Vanity Fair has released their entire interview with show runners David Benioff and Dan Weiss conducted for the Game of Thrones April cover issue. The interview is quite lengthy, with topics spanning the entire lifetime of the television series, from it’s inception, to the original pilot, and looking forward to the end.
The pair expand on their recent meeting with George R.R. Martin, and the pressure that is being put on the author to finish his series. They also discuss the liberties they are able to take with the television show, putting together characters that we may not see interacting in the books, and how they have managed to work around some expensive battle sequences.
The excerpts below focus on the problems they faced shooting the original pilot, and their decision to inject comedy into an otherwise dark story. They also reveal that along the lines of Bryan Cogman, they’ve promoted their assistant Dave Hill to staff writer for Season 5.
Tom McCarthy, who made the The Station Agent, was the director of the original pilot, but that version never aired. Is that right?
David Benioff: There are a couple of scenes from it, but most of that was re-shot.
Dan Weiss: The whole pilot was such a tremendous Mount Everest-steep learning curve for everybody involved. Our whole thing, when we pitched it to HBO, was, “No one’s ever done anything like this before.” That’s exciting, but on the flip side—no one’s ever done anything like this before. And we had to find what it really was in the process of making it.
David Benioff: We made very basic, fundamental mistakes in the script for the pilot. About fifty feet away from here, actually, we had a few of our writer friends come over to watch, to screen the pilot, and to get notes from them. And I remember watching them as they watched it, and it’s a really horrible feeling, because by that point we’d already put a few years into this. And watching them and knowing that they did not like it at all was just a horrible feeling. That last scene in the pilot, where Jaime and Cersei, brother and sister, are making love—they didn’t know that they were brother and sister, which was completely our fault.
Were the performances the same? Did it look as good as the eventual pilot? Was it cheesy?
David Benioff: Nothing was as good. Every single department stepped up. As Dan was saying, certainly we hadn’t done it before. I don’t know if anyone had done this type of genre on this type of scale. For instance, I think we had the best costumer in the world. Her name is Michele Clapton. I think she’s a genius. But coming off the pilot, we realized all the costumes looked brand new. They all looked like they’d just been made the day before. So what happened was, they said, “O.K., the pilot’s not so good, but we’re just going to go ahead and make season one, and you’ll re-shoot the first episode while you’re doing season one.” So we had the whole order for the season, and we went back in with Michelle, and we made the decision, all of us together, that the costumes needed to look lived-in. This is a period where people weren’t taking their things to the dry cleaners. Aside from maybe the queen, everyone’s clothes look dirty and sweat-stained. She really took that to heart, to the degree where now in the costume department, there’s the actual making-of-the-costumes section of it and there’s a whole other section, which is breaking down the costumes. And the difference between what we had originally shot and what you see in season one is dramatic. For all the departments it was like that: for production design, in terms of the look of the sets; for the D.P.s; for us, with writing the scripts. The great thing about that experience, as rough as it was in the moment, was that we had a chance to learn from our mistakes and go back and try to correct some of it.
Dan Weiss: To be given the opportunity to do something like this one time is a pretty rare gift. To be given the opportunity to do more or less the exact same thing twice is an extremely rare gift.
I didn’t start watching Game of Thrones until I was flipping past and saw the scene with Peter Dinklage dragging a chair across the room while everybody stares at him. I didn’t expect that kind of comedy.
David Benioff: That’s all Dan. That whole bit.
It’s great because the whole sequence is silent.
David Benioff: Except for the squeaky chair. We spent a lot of time in sound design, getting that squeak just right.
Dan Weiss: It’s funny. When we shot the original pilot, which was then later re-shot—it was a pretty grim, dark world, the world of the story. As the seasons have gone on, we consciously take any opportunity we can to inject some light into the situation in a way that doesn’t break the reality of the show.
The actor who plays Arya Stark, Maisie Williams, sells the joke of the wolf bread so beautifully.
David Benioff: She’s so good, that girl. Casting that role was one of the scariest things, because we knew how big the role would get and how dark it would be. The first fifty or so girls we saw just weren’t right. We’ve got an incredible casting director in London, Nina Gold, and she was bringing in all these girls, and no one was right, and it was getting kind of late in the day and we hadn’t found anyone remotely close. I remember we were sitting—in Morocco, right?
Dan Weiss: The Berber Palace Hotel.
David Benioff: We were on location, scouting Morocco, and the one place we could get internet access was by the hotel pool. So we were sitting by the hotel pool on a laptop looking at these—the casting director will send these little casting videos, with thumbnail pictures? So there were forty thumbnail pictures of these girls, and we saw this one, literally that big on the laptop screen, and I was just like, “There’s something interesting about that face,” and clicked on it, and she was amazing. From that point on we had our Arya.
Are you in the same room when you’re writing the episodes?
David Benioff: We don’t write together. We tried to do that on the very first day. We’ll take a half. We’ll basically divvy it up. You get first half, I get second half, and then we swap halves and rewrite.
Dan Weiss: We tried to write the first page of the pilot together, and it literally took us four hours to write three quarters of a page. It was like trying to drive a car, like, “O.K., I’ll do the gas, and you do the brake, and I’ll hold this side of the steering wheel and you hold that side.”
So it’s easier to have one person play writer and the other play editor and then switch roles?
David Benioff: Yeah, yeah.
Dan Weiss: Pretty much. We’re just passing things back and forth. The work happens so quickly and there’s so much of it that I have very little recollection of who did what by the time we end up shooting stuff.
David Benioff: Before we start, we write a really detailed outline, the two of us, and then there’s Bryan Cogman, who started out as our assistant, and now he’s one of the writers on the show—and now, for this coming year, Dave Hill, who was our assistant the last few years, and we’ve promoted him to staff writer. So once we start outlining the season, the four us will sit together, coming up with scenes and plot lines, putting index cards on the board, you know, traditional writers’ room stuff. And then there’s about an eighty-page outline, a scene-by-scene outline, and we divvy up episodes. Last year we wrote seven episodes, Bryan wrote two, and George Martin wrote one.
For much more from David and Dan, you can read their entire interview at VanityFair.Com.