David Benioff Press

Benioff’s thoughts on adapting book to screen

In my search for any sort of tidbit of news related to Game of Thrones, I came across this old interview with David Benioff by the BBC. In it he talks mostly about his novel, 25th Hour and Troy, but he also shares his thoughts on how to adapt a book to screen.

When adapting a book, what is the first step after reading the material – especially when the material is so long and has so much depth. How do you decide what to leave out? Lucilla

I think the adapter’s job is to find a narrative throughline and excise any material not critical for that narrative’s success. That sounds a little surgical, and I suppose it is, but – as your question suggests – the most difficult task is deciding what to cut. In adapting my own novel, I cut a character (LoBianco) because he wasn’t essential for the principal journey of the movie. Again, there is very little time in a script.

Winter Is Coming: Based on the pilot script, not much has been cut so far. Of course, there really isn’t much you can cut in the first 80 or so pages of the book. It is all important character introductions. I expect that as the series goes on though, more and more will need to be cut.


  • Well won’t this need the JK Rowling treatment with the Harry Potter movies? Sense the series isn’t finished won’t GRRM need to “approve” what gets cut and what doesn’t. That’s assuming this goes into a full season and beyond.

  • I think most things that will be cut out will be the character’s inner monologues. They make for the very tense atmosphere of the books, but you don’t need them to get the characters straight and understand them and their motivations. I think they will add some dialogues, like in the pilot.

  • Just remember that here we have a HUGE difference between a novel to MOVIE and a novel to SERIES.

    If the idea is to make each book a SEASON, then there is much less cutting necessary.

    Also in a book, sometimes multiple pages are needed to get across the detail of the action, which on a screen can take as little as a few seconds due to the visual nature of the medium.

    I don’t think, given a 12-14 hour season of episodes that quite that much would have to be excised other than for purely editorial reasons.

    See the Sword of Truth series as an example of editorial changes. (Terry Goodkind’s books vs. what is on the screen are wildly different.)

  • One other thing to consider about making a TV series is that each episode has to stand on it’s own merit. The pilot does an excellent job with the cliffhanger, but they will have to do something each week to keep people interested. Think of the Tudors, each episode has elements of something specific to that episode, and something in the over-arching plot.

  • “Sense the series isn’t finished won’t GRRM need to “approve” what gets cut and what doesn’t.”

    Depends on the deal he made with HBO, but most likely he has no creative control over the series. It is a very rare deal (maybe unprecedented) that gives a novelist control over a property he has sold to a studio/producer/etc. Also, George knows how the business works as well as anyone and probably knows the show probably has a better chance of success if he lets them just do their thing. It does seem they are going to him for advice, which is smart since he is so experienced in series television. But I doubt he has any kind of final approval on anything.

    The difference between adapting a movie and series TV is that you don’t need to cut nearly as much as you would for a feature. A typical novel might be adapted from a 350-450 page novel into a 90 to 120 page movie script. Here we have an 800 page novel that will adapted into 1,200 or 1,300 pages of multiple scripts.

  • “Depends on the deal he made with HBO, but most likely he has no creative control over the series.”
    Isn’t he a co-executive producer or a producer of some kind? And didn’t I read that he might be doing some writting for the series as well? I don’t think it would be out of the question for them to run things by him before they go ahead and cut out certain parts or certain characters. I understand that most things are out of his hand and he’s said as much but if they want to stay true the books it would be a good idea to keep him involved.

  • That’s what I was going to ask as well, Brude. GRRM has a producer’s credit (although I know this doesn’t mean anything; Glen A Larson has a producer’s credit on BSG despite hating the new version) but is also meant to be writing one episode per season as well. Could that mean he has a bit more influence over proceedings than what you suggest?

  • coltain777: Last we heard, that was the plan. I don’t think he has much power over the show though. It seems that Benioff and Weiss have a good working relationship with Martin, so I’m sure certain changes will be run by him. Especially if they think it may clash with something he has planned for future novels. But I doubt they are obligated to do so.

  • I could care less about GRRM writing an episode. Have him finish ‘ADWD’, sooooon! I mean, he’s been working on it (and ‘AFFC’) since what, 2001…?! FFS

  • “See the Sword of Truth series as an example of editorial changes. (Terry Goodkind’s books vs. what is on the screen are wildly different.)”

