Despite the numerous such changes seen in the recent live-action adaptations of their respective works, Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin and The Sandman creator Neil Gaiman have claimed they despise Hollywood’s tendency to unnecessarily alter a given piece of source material when adapting it to the small or silver screens.
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The two storied authors gave their thoughts on Hollywood’s “obligation to be faithful to the written material” during an October 27th speaking engagement at New York City’s Symphony Space.
As reported by Variety, the event was hosted by Gaiman and held as part of Martin’s promotional tour for his upcoming The Rise of the Dragon: An Illustrated History of the Targaryen Dynasty, Volume One reference book.
Speaking to a number of topics related to his career, including how he handled his success and even his desire to hear feedback from fans – “Maybe you’re gonna throw rotten fruit at me. Maybe you’re going to applaud. But I want to know what you thought of the story and the characters.” – Martin eventually turned to discuss Hollywood’s propensity for overwriting an author’s original intent.
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Noting that this concept of being ‘faithful’ to source materials was “controversial” among the industry, Martin explained, “How faithful do you have to be? Some people don’t feel that they have to be faithful at all.”
“There’s this phrase that goes around: ‘I’m going to make it my own,’” the writer continued. “I hate that phrase. And I think Neil probably hates that phrase, too.”
To this, Gaiman explicitly confirmed, “I do.”
“I spent 30 years watching people make Sandman their own,” he recalled. “And some of those people hadn’t even read Sandman to make it their own, they’d just flipped through a few comics or something.”
However, recognizing that certain changes are sometimes necessary to help translate a story to a completely different medium, Martin then proceeded to clarify his opinion, asserting “there are changes that you have to make — or that you’re called upon to make — that I think are legitimate. And there are other ones that are not legitimate.”
To illustrate his point, Martin harkened back to his work adapting the sci-fi author Roger Zelazny’s story The Last Defender of Camelot for an episode of the late-1980s Twilight Zone revival.
According to Martin, due to budgetary restrictions put in place by CBS, the network forced him to choose between accentuating a battle scene with either a full unit of horses or a detailed backdrop.
Eventually, after consulting with Zelazny himself, he chose to cut the warriors’ steeds – a decision, which Martin argued, was “to my mind, the kind of stuff you are called upon to do in Hollywood that is legitimate.”
Conversely, the author offered up the studio’s demand that the episode add an “ordinary person” – the bandit Tom, as portrayed by John Cameron Mitchell – to both serve as an audience surrogate and elevate the story to their vision of “high concept” as an example of an illegitimate change.
“I was new to Hollywood,” Martin lamented. “I didn’t say, ‘You’re f–king morons.’”
As noted above, this rhetoric is particularly coming from Gaiman and Martin considering the various creative liberties they not only allowed, but outright endorsed in Hollywood’s take on their seminal stories.
When The Sandman made the leap to Netflix, the iconic characters of Death and John Constantine were race- and gender-swapped, respectively, out of Gaiman’s desire (as described by producer Allan Heinberg) to make the series as “inclusive as possible“.
Gaiman even seems to have outright approached his original work with the intent to alter it.
In an August interview with UK news outlet Express, the author touted how “It was incredibly liberating to be able to look at everything in Sandman from a perspective of now. And getting to ask, ‘Well, if I was beginning writing this story now, would I still do that?’”
This is to say nothing of the changes HBO has made to Martin’s work under his watch.
Aside from Game of Thrones’ absolute butchering – which Martin has admitted was the regrettable result of him allowing himself to be pushed out of the series’ creative process – the characters and events of its sequel/prequel series, House of the Dragon, have also seen their fair share of changes in the transition to television.
These include House Valeryon being race-swapped, Laenor surviving his duel with Ser Qarl Correy, and perhaps most notably, Alicent and Rhaenyra developing the close childhood friendship upon which much of the adaptations’ narrative is built.
Suffice to say, reality contrasts starkly with Gaiman and Martin’s professed sentiments.
House of the Dragon is set to begin filming its second season in early 2023. Meanwhile, there have been no confirmed plans for a second season of The Sandman.