The Witcher showrunner on the writing staff: ‘I specifically didn’t seek out ten Sapkowski scholars’

25 comments

The fan response to Netflix’s The Witcher was very diverse. From love to hate and everything in between. The aspect that was discussed more than others among fans was the writing and various writing decisions. Showrunner Lauren S. Hissrich offers a look into her practise of hiring writers for the show.

“When writing an adaptation, are the best writers always the ones most familiar with the world?”, she started. “Yes. And equally importantly, no.”

She continued: “Let me back up. When you write an adaptation, you have to be familiar with the original work. Yes. Of course. The writers and staff on The Witcher had to read all of the books, and had to appreciate/enjoy the genre. But I specifically didn’t seek out ten Sapkowski scholars.”

“Instead”, Lauren elaborated, “I found several writers who were intimately familiar with the characters and themes and politics of the Continent. Some grew up with these stories and provided rich detail and insight into not just the books, but the history behind them.”

Lauren then went on to explain why it was vital to also have writers who were a little more distant than, for example, executive producer Tomek Baginski: “it was equally important to have writers in the room who were able to question the “givens” in the books. Who could say, “Why do people hate the elves so much?” or “Wait, I still don’t understand Ciri’s bloodline. How do we examine it in a clearer way for the tv audience?”‘

She added: “In simplest form, we need writers fighting for the spirit of the books, and the intention of the author. And also writers who know that novels can’t be a 1:1 adaptation to tv, because characters can’t speak for hours on end without interruption (lookin at you Geralt and Iola.)”

Finally, Lauren concluded: “We need writers who are close, but not too close. Who love the world, but aren’t afraid to question it. Who are fans, but are willing to step back and open their minds, in order to bring their beloved world to our real (big) one. I hope we did that.”

Earlier, Lauren offered a look into her other criteria for hiring The Witcher‘s writing staff.

“When hiring writers for The Witcher, there were several factors I looked at to make sure we were getting the best possible team. In no particular order:

  • A spectrum of writing experience: people who’d been at it for 20 years and those who were brand new. It’s part of my job to mentor the next generation of writers, just as I was once trained. But I also need people who know television structure and production inside and out.
  • A spectrum of life experience. This is where diversity comes in. A POC has different experiences than a white person; men different than women; straight different than gay. Add in immigrants, adoptees, parents, the list goes on. Varied life experiences make the show richer.
  • A spectrum of genre experience. Everyone had to read and love the books. But we needed more than hardcore fantasy nerds. I hired writers with experience in horror, action, romance, politics. The Witcher is many things. There is only one Sapkowski, who is good at them all.
  • No assholes. There’s not a spectrum there. Don’t be a dick.
  • And finally, talented writers…as defined by me. I read writers blind (without their names) first. Either the writing grabbed me, or it didn’t. If it did, it went in a “yes please” pile. Once I had that pile, I looked at all the other qualifications above and made my choice.

The Witcher Season 2 is currently halted, but work is underway to resume filming in the coming weeks. Find out more about that here.

25 comments on “The Witcher showrunner on the writing staff: ‘I specifically didn’t seek out ten Sapkowski scholars’”

  1. She is good at talking and promising, worse at keeping those promises and staying true to the lore

  2. Seems like the writers didn’t actually read the books if they didn’t get Ciri’s bloodline or they don’t have the comprehension to understand the stories.

  3. doesnt make any sense to me. how much you read book have nothing to do with close or open mind. you can be fan and be open mind at the sametime.

    and after watch season one. seem like writing team doesnt lag of something new like you said
    but seem like they lag of reasoning to be hornest

  4. As someone who’s never read one of the books OR played one of the games before watching, let me just say that I enjoyed the first season very much and that it made me look out for more, so now I got all the books on the shelf and plan to play the games (or at least III) at some point. If an adaptation manages to make a world interesting enough to get your audience so invested they want to know more, you’ve done your job. I’m actually looking forward to dive into it all and know more and see more and get to enjoy what seems to be an even better book series. It#s a winwin for me. Adaptations are always different and will always annoy book readers. You will have more fun with them if you stop expecting and start enjoying.

