The Writers' Room (2013) s01e05 Episode Script

Game Of Thrones

Jim Rash: "Game Of Thrones," a show with 300 characters in costume, having sex.
That's all you really need to know, right? - 'Cause this is the first series we've ever worked on.
- Wow.
A lot of money was spent fixing things.
David Benioff: Kinda shakes his head and says, "You guys have a massive problem.
" DB Weiss: - Massive - Yeah, massive problem.
Problem.
I'm Jim Rash, let's go inside The Writers' Room.
Outrageous success, horrible mistakes, last-minute changes.
Creators of today's most groundbreaking TV shows tell all in the place where it all starts, "The Writers' Room.
" All right, I am joined in The Writers' Room today with David Benioff and DB Weiss, right? We'll call you Dan-- is that okay? Makes it easier for everybody.
Makes us feel personal, okay.
Well, thank you for being here.
I-I should have warned you guys first by just saying you're the show that makes me feel dumb.
- We're also the show that makes us feel dumb.
- Good.
We're complete novices when it comes to television.
- We came in-- this is the first series we've every worked on.
- Wow.
- And so the first season, we-- - You did okay.
We thank you-- thank you.
But we didn't at first.
I mean, we didn't.
We made a huge number of mistakes in the original pilot.
We made a huge number of mistakes in the first season.
And we screened the initial pilot for three of our friends.
Um, all writers, all you know, very smart and got to the end and there was just dead silence in the room, and-and one of our friends, um, kinda shakes his head and says, "You guys have a massive problem.
" I remember having my notepad and I wrote, "Massive Yeah, "Massive problem.
" "Problem.
" Underline, underline.
It was one of the worst experiences workwise of my life, you know, seeing these three friends of mine who really wanted to be friendly.
They weren't our there to hurt us.
Yes, he certainly didn't want to say "Massive.
" - I mean, he was probably play-- - He-he might've wanted-- He was trying to think of an appropriate word.
- He probably wouldn't have hurt us, actually.
- Oh, okay.
But, uh, but the other two did not and they were just-- they were stuck with the, you know, they're tryin' to help their friends and, uh, we had made a bunch of mistakes.
Everybody was new to this.
It was kind of a strange film, hybrid-- film-TV hybrid experience.
So everybody was kind of figuring how the machinery of the show worked and a lot of money was spent fixing things you know, that we-- we hadn't gotten right, to be-- to be blunt.
One example is the episodes started coming in for season one way under time.
- We had more flexibility at HBO than-than most networks have.
- Right.
But we still have to be over 50 minutes and, uh, episodes were starting to come in at 42 minutes.
I think we had one that was 39 minutes.
- Really-- wow.
- We had one that was 39 - minutes-- so overall-- - So you just filmed some sex scenes and-- No, curiously enough, none of the sex scenes were added, but we were 93 minutes short for the entire season, so we had this, uh, kinda two week crunch.
It was like exam time, uh, back in college.
Yeah, we just had to churn out basically a script and a half's worth of added material dispersed - throughout the season to make the-the episodes long enough.
- Wow.
And it turned out to be a really great experience, as stressful as it was at the time because it forced us to a place where, okay, we-we've stilled the books down to what's doable.
We're at the absolute limit of what we can do in terms of-- we can't just say "Well, let's throw in a five minute battle sequence, because we don't have the money.
" We're on a very tight leash, especially the first season, we didn't have the money to throw in a five minute battle sequence, so it really forced us to explore different character-driven story-telling possibilities that we probably wouldn't have-have gone to, if we had not been in that situation.
You've been friends for a long time-- how do you deal with those times when things aren't connecting? You mean disagreements on story issues-- Big time fights-- everything.
Or actual personal? I'm just saying 'cause a partnership's tough, you know, especially when you're doing a creative partnership.
You know, I know that we-- you know, Nat and I will have cage fights to work out things.
Physical hand-to-hand combat.
You guys famously hate each other, right? - We famously hate each other.
- Yes.
The fact that I said his name made me throw up in my mouth a little bit.
- Isn't that in your contract that you don't-- - No, I'm just saying we-- you know, we'll go fisticuffs, so I'm just asking.
Well, if it's disagreements about show stuff, usually one person or the other is more passionate.
And the more passionate person always wins, so the way Dan always wins his arguments, is he'll write like a 12-page essay-- Volume-- volume.
- On why he's right.
- Just verbosity.
And he just defeats me with verbosity, you know? - He's like, I can't read - I'm not gonna read.
- This much about that line.
- I already read "Game Of Thrones.
" You are not gonna make me read an email that's 12-pages long.
I don't care about the line.
