HBO's hit show Game of Thrones thrives on social media. But you can't say the same of George R.R. Martin, its original author.
A George R.R. Martin Twitter account, for instance, has almost 50,000 followers -- but no updates at all. (FYI, it's not a Twitter-verified account. If it's a fake, it's a fairly convincing one, in a contrarian sort of way.) Martin's Web site could most charitably be described as having a distinctly late 1990s look, and his "Not a Blog" -- which the author does update fairly regularly -- is hosted on... LiveJournal.
At the San Francisco premiere of Thrones' third season Wednesday night, Martin admitted to writing his novels on a PC that still runs MS-DOS, using WordStar 4.0. "I would still prefer to tie parchments to the legs of ravens," the author joked.
Twitter Is Coming
Things couldn't be more different at the show itself. At the premiere event, series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss said that Twitter allows them to receive real-time feedback of what works and what doesn't. Martin added that he believed worldwide hits like Thrones helping to break down licensing barriers around the world.
"One of the things that's really fun about Twitter in particular is that there's a fan site Winter Is Coming, and they do this sort of real time, as the show airs, what people are saying on Twitter," Benioff said. "And for us, we don't get to watch the shows with an audience. For us, it's a rare thing where we're there with a group of people. Mainly it's people watching TV in their homes. So it's not a communal experience.
"The one thing that's fun about the Twitter feed is that the reactions in real time the shocking moment, whether it's Ned's death, the way Twitter lights up," Benioff added. "So it's fascinating, just fascinating to see. There's the world map of Twitter, where people can see what's trending and it spikes in Turkey. And to know that our show is popular in Turkey, that's fantastic."
In the years before cable television and DVRs, a limited number of broadcast TV channels forced Americans to choose from a small selection of programs at any one time, creating a built-in audience. As cable channels proliferated, American audiences splintered. And while studio execs can test-screen both movies and TV shows, Twitter provides provides genuine fan input that the executives said they take to heart.
"Sometimes we'll watch an episode and have the Twitter feed going, and it's just like being in a theater, in a way," Weiss said. "It sort of brings the communal nature of the experience back after it disappeared for so long."
Martin's Own Song Of Ice...
At age 64, Martin has prompted concerns that he, like fellow epic fantasy writer Robert Jordan, won't live to see his series conclude. The fifth book, A Dance with Dragons, was published in 2011. HBO's third season covers the first half of A Storm of Swords, the third book in the series.
"It's coming," Martin said of the sixth book, The Winds of Winter. "It's not going to be done next week. It's going to be another giant, 1,500 page book. But I'm making progress. I don't feel comfortable predicting when these things are going to be done, because every time I do I turn out to be wrong and then everybody gets upset."
For all of his anachronistic writing style, however, Martin showed a distinct aptitude for understanding his fans' mindset, especially regarding piracy.
... And Fire
We have to contend with our show being the most pirated show in the world, with most of it coming from Australia. They delay it six months there, so people won't wait before they download it. I think we're moving toward a thing where there will be no more delays, to make a show in America where the American director, studio, or producers [won't] sell it to foreign markets, and broadcasters puts it on six months later or whenever they feel like putting it on. That's gone now.
Martin added that he was proud to work with HBO, which commits to an entire season of a new show, in contrast to the fickle whims of network executives. Had The Wire debuted on NBC, he said, it would have been off the air in three episodes. (And that's being charitable.)
His comments prompted a question to Benioff and Weiss -- did they expect to air adaptations of Martin's entire series on HBO?
"God, I hope so," Benioff responded. When the two went to HBO to pitch the show, it was a rare thing to have creators know exactly where the show was going to begin, move through, and end. (Martin has revealed to the two how he expects Thrones to wrap up.)
"I think it would be something that we would be proud of for our whole lives," Benioff said. "You don't get that many chances for something that special. We're hoping we can make it."