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David Benioff rolled a nascent career as a novelist into that of a much-desired screenwriter of both blockbuster films and smaller, darker thrillers, before scoring a monster hit with his first venture into television as creator of the HBO series "Game of Thrones" (2011- ). Benioff published his first novel, The 25th Hour, in 2001 and went on to adapt it for a 2002 film directed by Spike Lee. Though he would publish a second novel in 2008, Benioff became a hot commodity as a screenwriter, winning major paydays for his script for the big-budget revision of the Homeric epic, "Troy" (2004), and his heady psychological thriller "Stay"(2005), helmed by Marc Forster. He collaborated with Forster again on the 2007 adaptation of the best-selling Afghanistan-set adventure novel The Kite Runner, and continued to score varying degrees of success with the taut aftermath-of-war suspense drama "Brothers" (2009) and the more typical Hollywood programmer "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (2009). In 2007, HBO hired Benioff, in tandem with friend and literary compatriot D.B. Weiss, to helm an ambitious venture, the sprawling sword-and-sorcery tale "Game of Thrones." Populated with some of Britain and Ireland's most respected...
David Benioff rolled a nascent career as a novelist into that of a much-desired screenwriter of both blockbuster films and smaller, darker thrillers, before scoring a monster hit with his first venture into television as creator of the HBO series "Game of Thrones" (2011- ). Benioff published his first novel, The 25th Hour, in 2001 and went on to adapt it for a 2002 film directed by Spike Lee. Though he would publish a second novel in 2008, Benioff became a hot commodity as a screenwriter, winning major paydays for his script for the big-budget revision of the Homeric epic, "Troy" (2004), and his heady psychological thriller "Stay"(2005), helmed by Marc Forster. He collaborated with Forster again on the 2007 adaptation of the best-selling Afghanistan-set adventure novel The Kite Runner, and continued to score varying degrees of success with the taut aftermath-of-war suspense drama "Brothers" (2009) and the more typical Hollywood programmer "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (2009). In 2007, HBO hired Benioff, in tandem with friend and literary compatriot D.B. Weiss, to helm an ambitious venture, the sprawling sword-and-sorcery tale "Game of Thrones." Populated with some of Britain and Ireland's most respected but relatively unknown thespians, it quickly became a cable TV phenomenon upon its 2011 premiere. Transitioning to TV production both of massive scale and nearly universally acclaimed genius, Benioff and Weiss seemingly overnight made themselves ballyhooed television hitmakers, the darlings of critics and fanatical genre programming audiences alike.
Benioff was born David Friedman in New York City in 1970, the youngest of three children of Barbara Benioff Friedman and Stephen Friedman. He grew up a child of privilege, as his father was an executive with investment bank Goldman Sachs, and later, an advisor to U.S. president George W. Bush and chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As a boy, David gravitated to all things literary, fancying comic books and classic far-flung fantasy such as Homer's Iliad and J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, his imagination supplemented by an affinity for playing Dungeons & Dragons. He offset his self-described geekiness by joining the wrestling team at New York's exclusive secondary school, the Collegiate School. Upon graduating in 1988, he attended the Ivy League bastion Dartmouth College and went on to do post-graduate work at Dublin's venerable Trinity College, where he secured a masters in Irish literature with a thesis on Samuel Beckett. At Trinity, he met another American expatriate and Irish lit student, as well as an aspiring writer and D&D gamer, Dan Weiss, and the two continued to be close friends upon their return to the U.S. At this point in his young life, Benioff made a decision to log some life experience, reportedly working stints as a bouncer, a DJ and teacher in various locales across the U.S.
Meanwhile, he worked on his own fiction, bouncing his works off Weiss along the way and, like most aspiring writers, racking up his share of rejection slips. He returned to school at the University of California at Irvine, graduating with an MFA in creative writing in 1999. For his thesis, he used his novel The 25th Hour, a moody tale of a convicted New York drug dealer given a last night in the company of two disparate friends to ruminate about the path that led him to his upcoming seven-year prison term. He sold the book to Viking Press, which published it in 2001 to generally positive reviews. Entertainment Weekly cited Benioff for "show[ing] a knack for critiquing his genre while revitalizing its clichés." Disney optioned the film rights and did a deal with director Spike Lee to bring it to the big screen, while Benioff was given the job of writing the screenplay. Lee's "25th Hour" was released in 2002, with Edward Norton in the starring role and Barry Pepper, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Edward Norton as his buddies. The film made a respectable $24 million off a $5 million budget. Abruptly granted Hollywood "It" status, he began dating a young starlet, Amanda Peet. The couple married in 2006 and started a family the following year. His screenplay "Stay" was given the rare one-day auction treatment in Hollywood production offices and wound up netting $1.8 million from Regency Pictures and 20th Century Fox. Warner Bros.' payout for his script for a cinematic action film about the mythical Trojan War, "Troy," reportedly topped that. The latter received epic treatment under the helm of Wolfgang Petersen, given a $175 million budget, much of it going into breathtaking CGI imagery and paying the star-studded cast that included Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, Peter O'Toole, Sean Bean, Brian Cox and Julie Christie. The film opened to mixed reviews as an early summer blockbuster entry, but went on to nearly $500 million in global box-office receipts.