Do what you want.
But usually, one person cares more and it's very rare that we both are incredibly passionate on opposite sides of-- At the end of the day, you start to realize I think, just speaking for myself, that more and more as the show goes on, like what's best for the show is best for the show.
It starts with the book or series of books.
How did that sort of come into your sort of world? David read the first book "Game Of Thrones," first.
Or he started reading it first and then he-- I remember seeing them in his house literally like a doorstop, there were four books, about 4,500 pages of writing and going, "What the hell is that sitting on your floor and who would ever possibly read that many pages of anything.
" And I got the book and I read 950 pages - in two and a half days which-- - Are you serious? It was like an addictive, propulsive, crack-like experience.
But even going back before we got the book, and we've been friends for, uh, 17 years now or something, and we went to - graduate school together-- - Way too long.
And, uh, and one of our bonding points was that we'd both been dungeon masters in our, uh, advanced D&D games-- Oh, fantastic.
Back, um-- back in the day.
- Yeah, so that was-- - Code for last year.
What is-- what is-- yeah.
How does-- how does that dungeon master stuff work when you are the dungeon master? Are you leading the group? - The dungeon master is the one-- he's kinda the story teller.
- Okay.
So the other, um, people taking part in the game are the players and they have their characters and the dungeon master is kinda of like the showrunner of the game.
Does that feel weird and kismet that-that was happening and then this sort of comes your way? Yeah, and George Martin, by the way, was apparently a legendary dungeon master.
Oh, really-- see, it was meant to be.
It was.
It is that weird.
So there's some great storyteller in the sky, putting you guys together.
It's that strange thing where you come across a piece of material.
You know, everybody has things that they're better suited for, things they're less suited for-- it-- just to come across - something and say, "This was made for us.
" - Yeah.
You know, it really felt like we were such a-- such a great fit.
Yeah, you connect to it, I think knowing-- especially when you're doing an adaptation, you have to connect.
How-how did you guys personally start to tackle the beast? Oh, right.
Which is a book series that's not even completed yet.
Well, first, we had to convince George to let us have the opportunity.
Right, and was he skeptical at first? Like, I mean, he wrote it.
He was because-- yeah, he wrote it and this is his baby.
He's skeptical for a number of reasons.
One, being that he'd worked in Hollywood for many years, so he kind of knew how the sausage was made and had a natural suspicion of anyone coming in and saying, uh, "We wanna adapt this series that you've just spent the last 20 years of your life working on, literally.
" Uh, and he had already had offers from studios.
You know, people sniffing around who were looking to do the books as-as movies, as features, and had heard from I think one or two execs that they had cracked it.
That they had figured out, um, how to turn a 900 page book - into a-- into a two hour movie and of course-- - They had? Yeah, they cracked it.
Yeah.
Um, and he was-- he was rightfully, highly suspicious of those people, so when we came in and talked to him, the first thing we said was, "We love your books.
We just don't see them working as features though.
We think it could be a great HBO series.
" I mean, literally said that from the get-go and kind of half expecting him to say, "Well, thank you, guys for your opinion, but the studios are offering a lot more money.
" Yeah.
And, what-- we ended up being really surprised because he loved, um, "Rome" and he loved "Deadwood" and had always - thought the only way to do the show was as a series.
- Yeah.
So that hurdle was passed and then, we met with him and we had a long meeting at, um, at the Palm and-and we were there for I think five and a half hours.
At the very end of it, he said, "So, who is Jon Snow's real mother?" It was a test question.
- Oh, wow.
- Yeah.
We had talked about it, uh, amongst ourselves, uh, before and we had a-- an educated guess, - which turned out to be right.
- Wow.
Which is why we're sitting here talking to you.
- I like that he quizzed you on that.
- Yeah.
To make sure you were the right people.
You are the chosen ones.
'Cause I'm sure he had met other people, um, who had wanted to work on it who, or studios at least who hadn't really read the books, they had read the coverage.
Like I don't really believe that the studio execs from Fox - or whatever had read, you know, 5,000 pages of-- - I'd be floored if they cracked it.
Coming up, the dungeon masters' creative process.
We never read together anymore, so we'll be sitting four feet away from each other, we still don't talk to each other.
We're just emailing things.
Jim Rash: Welcome back to "The Writers' Room" with the creators of "Game Of Thrones.
" That's a technical term from "Game Of Thrones," isn't it? Woo-woo? I think so, right? DB: Get around standards and practices.
How-how do you work as a writing team? I've spoken to many different writing teams and everyone seems to have their own approach and sometimes it's not an approach.
It's just whatever happens.
