VERBAL, just two guys.  So I can completely understand the dynamics of something like that.  So how exactly do you guys write together?

Daniel:For the pilot of Game Of Thrones, neither of us had ever written with anybody else.  We did do that script 『THE HEADMASTER』together, but aside from that we’d never written together at all.  So we sat down and we tried to write the pilot together, and I think we sat there for maybe 3-4 hours, and by the time we were done we had maybe 1/2 to a 1/4 of a page done and we realized this was not gonna work.  We just did the math of how long it would take to write 7-8 scripts a year every year this way and do the rest of the job as well, and realized it just wasn’t viable.  So we just decided one of us would take the first half of the script, one of us would take the second hand of the script and we would work separately on our own, then we would trade halves and he would rewrite my work and I would rewrite his work, and we would pass them back and forth until we got to a place where we forgot who wrote what, and it seemed like it was ready.  And then we would pass it off to the team.

David:Which is why one half of every episode is amazing, and one half is terrible.  Because Dan wrote the good parts.

☆Taku:Have you guys ever disagreed with the direction of the script, and how did you guys deal with it?

David:Do we ever disagree about the writing? Yeah sometimes, but fewer than you might think, considering how many episodes we’ve written together.  And we do a pretty detailed outline beforehand, so by the time we get to the actual script part, any of the big issues have generally been decided.  We’ve definitely had some arguments about shots and editing things, and some score stuff, but very few writing fights.

Daniel:I think it’s that we have to write so much so quickly, every season we were writing 7-8 scripts, whatever it was.  It felt to me, if I was writing as quickly as i was, then I gave him my half of the script, insisting it was perfect after having bashed it out in the limited time we had, would have felt ridiculous. It wouldn’t have made any sense to assume that we got everything right while working at the speed we were working.  So I think we were both very open to the fact that this was just a pass through it, as we would say,  and you would take another pass through it, and another pass.  And we both knew that writing is really about re writing anyway.  So it’s like here’s a version of this, and if it works, great, and if it doesn’t  work, tell me what’s wrong with it either i’ll fix it or you fix it. It was kind of hard to be too precious about what we were writing because there was just a lot of work to be done.

☆Taku:So you mentioned disagreements about the score.  The iconic opening theme, scored by Ramin Djawadi, did you know him did someone introduce you to him?  How did that score come about?

David:We did not know him, and we actually had a different composer on initially but it didn’t work out, and we were only a few months from airing the first season on HBO, so there was a lot of time pressure.  We had a music supervisor named Evyen Klean, who’s still been our music supervisor throughout all 8 seasons, and we were talking about composers.  There’s a book out in the United States called 『Blink』, and the premise of blink is that if you’re an educated person in a certain field, the decision you make quickly is often times the best one, don’t think about it too much just go with your instinct. And We said to Evyen, who knew all these composers, “Ok, we want your instant blink response, who would be the best composer for Game Of Thrones?”.  And he said Ramin, Ramin Djawadi.  So we said “Ok, great. We wanna meet him”.  And so we met with Ramin and he was the nicest guy in the world and we listened to his music and it was beautiful and we said “We want you to do it”.  and he said “That’s great, but unfortunately I’m too busy I have all these other jobs”.  And so for the next week, we just begged him, on our knees. We sent him flowers, everything we could do to humiliate ourselves to try to get Ramin to do it and finally he said yes.  He came up with that opening theme in just a few weeks and it was incredible how fast he worked, and now it’s impossible to imagine Game Of Thrones without Ramin. His music is such a central part of the show.  So yeah, it was Evyen that initially recommended him and luckily we managed to get him.

☆Taku:Did you just send him the script and ask him to work off of that?

Daniel:Well, we had a cut of the original pilot and we sent that to him.  And once he said yes, he asked “What’s the most important thing to do first?” because it was pretty late in the day at that point, and we had tried out another composer, who’s a great composer but wasn’t right for the show, and so we were on a very tight timeframe. So when he asked what to do first and we said “The main title needs to be right so take a crack at that”.  And that’s always how he would work, you would send him a finished cut of the episode and he would score to that.

☆Taku:Another music related question.  Who’s idea was not play any music during the ending for 「The Rains of Castamere」?

Daniel:I think it was us both. It just didn’t feel like there was any music that could convey or carry on that feeling.  If anything there’s no piece of music that wouldn’t have gotten in the way of the sheer horror of what you just saw.  I think we both simultaneously decided on that one.

☆Taku:Yeah it was definitely a shocking scene, and without the music it just made it that much more shocking.  Nicely done.

