Dan Weiss has been an avid fantasy fan since he was a kid growing up in Highland Park. Now he’s sharing his passion for fantasy with people across the country as co-creator of Game of Thrones, a new cable television series that premieres April 17 on HBO.
The show is based on George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, which includes four New York Times best-selling books. The series is about courtly intrigue and politics between noble houses in a medieval-style fantasy world.
Weiss said in an e-mail interview that the first season of Game of Thrones will be based on the novel of the same name, with some items from later books thrown in. The fifth book in the series, A Dance with Dragons, is due out July 12, and Martin said he plans to write two more. Weiss said he’s unfazed by working on an adaptation of an unfinished series.
"Come July, we'll have five massive books from George, which would amount to at least five years of television, probably more like six or seven," he said. "Right now, we're just trying to make it to season two.”
Production has been an enormous task, with filming that includes hundreds of actors carrying out epic battle sequences. Despite the magnitude of the project, Weiss said he’s never regretted taking it on.
“There were definitely a few places where I was thinking, ‘What the hell have I gotten myself into?’ ” he said. “But there was never a second where I wondered, ‘Why the hell am I doing this?’ That's the most important thing."
One challenge Weiss has already faced is portraying the series’ world while keeping within the budget. The medieval setting requires not just ornate costumes but castles, dire wolves and a massive wall of ice.
“It's a challenging adaptation, to be sure,” Weiss said. “HBO has been very generous, but no amount of generosity is going to turn a show like ours into 'Avatar' on the budget front. So yes, we have to be very careful about how and where we spend our money."
It was budget issues that doomed HBO’s Rome, a critically acclaimed ratings success set during Rome’s transition from Republic to Empire. Its creators originally hoped to produce five seasons, but high expenses forced them to condense the series to two.
Weiss said he’s not worried about his show meeting a similar fate.
“We want to see this through to the end, but I don't spend a lot of time worrying about that,” he said “If it happens, it won't be for lack of effort on the part of all involved.”
Collaborators share love of literature and D&D
Weiss met his co-creator David Benioff at Trinity University in Dublin, Ireland, where the two were pursuing master’s degrees in Irish literature. Both are novelists--Weiss wrote Lucky Wander Boy and Benioff wrote the novel and script for The 25th Hour, which was turned into a film in 2002. They also shared an interest in the game Dungeons and Dragons, serving as dungeon masters to guide their friends through fantasy worlds populated by heroes and monsters.
“We've been close friends for a long time -- it's been a rare pleasure to get to work with someone I trust like a brother,” Weiss said about Benioff. “And honestly, with the amount of time you end up spending together, you better like each other. Otherwise you'd end up like those rock bands that are beating each other up on stage by the end of their first tour.”
Studying literature has given Weiss and Benioff more respect for authors, which has resulted in more care in considering any changes to Martin's source material for the sake of the television show.
“Knowing how hard their job is makes us think twice about changing things for the sake of changing them,” Weiss said. “Which isn't to say we don't change things, because books aren't television. But we both understand all-too-well the magnitude of George's achievement.”
The HBO series will be a faithful adaptation of Martin’s books, and Weiss said that the author has been onboard with the project since the beginning, even writing the script for the show’s eighth episode.
“He [Martin] also had an active role in the casting process, vetting all of the thousands of audition tapes we had online and consulting us about how they related to his characters as he saw them,” Weiss said. “He made several trips to the set, and weighed in on what we were doing right and what we were doing wrong.”
The cast includes Sean Bean, who played Boromir in The Lord of the Rings series of films, and Peter Dinklage, who starred in the indie film The Station Agent. One particularly inspired casting choice was Aidan Gillen, who played a sleazy politician on HBO’s The Wire. He will be playing the sleazy noble Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish in Game of Thrones.
When asked about Gillen, Weiss said the actor was his first choice for the role.
“Aidan is absolutely amazing,” he said. “We loved him on 'The Wire,' and he brings something uniquely fantastic to Littlefinger. I think people will love him.”
A promising talent early on
Dan’s mother, Laurie, said that her son was a prolific reader and writer from the time he asked her to teach him to read at age 3. The Highland Park resident said her son always had a book in hand and that the shelves of his boyhood room are still lined with hundreds of books ranging from history, art, music to science.
At , Dan Weiss was placed in a districtwide writing contest with an essay that seemed too good for an elementary school student to write.
“A friend on the committee convinced the judges that Dan was talented and had indeed written this by himself–that it was not a parent essay,” Laurie Weiss said.
Seeing David Setzler, the author of The Omen and a fellow Highland Park native, at the city's annual helped persuade Weiss to turn his love of writing into a career.
“I'd always wanted to write, ever since I was very young," Weiss said. "But when I was growing up in Highland Park, there weren't a lot of role models around for careers in the arts.
“So I saw this guy [Setzler], and he was flesh and blood like me, and he'd once been sitting in room A343 just like I was and I thought, ‘Hmmm. This is actually possible,” he added.