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Jacinta Filiaci

Cine 399: Production Studies

Professor Daniel Steinhart

March 10th, 2016

The Television Auteur

Based on George R.R. Martins series of fantasy novels, A Song of Ice

and Fire, HBOs Game of Thrones found instant notoriety after its initial

release in 2011. Five years, five seasons and approximately five hundred

nominations later, the show continues to thrive despite its gradual departure

from the novels. As this divergence nears and audiences only grow larger,

show-runners, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, work tenaciously as they

attempt to meet the on-going demands of network executives and viewers

worldwide, as well as tell a story true to Martins books, and to their artistic

vision. These mounting demands depict the conflicting attributes of film as

both an industry and an art form, especially in a modern, globalized, and

fast-paced society. The developing command of network executives has

hindered the significance of authorship and the concept of the auteur.

Originating in France in the late 1940s, the Auteur theory refers to the

authorship of a film. In the wake of this notion, individuals began to

recognize filmmakers for their individual styles, aesthetic tendencies, and

overall artistic signature a signature distinct enough to be recognized

without the knowledge of their very involvement. There was a larger

emphasis on creators, gaining the same significance an author would for a

book. With the Auteur theory came Andre Bazins concept of camra-stylo,

translating directly into camera pen (Caldwell 197). This contributed to the

view of film as a novel, as a somewhat audiovisual syntax and the

filmmaker as the writer. In this instance, as the show-runners and brains

behind The Game of Thrones, Benioff and Weiss are by definition the auteurs,

envisioning and adapting Martins novels onto screen.

After the 1940s and the end of the French New Wave, Auteurism

began to transform. This transformation was the result of the constantly

shifting nature of film as an industry. Technical advances and the growing

abundance of television sets at home further monetized and militarized the

film industry drastically transforming film from an artistic expression into a

money-making machine. This new militarized, mechanic and somewhat

artificial production system of film indicated a greater disconnect between

the workers behind the product from the product itself. Like a good factory, it

had a bureaucratic system it had a chain of command, a conveyer-belt

structure and most importantly, ultimate efficiency (Caldwell 132). This

simulated system contributed to the death of the auteur, or the birth to what

John Caldwell refers to as the Industrial Auteur. The auteur began to lose

creative control over their work because of the increasing power of network

executives or studio heads, rapid production systems, and the growing

emphasis of film as a business in general. Auteurism was dominated by a

greater focus on studios and networks as distinctive personas, with

identifiable traits and signatures recognizable to the everyday viewer. The

auteur was reduced into a commercial construct, with networks using names

almost solely for the purpose of their market value. This is exemplified in the

use of titles such as Hitchcock presents - words instantaneously, and

perhaps even subconsciously, adding worth to the text. This notion remains

true to this day, exhibited in the very first trailer of The Game of Thrones

back in 2011. The trailer showcases a collection of scenes along with the

words, HBO presents, emphasizing on the identity and notoriety of the

network as opposed to the show-runners, Benioff and Weiss, or even the

mastermind: Martin.

Dating back to its initial launch in the 1970s, Home box Office (or HBO)

has exceeded the lifespan of any other network, being the United States

oldest operative pay television service (Time Warner). Over these years, HBO

has gained premium status as well as becoming a household name (or

brand) worldwide. It has created an almost immediate association with

quality and separated itself from basic television, with its famous sentiment

Its not TV, its HBO. This superiority is illustrated by its ongoing

internationally increasing subscription rates despite its premium payment.

This success was aided by the emergence of quality television. Before the

twenty-first century, the supremacy of movies over television was

unquestionable. Movies were for big theatre spectacle releases, exceptional

seating, technical services, and of course ticket charges and overpriced

popcorn movie going was an event. However, with a shifting technological

and social environment, the act of movie going was declining. The movie

theatre transformed into the comfort of ones living room and the movie, a

television show. Quality television, as its name very plainly suggests, refers

to the value of text, this value displayed by a series mis-en-scene or

narrative structure. It is an attribute aiming towards a smaller, upscale niche

of viewers and critics. Moreover, after HBOs immense success with shows

such as The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire, the network began to profit off

its promise for quality; quality programming was crucial in the networks

competitive advantage (Steiner 182). This aspect is evident in The Game of

Thrones, with an annual release of solely ten fifty-minute episodes. From the

very first episode, the series already demonstrated its higher value through

its complicated storylines, multitude of characters, and exceptional on-

location sets and camera work. Its success went beyond its niche of quality

viewers /critics, book-fans, or fantasy-fanatics, appealing now to worldwide

mainstream media.

The term show-runner is fairly recent, emerging with the increasing

popularity of television. The significance of the show-runner was elevated

with the cultivation of quality television - this significance almost nostalgic of

the precedent auteurism. Christopher Shultz highlights this significance in

his piece Show-runners, The Authors of TV Land, defining show-runners as:

Hyphenates, a curious hybrid of starry-eyed artists and tough-as-nails

operational managers. They're not just writers; they're not just producers.

They hire and fire writers and crewmembers, develop story lines, write
scripts, cast actors, mind budgets and run interference with studio and
network bosses. It's one of the most unusual and demanding, right-brain/left-
brain job descriptions in the entertainment world.

Shultz even goes as far as arguing that show-runners possess more

autonomy than filmmakers, referring to a series as simply a long movie, or

even an on-screen novel once again a description reflective of auteurism.