    Goodkind’s books and his TV series is crap, don’t even mention Goodkind’s and GRRM’s work in the same context.

    If the SoIaF series on HBO turns out like the “sword of Truth” series has, then shame on HBO, of course the “Sword of Truth” stuff was a crappy read so it could only make a crappy series unlike the SoIaF series which is really good.

  • Based on Benioff’s claims in that old interview and the fact it simply makes sense – I think the cast will be cut dramatically. There’s hundreds, possibly thousands, of characters in the books and I think a lot of them can be cut or merged into single entities. eg just have one bloodrider with speaking parts – the rest can be extras. Same goes for the Black watch – we don’t really need to have all of Jon’s class to present on screen.

  • Martin is listed as a Co-Executive Producer on IMDb, but a Co-Exec. doesn’t necessarily have much, if any power on a production – there are 2 other Co-Executive Producers listed there as well. A lot of “producers” on productions don’t have any active control over the production itself, it’s a way to give someone who contributed something a credit and a fee in lieu of actual production control. A lot of times major authors are given a producer credit in addition to their writer’s fee because, well, they can get it. Also, since Martin is apparently being sought for his input, it’s only fair he is given a producer credit for that time and effort he’s putting into the show. It may or may not also cover his payment for writing one of the episodes/season, I don’t know.

    One of my former bosses was demoted on a production from Executive Producer to Co-Producer when Lauren Shuler-Donner came on board and insisted she be the only Exec. Prod. and have total control of the project. He got the same fee, but a lesser credit (and no control) which he didn’t like, but swallowed anyway because without her it wasn’t going to get made and he was still trying to build his name as a producer – some credit is better than none (in the end it never got made anyway). A lot of times Producers have very little significant input on productions but they can force their way into the credits (and get themselves a fee) because they are able to bring something vital to the film. For instance, they are the manager of a major actor and they insist that without a producer fee/credit for themselves the actor won’t do the movie.

  • To RER, the point wasn’t the QUALITY of Goodkind’s material OR the television show. Read what is written please. It was an observation that many times what is WRITTEN AINT WHAT IS SHOWN.
    Goodkind signed an agreement that forfeited his participation or input, and the result is that the television series only plays lip service to the written material. As an aside, I agree with you regarding quality, but this wasn’t the intent of my post.

  • I’m hopeful that they don’t cut too much. It is going to Be a mini-series and not a silver screen adaption, thank god.

  • The sad trurth of the matter is that this series will never be completed. GRRM was not being upfront with his fans when at the end of “Crows”, in June/2005, he said he pretty much had a whole other book completed. Well, nearly four years later and he still has not completed that book. If it was more than half done 4 years ago, how long will the next book take. Once this TV thing kicks off, his seeming love of fan adulation will doom the rest of the series. Dragons will never fly over the Wall into battle, and John may never learn that he is the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna.

  • Maybe in these 4 years of waiting for us, he’s been planning out the course of the remaining books to make sure he does it right.

    He could have gotten to point where he wondered now what? Maybe before he just had that rough outline of what’s next and now it’s detailed.

    Think postively!

  • George has said repeatedly he knows how the whole story goes, he knows the ending and he knows more or less how the story is going to get there. Details can change while writing, but the over all arc of the story is set.

    I’m not sure why it’s gotten so hard for him to finish but I think his troubles began with A Feast For Crows which went through a number of redrafts and a lot of restructuring.

    Originally, AFFC wasn’t even supposed to exist and was going to be back story he’d relate in A Dance With Dragons, which was supposed to begin after a 2-year gap from the end of Storm of Swords. My hope is that once Dragons is done, he’ll be back on to his original plan and his problems restructuring that came while writing Crows will be in the past and he can get moving with the final two books.

