(Season one spoiler below)
Podcast listeners looking for a new fix should seek out Scriptnotes, hosted by John August (the screenwriter of Go, Big Fish, and several other Tim Burton projects) and Craig Mazin (the screenwriter of The Hangover sequels and Identity Thief). Scriptnotes is not only a regularly entertaining podcast, but it provides a ton of insight into the screenwriting process in terms of not only how screenplays are written, but how they are developed. Regular guests on the show include Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada) and Rawson Thurber (Dodgeball, We’re the Millers). Co-host Craig Mazin was also Ted Cruz’s college roommate and gets a lot of comedic milage out of talking frequently about what an “asshole” Cruz was in college.
This week, the podcast aired a live episode with Jason Bateman and Game of Thrones showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff. Turns out, Mazin — who also wrote Scary Movie 3 and Scary Movie 4 — had a small, but significant role in the development of the Game of Thrones pilot. As friends of Benioff and Weiss, Mazin was asked to watch the original pilot of Game of Thrones along with Scott Frank (the writer of Minority Report and Out of Sight) and offer his opinion.
It took Benioff and Weiss roughly four years to develop, write, and shoot the pilot, and as most people know, the original Game of Thrones pilot was not good, though it did include a death scene we never got to see.
The screening of the pilot did not go well. “Watching them watch that original pilot was one of the most painful experiences of my life,” Dan Weiss noted in the podcast. “As soon as it finished, Craig [Mazin] said, ‘You guys have a MASSIVE PROBLEM.’
“I was taking notes,” David Benioff added, “and I had this yellow legal pad, and I just remembered writing in ALL CAPS, ‘MASSIVE PROBLEM,’ and it’s all I could think about the rest of the night.”
Mazin was not wrong. In fact, Benioff and Weiss ended up reshooting 90 to 92 percent of the pilot. “Craig didn’t really have any great ideas,” Benioff said, “except that he said, ‘Change everything.'”
Mazin then chimed in to relay his experience watching the rewritten and reshot pilot at the eventual premiere. “I will never forget being invited to the premiere of the first season,” he said. “I went in just thinking (skeptically), ‘Well, I guess we’ll just see how this goes.'”
“I sat there and this show unfolds and I am stunned. STUNNED,” Mazin said. “And I very specifically remember walking out and I said to [Weiss and Benioff], ‘That is the biggest rescue in Hollywood history.’ Because it wasn’t just that they had saved something bad and turned it really good. You had saved a complete piece of sh*t and turned it into something brilliant. That never happens!”
The Game of Thrones showrunners also told the Scriptnotes podcast that HBO wasn’t “that excited about the initial [ratings] numbers” after the first episode, but fortunately the audience built and continues to build.
What about the working relationship between Weiss and Benioff? “I think in the 20-something years that I have known Dan,” David Benioff said, “I think he’s threatened to kill me while drunk at least three times. And not in a joke-y way, but like, ‘I will beat your skull in.'”
“And the next day I always tell him, ‘Dude, you threatened to kill me last night,’ and he never remembers.”
How do they eventually come to a compromise in their working relationship?
“Dan has this tactic, where he will write a 14-page email and he knows that after four or five pages, I will get so bored that I give up,” Benioff said, “so he always wins the arguments.”
“Oh fine, just chop off his head,” Benioff laughed.
And that’s how that happened.