David:Thank you.  Yeah it’s funny because in this final season there was another episode where we discussed again, about not having score at the end, and we decided not to do that. I think part of it was that theres something nice to just have that one episode with the silent ending, and keeping it that way.  And Ramin is just so fast and so incredible at what he does, and he always has options for us, so I think even for that episode he had a cue ready for us but we just felt it would be more powerful to end on silence.

☆Taku:About the characters, which character had your favorite progression throughout the story and who was the most fun person to write.  It’s like asking you which child is your favorite I know.

David:Yeah, that’s actually the exact answer that Dan had in a previous interview, it is very hard to choose between them. So many of them are so fun to write for.  I mean the first person we ever approached about the show was Peter Dinklage because we knew him a little bit before we made the show and reading the books I was just picturing peter from the beginning.  And Peter is as funny in real life as he is on the show and writing for him, especially once we got to know him really well, was always fun because you just knew whatever you wrote he was gonna make it even better.  And in terms of character progression, the Stark sisters.  We were talking about this before, but they were just kids when we first cast them, Sophie was 12 and Maisie was 11 and we have pictures of them before the original pilot which was shot a year before season 1 was shot and they’re just like these little kids, and now they’re both grown ups and have both became these incredible actors.  They both went on these very dark journeys as characters, both Sansa Stark and Arya.  I just love those characters and love those two women, so for me I’d probably choose them.

Daniel:Should I give the same answer I gave in the other interview or should I change my mind? 

☆Taku:Up to you.

Daniel:I mean it’s difficult because they’re all such excellent actors, and they’ve put so much of themselves into these characters that eventually they just get easier and easier to write for because every word you write you can hear exactly the way Peter is going to say it, or how Rory “the Hound” is going to say it.  Everybody you start to get a sense for, the rhythms of the way they talk and how each actor sees the characters.  We were just very very lucky to get to work with these people because there was just not a single bad apple in the bunch.

☆Taku:I’m assuming you guys were a fan of the original novel, but how did you deal with the modifications of characters specifically for a television show?

Daniel:I mean movies aren’t television shows, and books aren’t television shows, they’re different mediums, and there are different.. I don’t want to say rules, but different requirements that each one brings to the table and different things a novel can achieve that no television show can achieve.  I mean one of this is that you can have a lot more characters in a novel and find ways to keep track of those characters.  I think our show was at the absolute limit for how many characters you can have in a show and still have it make sense.  

☆Taku:There were so many characters it could be in the Guinness book.

Daniel:I’m sure it probably is.  But that said, there are far fewer characters in the show than there are in the books, so the show itself kind of represents a compression, a condensation, of the number of characters in the book.  So when you pull characters out, the story has to change accordingly because that person that was important to this plotline isn’t there anymore, so you have to figure out a different way to tell that story that stays true to the spirit of the story, minus some of the characters from the book.  So I would say that just making it viable and workable on television required a lot of those changes.  But we knew that, we’d read the first four books by the time we started and we knew by the time we got to book four you had more story than we could do justice to even in 10 hours a season.

☆Taku:That reminded me of the Emmy nominations, until the final season you never had a nomination for a lead actor, what did you guys feel about that?

David:Good job Jon Snow!  I mean were just really happy for all the actors, 10 actors got nominated, which is glorious, and as we were saying before it’s one of the largest casts in history so to see so many of them get that honor, it makes us very very happy.  So happy for Kit, no one worked harder in this last season than him, he had to do so many night shoots in the mud.  I mean obviously no one’s gonna feel sorry for Kit Harington, he’s got a pretty good life, but that said he really did bust his butt, and so did Emilia, so for the two of them to get that honor it just makes me so happy.  I mean I’m just looking forward to the day in september when we all get to celebrate together, and also just for all the other nominations, so many people on the crew getting recognized for their hard work makes us so happy, because often times at least in America there’s kind of this myth of the showrunners being the kings overseeing everything but it really doesn’t work that way. In reality when we’re working on the show it’s a team effort, and we might be the managers of the team but if the team does well it’s because the whole lineup is out there getting hits and fielding and I don’t know how this became a baseball metaphor but here we are.  So that morning just to wake up and see the news about all the nominations it made us really happy, and there’s a part of it that’s kind of ridiculous because some of the greatest shows of all time have never won an Emmy, 『THE WIRE』 is maybe the greatest show in history and I don’t think it ever wont  single Emmy, so you can’t take it too seriously, but on the other hand it’s hard to deny how happy it made me to see all these people getting honored.