  • Shame Shame ….Anonymous….you shouldn’t have revealed the secret for John…not good for the newbies…

  • That “reveal” is pure speculation…juicy, yes, but speculation pure and simple, and that spoils nothing. I’ve not read EVERY tid-bit that GRRM has put out there, but I’ve never known him to “spoil” anything but intro chapters on his website. A good writer NEVER gives away the plot or GIANT twists before releasing the story. If he DID, then I would lose all respect for him as a writer.
    Look at the troubles J.K. Rowling went through prior to the release of Deathly Hallows ffs.

    Also this line of conversation is derailing the topic quite a bit.

  • Gotta love the “anonymous” tag. I posted the “speculation” reponse at 11:29am 1/25. I am NOT the guy posting the jon speculation post.

  • I guess I would be considered a noob because I’ve only read AGoT and half of ACoK if you go online on any of the ASoIaF sites the R+L=J stuff is everywhere. That speculation doesn’t spoil anything for me. However, Anonymous 5, be more positive man! (or woman)

  • Any spoilers will be long forgotten by the time we get to read the book. My wife and I have always felt the likely hood of the series being completed being very small.

    That being said, one good thing I can say about Goodkind is that he FINISHED his epic. The aforementioned series got progressively better the further along you read peaking with “Faith of the Fallen”. It really picked up half way through the third book; but, I’m sure all you nay sayers(sp?) knew that already. This is in stark contrast to the late Robert Jordan and his epic.

    Steven Erickson seems to be giving George a run for the “Best in Class” title, except where George seems to be losing momentum, Steven is gaining it and is writing at an amazing pace.JMO

  • As a writer, I DON’T sympathize with GRRM. With a decent outline, doing 5 pages of material a day isn’t rocket science or brain surgery. To a professional writer, there is NO SUCH THING as writer’s block. The meat of writing is tedious and involved, but 5 pages a day as a minimum = 25 page /week (5 day work week) = 100 pages a month / 1000 pages in 10 months.

    An author writing the first book is writing for himself. AFTER that book is published and it is indicated that the series is “finite” with a definite conclusion, that writer is no longer writing for himself and there is responsibility to Agent, Publisher and CUSTOMERS. (which is what the reader is who spends hard earned cash as well as irreplaceable TIME with the product.)

    Even with a LOWER page count GRRM ran out of my good graces about a year and a half ago. There is simply no excuse that far into a series, and with his background in television and production, I’m frankly not impressed with his work ethic.

    Whatever he actually IS doing, isn’t good professional writing practice, and IF he is re-writing THAT much, he needs to realize that he’s NOT writing for a Pulitzer.

    I would sincerely hate to be his agent in dealing with the publisher to be honest.

    That all said, I DO love the story being told, but as others have mentioned, Robert Jordan comes to mind here, and that is not a good thing…AT ALL.

  • Steven erikson gets distracted with too much philosophy…from every character …let’s add more action and less philosophy….still not in george rr martin league….though I do like him

  • I’m the anonymous who posted the initial SPOILER blurb. Sorry, I assumed anyone reading here would have read the theory on virtually EVERY other ASOIAF website that exists, or gleaned the info from what is written. By the way, all of you go out right now and buy the audiobook for the series. You can get the digital download from a popular web based audio book seller. If you have not listened to Roy Doltrice read you the story, then you have not experienced the story the way it should be experienced. Whatever they do on HBO, it won’t be this good. Just take my word for it. Tell me you were not completely lost in Westeros listening to Master Luwin tell the history of the children of the forest to Bran and Co. after being bitten by Shaggy in the tombs. (And I bet the four obsidian arrow heads Rickon pocketed in this scene show up later killing something from beyond the Wall.) Do yourselves the massive favor of listening to this Audiobook. It is a masterful performance. As for our favorite Author’s work ethic, consider Rowling, she brought that series to fruition by disappearing and working between publications, not showing up at every convention big and small, and blogging and corresponding on a daily basis to the amusement of a very small handful of fans. Screw the blog, Georgie, give us the next edition (O.K., you can watch football on Sundays, but the season’s over now.) You can’t imagine how discouraged I was to show up at the Bantam/Spectra booth at Comicon to pick up the Reek/Theon sample chapter and have the folks at the booth pretty much agree that the series is in trouble.

  • and about George spending too much time at every convention he can find….agreed …he needs to finish the book(s)….it was suppose to be half done for Gods sake!!!