Many scholars have attempted to decipher and define the multifaceted role

of a show-runner, especially in a complex and highly industrial setting.

Lavery David examines this role by exploring the required characteristics of a

successful show-runner. A striking characteristic he mentions is the ability to

discover talented writers with a fresh distinct voice, though one conforming

to the voice of the series (Lavery 7). This description is of significance

because of its implied marriage between auteurism and bureaucracy. It

suggests auteurisms use of a distinct signature, though in a modern and

collective context. This combination is often referred to as the collective

auteur (Steiner 182). The show-runner-auteur collective behind Game of

Thrones consists of Benioff, Weiss, and Martin. In fact, after the success of

the show, HBO executives promoted this collaboration to add value to the

series. This was done with the use of promotional paratexts. A paratext

signifies the substance in-between audiences, industries and texts texts

such as episodes of The Game of Thrones (Gray 23). Paratext can enhance

the experience of spectators as well as promote it. HBO endorses the Benioff,

Weiss, and Martin team with great bodies of paratext, from behind-the-

scenes footage to scene analyses televised immediately after the episodes

credits. After a few seasons and the thoughtful application of paratexts,

Martins initials GRRM have become world renowned together with the

combination of Benioff and Weiss first names, packaged as the memorable

and alliterative, Dan and Dave.

In a world of contemporary television, collective-auteurism is almost

inevitable. This is especially true in the case of The Game of Thrones, with its

astonishing use of multiple, international, and on-location sights. With tight

deadlines and diverse locations, scenes are shot simultaneously in different

countries, in which Benioff and Weiss cannot physically attend to. These

factors therefore result in the shows usage of multiple producers and

directors, and ultimately the contemporary and delegated collective-

auteurist structure. Despite the extensive amount of above-the-line

contributors, even to its fifth season, the show continues to exhibit a

coherent voice and signature through each of its episodes due to the success

of Benioff and Weiss as show-runners.

Aside from the rising importance of show-runners, a greater emphasis

on network demands continues to exist. This is exhibited in the critical failure

of the recent season of HBOs original series, True Detective. Despite the

shows notable reputation and exceptional cast, the show rapidly declined in

its second season. HBO president, Michael Lombardo publically addressed

this failure, urging individuals to fault him rather than the shows cast or its

creator, Nic Pizzolatto. He humbly classifies it as a matter of timing as well as

his over-identification with his role as a network executive, during an

interview explaining, when we tell somebody to hit an air date as opposed

to allowing the writing to find its own natural resting place, when its ready,

when its bakedweve failed, (Robinson, Vanity Fair). Lombardos

reasoning correlates quite firmly with what Caldwell described as the conflict

between the creatives and the suits. This conflict derives from the over-

involvement of network executives, whether through the requesting of show

changes or a suffocating presence on set (Caldwell 198). In the case of

Pizzolatto, one who is frequently described as an uncompromising auteur

and insists on writing every episode himself, he was creatively constrained

by network deadlines and perhaps, exceeding expectations from the triumph

of the previous season.

As the sixth season of The Game of Thrones approaches its world

premiere, several individuals anticipate anxiously because the upcoming

season represents the official departure from the source material having

caught up to Martins novels in the previous season. Additionally, it was just

recently announced that Martins next book within the series, The Winds of

Winter, would not be completed prior to the release of season six (Sims, The

Independent). This is significant as it displays the varying expectations of

books to film, with Martins books spanning over a time period of twenty

years and The Game of Thrones only six. With impending network deadlines,

limited show budgets, and the instability of viewership, the release of the

next season cannot simply be postponed for the sake of Martins book

releases or the creative development of show-runners. Benioff and Weiss

must, indisputably, have ten exceptional episodes by their assigned and

expected release dates. This once again, highlights the complexity of film,

having to balance its role as an art form and as an industry. As The Game of

Thrones success thus far depicts, this balance has not yet completely

obstructed show-runners, Benioff and Weiss in their creative direction and

vision. However, their authorship over the text is clearly diminished and

overshadowed by the imminent demands of network executives. This

diminishment of Benioff and Weiss as auteurs will likely affect the quality and

direction of the show, as demonstrated with the flop of HBOs True Detective.

For example, HBO has expressed a desire to extend the shows previously

agreed lifespan of seven seasons because of its immense success (Carbone,

AOL). This extension would be based purely on the benefits of the networks

popularity and profits, as opposed to the actual length of the story being

told. HBOs pleas may very much affect the quality of the show as an

extension for instance, could result in an unwanted change in the shows


In conclusion, the modern view and emphasis on film as a business

have deterred the concept of the auteur and authorship. This emphasis will

only intensify as networks continue to compete for viewers and profits

through the rapid release of arguably unexceptional media. The hindrance of

authorship is significant as it affects the creative flexibility and control of

show-runners and filmmakers, as well as the quality of the content

eventually released into the market. Despite a shows reliance on network

funding and distributing, show-runners should be treated as auteurs. Even in

a modern and industrial society where information is produced and supplied

at optimum efficiency, ideas and the creative process remain immeasurable.


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in Quality TV, and the Case of Game of Thrones | Steiner | Series - International
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animation of Authorship in 21st Century American Television." (2010): n. pag.
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Sims, Alexandra. "The Winds of Winter Release Date: George RR Martin Says
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