How about for you guys? We tried when we were working on the pilot, we tried for one day to do it sitting in the same room together.
I'd like a video.
I'd like a time-lapse video of that day, and just of the screen and of us like milling back and forth - and literally a half a page in like four hours.
- That didn't work.
We were arguing over every modifier, and it was just-- We were like talking the wording of the sentences like where the-- As soon as you start doing that, and then you have to - just go, "Let's just take a little break.
" - Yeah.
And then, the break becomes two days.
Yeah-- so then, once we realized that was a complete fiasco, uh, we just decided to split each episode in two and I would take the first half and Dan would take the second half or vice versa, and then, we'd swap halves after we were finished.
So that's the way we've done it ever since.
Now we haggle over who gets which half.
Who gets what, and then, maybe re-write together? - Is that-- - No.
- No? - We never write together anymore, so we just-- we're just passing things back and forth by email, so we'll be siting four feet away from each other-- we still don't talk to each other we're just emailing things.
I'll get an email-- like a one line from Dan.
You know, like, "What about this thing?" And I'll write back.
"This sucks.
" When you are writing, I mean, you're-- obviously, I see your name, uh, both of you on many of the episodes but you also have other writers.
Do you have a traditional writing staff? No, I mean, this coming season, we have one other writer, um, Bryan Cogman.
Bryan's been with us from the beginning.
He started off as our assistant and then graduated to writer - and is now, uh, a producer of some kind and, uh-- - He's now working on having us both killed.
- He's trying to-- - Oh, he's writing-- - You have to be careful.
Sort of-- yeah.
Yeah, I mean, he's learned his lessons from the books - and everything, so, uh-- and Vanessa Taylor-- - Poison's the way to go.
- You know? - Well, don't tell him that.
- Huh-- - Oh, well, all right.
Research.
No, so for this-- you know, for this coming season, there were three of us in the writers' room basically and George Martin writes one episode this season and, uh-- That's crazy-- that's a lot.
I have to imagine you have to check back in, even - with yourselves sometimes about what you've laid out.
- Yeah.
Oh, yeah-- all the time.
What's left untouched.
A lot of going back to scripts and remembering what somebody said in that scene and episode five of season one because then that's coming back into play and you need to make sure that you're-- you're not violating your own, - uh, your own cannon.
- 'Cause fans will notice that.
- Oh, yeah.
Before I mentioned that we made a bunch of mistakes when we were, when we were, uh-- we're still making a ton of mistakes but especially in the early going with the pilot and all, and one of the key mistakes that in hindsight seemed so obvious, but at that point, we were so immersed in the book already, um, that certain relationships that we thought were so obvious were not at all obvious to an audience.
For instance, like if you remember the pilot, the last scene of the pilot, which is, um, the scene right from the book, which is actually the scene where I fell in love with the book and realized I was addicted, is when Jaime Lannister pushes little Bran out the window.
Yes, mm-hmm.
So that scene ended the pilot and our friends are watching and one of them said, "Now, those two-- I don't-- are they supposed to be brother and sister?" Like they didn't even know that Jaime Lannister - and Cersei were-were-- - Wow-- yeah.
In hindsight, we realized in terms of the information that was available to somebody watching this cold, as opposed to us, if you went through the script, there wasn't ever - any point at which you were told explicitly-- - So the incest, all that stuff gets lost, obviously.
Yeah, and that's the whole point of the scene like - literally goes out the window.
- Yeah.
We had this great opportunity when HBO decided to pick up the series despite, um, all the problems with the pilot, we got a chance to go back and re-write it, you know, and ended up re-shooting a great deal of the pilot and unlike a feature where you're kind of screwed - if when you test-screen it, it's just a complete fiasco.
- Yeah.
Um, we were actually able to rectify some of those problems.
Well, the great things about just doing a TV series in general is that every season, you get to refine things-- even things that are working, you-- that's working, how can we make it work better.
Before production runs, you've got everything in place, - or are you writing while-- - Well, we have to-- yeah.
You have to-- because of location? We have to have all the scripts done because we-- Yeah, because, uh, we shoot-- last season we shot in four different countries.
The entire season's cross boarded, so the first scene we shot for season three was from the tenth episode.
- Uh, the final episode.
- Wow-- okay.
So we have to have all-- the lucky thing for us is - there are only ten episodes per season, luckily.
- Yeah.
So it's, uh, you know, about 600 pages that we have to have first drafts at least done by June.
- We start shooting in July-- - You can refine as you go.
You can refine in ways that don't major-- majorly impact production, so what people are saying to each other can change and basic like staging can change but you can't, especially with more production heavy scenes, you can't really be making enormous changes at the last minute because that's not the way our show works.