Also in 2004, Benioff published his second book, a collection of short stories, When the Nines Roll Over (And Other Stories). "Stay," given a remarkable $50 million budget for a dark thriller under the direction of Marc Foster, also benefited from a high-powered cast, including Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Ryan Gosling and Bob Hoskins. McGregor took the lead as a psychiatrist attempting to unravel the mysteries of a suicidal patient (Gosling) by enlisting the aid of his own once-suicidal girlfriend (Watts) but as he nears the truth, finds his own sense of reality shattering. The film enjoyed glowing reviews upon its 2005 release, but did an anemic $8 million at the box office. Benioff next scored big-ticket scripting duties on an upcoming spin-off of Marvel Comics/20th Century Fox's "X-Men" franchise, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," and went to work with Forster again on an adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's best-selling novel The Kite Runner, the tale of an Afghan man's odyssey searching for his childhood friend, a journey that extends through his coming of age and tumultuous events that would shatter that country for over two decades. Released in 2007, it earned impressive worldwide gross of $70 million off a $20 million budget, a remarkable performance for a prestige film using mostly unknown actors speaking the Dari language.
Meanwhile, he and Weiss had begun reading and exchanging notes on George R.R. Martin's series of fantasy novels under the rubric of A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin's agent had contacted Benioff with the books with the intention of pitching an adaptation as a television series to HBO. In 2007, they made the sale to the cable channel, with Benioff and Weiss as co-creators, executive producers, show-runners and writers of nearly the entire series. In 2008, Viking Penguin published Benioff's second novel, City of Thieves, a comic tale of two Russian youths during World War II scouring besieged Leningrad to find eggs for a Soviet officer. Benioff's 2009 would prove just as eventful. "Wolverine" landed as a summer blockbuster, an action-packed narrative of the surly X-Man's backstory as an indestructible 150-plus year-old Canadian supersoldier, and went on to net $370 million worldwide. A much darker project, "Brothers," which Benioff had adapted from the 2004 Danish film "Brødre," made waves in the prestige film niche later that year. It starred Tobey Maguire as a U.S. veteran of the Afghan war, thought lost, but returning home a disturbed, violent man convinced of an illicit romance between his brother and wife (Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman). The film, made for $26 million, nearly doubled that figure at the box office. Benioff and Weiss meanwhile ramped up production of their HBO series, giving it the title of Martin's first book, "Game of Thrones."
The epic fantasy adventure, based on George R.R. Martin's best-selling series of novels, A Song of Ice and Fire, chronicled the power struggle for the eponymous Iron Throne, the seat of power on the mythical continent of Westeros. Comprised of various fiefdoms and family dynasties, the players in the multi-sided gambit of violence and political intrigue were the usurping Baratheons, the wealthy Lannisters, the island-dwelling Greyjoys, and the noble Starks, a clan from the rugged northern region of Westeros. With such scope and a cast of 160, mostly drawing on British and Irish stage actors and young up-and-comers, the production would be nearly unprecedented for a TV series, the first season budget estimated at between $50 million and $60 million, with location shoots in Ireland, Iceland, Malta and Croatia. The show debuted in spring 2011 to rave reviews, developing tsunami of pop cultural buzz and seeing ratings climb throughout the season to reach an impressive-for-cable 3 million-plus viewers on initial airing, and an average of 9 million per episodes with rebroadcasts. The show earned 13 Emmy nominations in summer 2011, with Peter Dinklage, the lone American in a major role as the rapier-tongued, pragmatic "imp" Tyrion Lannister, taking the Emmy for Best Supporting Actor. The series' success outpaced even that of the original novels. In 2015 alone, the series scored a total of 24 Emmy nominations and won 12, including Outstanding Drama Series; it was a record for most Emmy Awards won in a single season.
By Matthew Grimm
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