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From 'GoT' to 'Preacher,' screenwriters talk challenges of adaptations

Last Updated Jul 12, 2016 at 2:56 pm EDT

In this image released by HBO, Kit Harington portrays Jon Snow in a scene from "Game of Thrones." The sixth season of "Games of Thrones" that recently aired was an explosive one for fans but also in the screenwriting world. While previous seasons were based on the first five of seven planned titles in George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" book series, this one was its own entity. That's because Martin has yet to publish the sixth book, forcing series writers to pen original content as well as material based on outlines of his forthcoming material. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, HO - HBO, Helen Sloan *MANDATORY CREDIT*

TORONTO – The explosive sixth season of “Games of Thrones” was groundbreaking for fans of the beloved series. And the show’s writers.

While previous seasons were based on the first five of seven planned titles in George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series, this one was its own entity. That’s because Martin has yet to publish the sixth book, which forced the series’ writers to pen original storylines while working off outlines of his forthcoming material.

Screenwriters often stray from source material for adaptations; other recent examples include AMC’s “The Night Manager” miniseries, which is much different than the original John le Carre novel.

But doing so is a tricky balance, says Glen Mazzara, who adapted the TV series “Damien” from “The Omen” horror films. He’s also a former executive producer of “The Walking Dead,” which is based on the comic book series.

“You want to honour the source material but you need to make it your own,” he says. “If you just go back and revisit it and not add anything new, people will say, ‘Why are we doing this? You’re just trying to sell me the same stuff over and over.’

“The tricky part is that when you freshen it up or you do something new, people say: ‘Well, wait a second, that’s not it, why are you changing it?’

“So you’re never going to make everyone happy.”

It’s a sentiment many screenwriters share.

“You don’t go into this business if you want to please everyone,” says Emmy-nominated Canadian writer-director Patricia Rozema. She adapted her recent film “Into the Forest” from the Jean Hegland novel, but only from the last half. She also expanded some scenes.

“We both were really concerned that the author didn’t feel somehow violated by this,” Rozema says, referring to Ellen Page, who starred in and produced the film.

“There was a big scene that wasn’t going to be in there and we called (Hegland) up and talked to her about it and explained our reasoning, and she’s been really supportive of the movie.”

For Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who adapted the AMC series “Preacher” from the ’90s comic book franchise, it was original author Garth Ennis who encouraged them to make it their own.

“Initially we were like, ‘We’ll do it like “Sin City,” we’ll really stay super true to the comics,'” says Goldberg.

“Then we talked to Garth and he was like, ‘Well, obviously it would be insane to just do the comic. There are tons of things that can be enhanced and made better, as long as you just stick to the main three characters, and their emotions are true, and their stories are realistic and their problems are comparable or similar to the problems they had in the comic.'”

In the end, “I think we’re much better off for it and so does Garth,” adds Goldberg, “which is nice, because if Garth didn’t think that, I’d kill myself.”

Canadian author Lawrence Hill co-wrote the miniseries adaptation of his own novel “The Book of Negroes” and was stunned at how attached readers were to the source material.

“People started approaching me, readers, who didn’t know me and saying: ‘Don’t you dare change this,’ or, ‘I hope they don’t mess with that,’ or, ‘What are you going to do about this?'” he says. “They felt possessive of the story … protective, almost angry before they had seen it, because they didn’t want to imagine how it would be ruined on television.

“Sometimes I had to say … ‘Even if you don’t like the miniseries or even if I don’t like it, even if people think it’s lousy, the book is there — so nobody is doing anything to the book. It’s just another form of art and so we can relax a little bit about how it all works out. It won’t be the end of the world.'”

Mazzara says genre fans seem particularly picky. They “say they want things new and then they are the first to get upset when it’s changed,” he adds.

“Very famously (with) ‘Battlestar Galactica’ people were upset Starbuck was a woman,” says Mazzara.

“I think what you need to do is just tell your story and tell it well and eventually, if it’s a good story, people will come around. So people may say, ‘Oh, it’s not this, it’s not that,’ but after a few episodes, that stuff kind of burns off and hopefully they’re getting invested in the story.”