Although, we do always end up adding a couple of scenes before.
- Yeah-yeah, there-there is-- - So it becomes a challenge when you're-- when you're shooting November days in Belfast and you have eight hours of daylight, but that turned out to be a luxury compared to shooting days in Iceland in December when we had four and a half - or five hours of daylight.
- Wow.
- Very civilized work day because-- - Yeah.
- Yeah.
- Eight hours and you're done.
Well, let's relax.
Seriously-- you go back to the hotel at 4 o'clock and the whole crew's sitting there and drinking and it's a lot of fun, but it's really hard to get-- especially if you have an action scene, if you have a sword fight as we did in the second season, um, Jon Snow and Qhorin Halfhand and they've gotta get, um, the whole fight I think it took one day to shoot it.
Yeah, 'cause I mean George has said on many occasions, that having grown tired of the restrictions put on him by ten years of working in television and Hollywood, he wanted to just let his imagination run wild and finally, sit down and write something that was completely unproduceable, and that's- that's the show that we're producing.
Coming up, how to edit a gruesome, murder scene.
I mean, I think there are moments where the gore is pushed too far-- it can start to become ridiculous.
With some shots, it's the difference between like four frames.
Are you serious? Welcome back to "The Writers' Room" with "Game Of Thrones.
" Way down the road, wrapped everything, what are you gonna steal from the sets? Everything.
Well, everything but like, if they say, "You get one thing.
" There's some swords I'd probably take.
- There's some swords.
- Yeah.
I mean, we have three of the original dragon's eggs.
Go with him and point to it.
And-and, one of them we gave to George Martin when he got married, um, two years ago, so he got one of the dragon eggs.
So there are two left, so those would be-- those would be nice keepsakes.
Yeah-yeah, you gotta take those-- those are good.
There are two left, so.
For me, I would take any of those war-room type tables.
Yeah, that would be nice.
I think Stannis has the best one.
Stannis has the best one, yeah.
I-I-- this should be that.
You need a big dinning room for that table.
It's about this size.
No, your plates will always sit like this, on the mountains.
Be hard to sneak that one out of the set.
It's great for love-making.
It's great for love-making because all the pieces fall down as we know and then, you can have a really weird, - dark creature come out of your woo-woo.
- Yeah.
In speaking of just-- 'cause I'm only curious 'cause I think someone else made it up but that sex position thing, did that come from one of you guys? No, someone else coined that phrase-- I don't even know who gets credit for that-- sex position refers to a scene where there's some kind of information dump and expository scene but you're distracted from the exposition by the copious sex on-screen, which I think we are unfairly sometimes accused of doing this 'cause there are some scenes which are just sex scenes and people are like, "Oh, there's another sex position scene.
" There's no exposition.
It's not sex position, if there's nobody talking.
I know, that's what-- and-- but what I-- if you have it in your mind, you're like, "Oh, I can just check out.
This is exposition.
" You know, and then, you go, "Wait-- what just happened?" And then, on the other side of that coin, is violence, what is too much for people? What is your take on that? - Because you have both in this.
- Mm-hmm.
I think we've made mistakes in that, on that front, meaning there are moments where the violence is pushed-- not so much the violence, but the gore is pushed too far, it can start to become ridiculous and something that might work in "Evil Dead II" - isn't gonna work in a show with, you know, this tone.
- Yeah.
So for instance, there's a scene in the first season where a man is killed, a lance goes through his throat and you see him gurgling and dying on the ground and looking back on that, I think we have like seven seconds of him - with blood com-- - Yes.
It's literally, it's a matter of like there's a second or two seconds - can be the difference between horrible and funny.
- Yeah.
And it's, you know, you're in a hurry, you're editing under immense time pressures and sometimes you-- sometimes you-- even it's- with some shots, it's the difference between like four frames or five frames could be the difference between horrible and funny and there are times where we've probably-- gone to the-- gone to the funny side.
I mean, Ned's execution is another-- you know, originally that was supposed to be, you would see the sword passing clean through his neck and you would see, um, the stump of his neck and blood pouring out, and so then, we ended up having a big argument about exactly which frame to end the sword.
So you see it just passing through the skin and then, cut out.
If you didn't read the book first, and you say you just went right to the TV series, you might not understand - the rule that any of these characters could be gone.
- Mm-hmm.
Like any one of these could meet their fate at any one point and I think until you knew about Ned, - that might have been a shock.
- Mm-hmm.
