Game of Thrones writer Bryan Cogman was recently announced as the writer for the live-action remake of the 1963 Disney movie The Sword in the Stone. Based on T. H. White’s novel, the book is about a young boy raised by Merlin to become King Arthur. Before he was signed to the deal to lead the remake, the Game of Thrones writer had a meeting with a Disney producer to discuss his vision for the movie. This is how the meeting transpired.*
A gust of cold office air greeted them as they entered the room with the mahogany conference table square in the center. The boardroom was kept cooler than the rest of the building to accommodate the large number of people it held. Instead of lawyers and executives however, today in the room sat a single man in casual attire. He was a producer from Disney, scheduled to meet Bryan Cogman and his agent to discuss their new film project.
“Please, pull up a chair,” the producer welcomed them as they walked in. “Sorry for the big room, the smaller ones were booked. Can I bring you something?”
“No, thank you. I’m really excited to get started. I have some great ideas for this, I’ve hardly been able to write them all down,” Cogman said, opening a scribble-filled notebook and turning its pages.
“Well let’s get started,” replied the producer. “You know, this is going to be really great, we’re really excited to have you on this project. It’s a classic, you know? King Arthur and the whole mythos – we’re about due for a remake and you’re just the guy.”
“So my first thought is, we have to capture the feel of the Middle Ages. It was a dangerous time in England and I think we can really capture that. So – and stay with me here – it starts with a torture scene.”
“Wait,” the producer said, visibly confused and slightly uncomfortable. He didn’t want to insult his guest, but he needed to clarify: “You know this is a children’s book, right?”
“He knows,” the agent said excitedly. “He’s brilliant.” He turned to Cogman. “You’re brilliant, sir,” he reassured his client.
Cogman went on. “And we need a love interest. The shortcoming of the animated film is the underrepresentation of women. We can have that now, you know? This day and age the social justice warriors would be up in a frenzy.”
The producer tilted his head in thoughtful approval. “I can see that. Okay, we play up a woman character so he has someone to love.”
“Not someone to love,” Cogman clarified. “Someone to lose. You see, we’ll have Arthur fall in love. I see them happy, I see them playing with children and a puppy.” He paused to think a moment. “A puppy, yes. We’ll age the puppy through the movie, that’ll be crucial. And then just before Arthur and his love have their destinies fulfilled… there will be a catastrophe. Maybe a war, even.”
“You’re a star, sir!” the agent burst out in joy, then turned to the producer and leaned too close to his face. “Isn’t he brilliant? He’s a star. Tell him. Go on, tell him he’s a star.”
The producer leaned back in his office chair, his head pulling away from the agent. Cogman continued, “I picture a scene of her running. She’s running through the woods, looking back, with a dozen soldiers chasing her. The dog is fully grown now, and he leaps to protect her.” The agent clapped his hands and bounced in his chair enthusiastically. “But they kill the dog. They kill him, and they capture the woman. And then they cut off the dog’s head and—“
“You can’t – I – you can’t do that.”
The Game of Thrones writer and his agent looked thoughtfully at the producer stumbling over his words, trying to explain.
“We can’t have that type of… scene… in this movie. It’s a kid’s film.”
“But the Middle Ages were violent, it was a terrible time for women. Shouldn’t we be realistic?”
“There’s a wizard,” the producer said. “The king is being chosen by a magic sword…”
“But it’s realistic. I won’t sacrifice my art to pander to these social justice warriors.”
“I don’t think you under—okay, let’s just pretend Merlin cast a spell to protect all the women. Can we do that?”
Cogman paused. His agent leaned in, his mouth agape, waiting for his master’s approval. “I can work with that,” Cogman said.
“The women can kill each other.”
“No, god, you’re missing the – no death, alright? No sex, none of that stuff.”
“What do you mean?” Cogman asked, confused. “Woods are overdone, I agree. We could cut off the dog’s head and sew it to a lone tree outside Arthur’s castle. Wait!” he snapped his fingers at the epiphany as his agent, now sweaty, unbuttoned his shirt and began to rub his own chest. “We sew it onto his uncle’s body. We can make his uncle a rich, powerful man. Then the women are safe, but they cry and mourn the loss of their caretaker.”
“Give this man a raise!” exclaimed the agent.
“No, no! This is for children. We can’t cut off the dog’s head, we can’t – we can’t – we can’t sew it onto – we can’t do that stuff.”
The agent slammed his hand onto the table. “We must! We must, he’s a genius!” he turned to Cogman. “You’re a genius, sir!” His head slowly turned back to the producer as his voice rose in a crescendo, from whisper to incredulous roar: “He worked on Game of THRONES!”
Cogman softly interjected. “I know it sounds like we’re pushing it, but we have to be realistic and go where the story takes us. How else will they know of Merlin’s betrayal?”
“How will they know?!” the agent asked in a frenzy. He looked in admiration to his client and then back at the producer with contempt.
“Betrayal?” the producer asked.
“Yeah, so what I’m thinking is Merlin actually betrays Arthur, right? Which will really throw viewers for a loop. Arthur falls in love with a perfect partner by his side, and then BAM!” he slammed his hand against the mahogany table as his agent wiggled in his seat enthusiastically and let slip a slight giggle like the hyenas at the sound of Mufasa’s name. “We’ll have Merlin slit her throat.”
“Slit her – what, why? No, no, no! Bryan, I don’t think you understand—”
“I know, you’re thinking ‘why would Merlin slit her throat when he could kill her with magic,’ but that’s the thing – he’s actually framing Arthur for the murder.”
The agent pulled a handkerchief and dabbed sweat on his forehead.
“Arthur is distraught and runs to Merlin. It was the final push he needed for Arthur to listen to Merlin unquestioningly and do everything required. ‘The townspeople think it was me,’ he’ll cry. ‘What should I do?’ ‘Chaos is a ladder,’ Merlin will say, and then I’ll write this awesome speech about the whole world being terrible and run by conflicting forces that all lead to destruction.”
“Why would Arthur—”
“Shhhh. His name is Reek now.”
“God damn it.” The producer rolled his eyes before slouching down in his seat, dejected.
“The movie ends with Ser Illyn Payne pulling his sword and lowering it to the young boy’s neck and the sound of something tumbling over the stone. Is he dead? Is he alive? The credits will roll as audiences await the sequel. They’ll never know. There will be a million theories!”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” the producer gathered his things to leave as he called for his office assistant who scurried in the door.
“What do you need, boss?” the young office assistant asked, before scanning the room in front of him. The writer sat scribbling in his notebook and the agent, sweaty and partially dressed, sat peering eagerly over his shoulder.
“I need a break. Can we see who’s last on the list?”
“Yes, we have—” the office assistant scrolled down the list of names. “—Nic Pizzollato.”
“Remind me who that is again?”
“Oh, he wrote True Detective. Season 1 was great. I haven’t seen Season 2 yet.”
“Me neither, but I can’t wait. If this doesn’t work out we might be stuck with these two over here,” he gestured over his shoulder at the two sitting at the mahogany table. “Send him in.”