☆Taku:I mean it was always supporting actors, and it was always hard to tell who the real lead was.

David:Well there is no lead, it’s really an ensemble show, so I think what always hurt the actors in terms of getting nominated for a lead is that if you have 100 different actors in a show no one is going to have as much screen time as the lead in 『Breaking Bad』or a show that really is about one character primarily.

☆Taku:I don’t know whether this is a rumor or fact but I thought I’d ask.  There was a rumor that George R R Martin wrote the ending and gave it to you, and kept the ending in a safe just in case he might pass away?

Daniel:It’d be really fun to perpetuate that rumor and say that we had the ending in a safe and I’m really tempted to say yes that’s true, but that’s not true, no.  I think George would be the first one to tell you he doesn’t work that way.  He doesn’t write the ending and then figure out how to get to that ending.  George likens himself all the time to a gardener rather than an architect, he doesn’t have a big blueprint where he fills in the blanks and realizes the whole blueprint.  He tinkers over here and tinkers over there and sees how something develops and he changes things once he sees how they’ve grown over time.  That’s how he writes, hell be the first one to tell you.  So yeah, there’s no safe.  There are plenty of safes out there, just none of them have the ending of Game Of Thrones in them.

☆Taku:Have you ever watched any of these 「TOP 10 facts about Game Of Thrones」 videos?

David:The only YouTube videos I’ve seen are the fan reaction videos. So there’s like a bar in Chicago where people film their reactions, I think it was during the Red Wedding.  And yeah there was a certain point in season 2, where we had never worked on anything so popular, or even close, so I was starting to go crazy back in season 2 looking at all the stuff on the internet.  and I remember I was having a meeting Dan and he seemed very calm, and I was like “Why are you so calm?”, and he said “Well I stopped looking up our show on google. I don’t look at anything on the internet anymore”, and I said “Oh that’s very smart”, so I stopped looking at things and he was right it just makes you much more calm.  So sometimes it’s hard to avoid because you might have a friend that sends you things and says “Hey did you guys know that you did something terrible?”, and be like “Oh no, I didn’t know that til just now”.  But normally I try to avoid it, because you just go crazy and you start to have arguments in your head with people on the internet which is not a good way for mental peace.

☆Taku:So this is not my opinion but fact.  You guys really changed the game and changed how people tell stories on television and raised the bar as a whole.  How do you feel about your impact you’ve had and the expectations from other people?

Daniel:I mean as David said, we had never done anything that had reached anything near this many people before, and it’s amazing and wonderful and gratifying to have something that you do, out there, and meaning something to so many people.  And initially we knew there would be a group of people that would like it, but we thought it was very possible that it would be one type of person, the type of person that already knew about the books, and of course we wanted them to like it too, because we knew we were very lucky to have this initial group of people who were at least interested in what we were doing.  But as time went on and as the reach of the show widened and broadened, we’d meet professional baseball players that liked the show, scientists that liked the show, and carpenters and electricians that liked the show, and we realized the show had touched a nerve with lots of different kinds of people.  And that’s very gratifying and your right, it increases the sense of pressure and expectation to not screw it up and to do as good a job as you can possibly do on it, but I think to what David was saying earlier, you know it’s out there, and to be taking the temperature of everything and everybody all the time, the pressure is already there.  You don’t need to be staring it in the face. There’s so much work to be done for us and for everyone involved in making this show, or any large show for that matter, and to add on to it that constant interaction with the whether its social media or YouTube, we decided early on that wasn’t really in our best interests.  And it really wasn’t in the best interests of the show either, it would have made it worse.

☆Taku:Well for the last question, rather than I question I just wanted to say we really appreciate you for creating such a great show, and we really look forward to anything you guys work on after this.  And just have a good holiday you guys worked really hard.

David:Thank, thank you very much.

Daniel:HBO has sent us various places, we’ve never asked to be sent anywhere expect for Japan.  And many years ago we were talking to a man at HBO, Charles Schrager who is in charge of foreign sales, and we said “Can we go to Japan someday?”, and he said “Maybe someday but the show hasn’t really caught on yet”, and every year when we would see him we would say “Can we go to Japan this year?”, and finally he said “When the show’s over I’m gonna send you guys over”, and everyone at HBO kind of forgot, so we’d say “Guys remember you said you were gonna send us to Japan?”, so for us this is a great great honor and privilege, we’ve wanted this trip for so long and I’ve told my daughter for many years, “Someday I’m gonna take you to Japan”. so I can’t think of anything more fun to do and more exciting, and it’s a great thrill, so that you for having us.