EXCLUSIVE: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have taken on their first feature project since becoming the architects of the HBO series adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s Game Of Thrones, which opened its fourth season last Sunday. They’ve made a deal with Fox to write, direct and produce Dirty White Boys, the novel about three violent escaped convicts and the lawman who attempts to track them down. The 1995 novel was written by Stephen Hunter, who also wrote Point Of Impact, the novel that was turned into the Mark Wahlberg pic Shooter.
Benioff and Weiss have been forced to have tunnel vision because of the creative demands writing and exec producing the ambitious signature HBO series Game Of Thrones. This is the first project they’ve made a deal to direct together, and the first since they began the GoT journey. They said it all started while they were shooting the breeze with a bunch of writer pals.
“We’re sitting around bullsh*tting and we started talking about lines we were jealous of before it came around to the familiar topic of greatest opening lines in novels,” Benioff told me. “Our friend Scott Frank brought up the opening line of Dirty White Boys. To be honest, I’d never hear of the book before, even though we’d heard of Stephen Hunter’s sniper series. Scott mentioned that opening line from Dirty White Boys, and it made me go out and buy the book, and Dan bought the book, and then we got past that first line and just fell in love with it.” Said Weiss: “It does grab you, the first line, and what keeps you is that the characters are so well drawn, really charismatic and awful people, so flawed. I don’t think you’ll be able to print the first line, because it’s got prison-soaked racism and is just really out there.”
I thought about this, and figured, what the hell. Hunter wrote it. I didn’t. Here’s the line: “Three men at McAlester State Penitentiary had larger penises than Lamar Pye, but all were black and therefore, by Lamar’s own figuring, hardly human at all.”
Pyle, who right after this line engages in extremely violent preventive measures to thwart a rape attempt by the inmates he’s describing, is the Alpha Male leader of the trio of escapees that includes his deformed brother and Richard, an artistically gifted inmate who tags along because he won’t survive without Lamar’s protection. They are tracked by Bud Pewtie, a flawed state trooper. This evokes comparisons to No Country For Old Men, but here, the difference in the book and the creative challenge for the film is to make the villains embraceable anti-heroes.
“There is that parallel, but you have to fall in love with these characters,” Benioff said. “I’m a huge fan of Cormac McCarthy and the film adaptation, but that villain is the devil incarnate. Here, the villains do horrible things, but you feel for them. For Dan and I, we started writing Game Of Thrones in 2006, and this book could not be more different, a contemporary thriller, but the characters are so well drawn that you become attached to them, good or bad, and you want to follow them.”
Benioff and Weiss are in postproduction on the remainder of Season 4 of GoT, and, they seem ideal for this feature assignment because they have no problem killing off cast or taking the action in outrageously ambitious directions. Just wait until Sunday’s episode, which I found to be one of the best episodes so far. This leaves them scant time to look for other work, but they when they find it, they will secure it and get to it when they can.
“This really is a 52-week a year job, so it’s not like we’re out there actively looking. But after Scott recommended it, the book sinks its claws into you, and you’re stuck,” Weiss said. “You have to let it take you where it’s going to take you and we look forward to seeing where this one is going to take us.”
The duo expects to hang around for what will likely be seven total seasons of the show (HBO just announced a renewal for Season 5 and Season 6), and they will get to it when they can. Then again, Fox acquired the book right when it was published and it has sat there patiently after a number of script drafts over the years.
“Game Of Thrones was too big a canvas for a movie, but Dirty White Boys is like a great old Western, there’s so much compression and it’s so pressurized, it demands to be told in one sitting,” Benioff said. “We’ve been able to work without stars, but here, there are two big star roles that are great. If we’d to compress the storytelling in Game Of Thrones, we’d have just mutilated the book.”
I asked if they’d started writing yet. “While I was in Hawaii recently, I started working on the rewrite of the first line,” Weiss joked. “No, the straight answer is, not yet. But its ours. You think about who’s better at adapting a crime novel like this than Scott Frank. We are just so grateful that he is always so busy.” They are repped by CAA, Management 360 and attorney Gretchen Rush.