Did you guys feel that sort of shock? Well, in our experience in reading the book, you come to this genre with a certain set of expectations and that's one of them, that the hero is-- You identify with the hero, the guy who seems like he's the centerpiece of the action and he's gonna carry you through and he's gonna get into tight situations, but he's gonna find his way out of them and so, the experience of reading-- I remember vividly reading that chapter where-where Ned ends up getting beheaded and I-I was reading it with an eye towards trying to - figure out how he was going to get saved at the last minute.
- Yeah.
Right up until the paragraph where the blade came down on his neck-- You don't think it's gonna be real.
And I went back and read again-- it was like, "Okay, is this really him? Is it-- Am I missing something here?" It took like a minute for it to sink in that he had actually just chopped the head off of somebody whose life and continued existence in the story I took for granted.
And that made the-- in hindsight, and especially going forward, made the whole book, the whole series of books so much weightier to me, 'cause it meant that when somebody was in a dangerous situation, they were in - a dangerous situation.
- Yes.
This is one of those casts if I got in, they'd kill me right away-- I just feel like it.
I feel like somehow, they'd work me into a nudity scene and they go, "Let's cut him.
" Jim gets killed by a whore.
Just write that down.
You got that-- "Jim killed by whore.
" "Whores kill Jim.
" Coming up, when making an epic series feels like waging war.
Storm in Malta just blown our entire set into the ocean, pieces of our production design fly out to sea.
Welcome back to "The Writers' Room" and "Entertainment Weekly's," "The Last Word.
" All right, we're now joined by Jess Cagle from "Entertainment Weekly"-- welcome.
Jess Cagle: Thank you very much-- thank you, guys.
When you were embarking on this, with such a massive undertaking, and you had a network to keep happy, you had George Martin to keep happy, you had your own ideas about what it was gonna be, did you ever have that moment where you thought, "We're not gonna be able to pull this off.
" Well, there were a couple of them, but I remember in the middle of the first season, everything had not been as smooth as possible and we got this week where if that week of scenes hadn't worked, it felt like we were gonna-- we were gonna be put over-- shunted over to - the disaster control department and like taken-- - This is while you were shooting? - Oh, yeah-- in the middle-- in the middle of the season.
- While we were shooting.
And we-- you know, we just had our whole-- a storm in Malta just blown our entire set into the ocean, like I remember sitting there in the middle of gale force winds watching pieces of our production design fly out to sea with Timmy Van Patton, the director.
And you know, that costs unforeseen expenses and we got to a place where we've gotten veiled versions of-of, uh, "This is your Waterloo" from the network and that was a time when I really felt like we were flipping a coin on whether or not the show was gonna work.
Yeah, one of our producers said, "This week is our Waterloo moment.
It's not clear yet whether we're Napoleon--" That is a terrible thing to hear-- "This is your Waterloo moment.
" Well, between that and your friends saying there was massive problems.
- That was a bad moment.
- You were reached by all those things.
The fans are so passionate about the show.
How much does that weigh on your creative process? I think you can get a little bit crazed if you spend too much time on the message boards, and there's certainly been you know, writers who take part in the message board debates and I think I would just lose my mind.
I think I would-I would-- 'cause I would be constantly debating with these people in my head and having arguments and, um-- Would you ever jump into the fray and like start writing answers.
- No, that's-- - You would get in-- - I was gonna say they argue among - themselves-- you'll-you'll like if you really start reading them-- - Right.
'Cause I've seen those on Community as well, and they'll get mad at each other-- "How dare you! How dare you!" And it's like, what's happening? Why are you fighting? Sometimes, I'll like scroll through them just to, you know, do a quick pass through and then you'll see-- you'll land on somebody complaining that you got the relative troop strengths - of the different families wrong and then that's-- - And then, it's all over.
What was the most difficult role for you to cast? Uh, Jaime Lannister was a tough one because you realize we're looking for someone who was late 30's, had to be very good looking as part of the character and charismatic, um, and has to be a great actor and you realize that all those things mean that the person's a movie star, and so basically, we found a Dane, like we found this great Danish actor, um, because if he had been English or American, he already would be a movie star and now, Nikolaj's becoming one, of course.
- He's a great looking guy.
- I remember goin' out for this-- ahem.
- Yeah.
- You said "Very good looking," so I was like, "Yeah, probably went out for this.
" It was Jim and Nikolaj and they had the cage match.
Okay-- that's all the time we have for "The Writers' Room.
" I wanna thank my guests, David Benioff and Dan Weiss for being with us and Jess Cagle.
If you'd like to see more of "The Writers' Room," go to sundancechannel.
com and, uh, now, let's just pretend like we're drinking ale and havin' a great time.
Huzzah! [Laughing] Now watch-- now watch.
Yeah, that's pretty good, right?