    1. Yes, of course, since this “something” does not really exist, except in your imagination. This is not interpretation, it is fanfiction. Fanfiction shit, by the way – which really is the biggest part of the problem. The show is simply bad by all accounts, as an adaptation or on its own merits.

      Hissrich never decided to tell the story of The Witcher. What she wants to do is tell her own story, involving her personal ideology / worldview in a thin varnish of generic fantasy. All she is doing with The Witcher is using IP – with its very significant pre-existing fan base – to support her mediocre efforts. Only she doesn’t have the talent to do that as well.

      1. I don’t know, your comment sounds awfully familiar. If this is anything other than “She’s a female producer thus she wants to do her female agenda and loves only the female characters”, please explain it to me. But if it’s this mysogenistic shit again that’s ruining the fun for the more tolerant fans, like the right wing guys do with Star Wars or Doctor Who, don’t bother. She’s a woman, yes, and she has the right to express her own perspective, like every male director, and I really don’t mind to get the backstory of the female characters well in advance compared to the book’s timeline.

      2. Attacking the person does not strengthen your case, it makes you sound… whiny.

  5. Does cutting out the entire plotline of Geralt and Ciri in Brokilon count as “questioning the ‘givens’ in the books?” What about butchering the characterizations of Cahir and Fringilla (and Geralt, and Yennefer, and Jaskier)? Reducing Geralt to “Hmmm,” and “Fuck?” Ah, how about missing the point of The Lesser Evil entirely? Wait, maybe it was creating Dara and turning the dryads into, well, basically the “noble savage!”

    -sigh-

    While I get that 1:1 adaptations from books to TV aren’t entirely possible, the line between making concessions in order to best adapt the source and totally disrespecting it in favor of original characters and plotlines isn’t very thin. It’s miles wide, in fact, and Lauren and her writers were still able to cross it! D&D, for all their fuck-ups, were able to do it with A Song of Ice and Fire while they had material to feed off of. Because they understood the essence of the series in it’s entirely as well as the story arcs of each character. They asked the right questions and came to the conclusion that R + L = J.

    But, no, Lauren just HAD to have three main characters right off the bat. She just HAD to have a big, evil Nilfgaardian empire led by fanatical Cahir and Fringilla. She just HAD to make Jaskier a comic-relief sidekick. I guess this is what she means by “questioning the ‘givens’ in the books.” She even has the audacity to make a snide comment about Geralt and Iola, but basically made Triss a Nenneke proxy. Brilliant.

    1. Okay, sounds a bit deeper than your original comment suggested. Well, still, I don’t think you’re able to recognise how entertaining this thing still is anymore for people who don’t know anything about the world. Because it is. She’s in no way a bad writer. The show was entertaining af, for my whole family (and we watch A LOT of genre TV). It can’t be that bad. I will respect your annoyance in regards to the book changes, which I will see for myself then, but I had lots of talks with Witcher readers who ALL thought she did a great job with the adaptation. we’ll see.

      1. Literally can’t not respond to that. I’ve read all the books so I at least know what is meant to be happening, even though it doesn’t. But just no. Not one person I know who isn’t familiar with the original has been able to watch it without being totally confused from the get go, it just makes no sense, not one shred. It’s jumps many years in time without ever telling you, when I say many we’re talking anything from 1-70 years, it attempts to tell a story but never actually succeeds in telling the story you just keep watching people: Die, have tea and chat, sex scene, death again, more sex, random insults, more sex, more death, it’s become like heroes, when you don’t know who people are or what they’re powers are meant to be because none of it flows properly. I was confused and I know the whole story, I’ve read all the books, still didn’t understand most of what was happening, because it made no sense.

  6. Please, stop.

    First four seasons of GoT were that great because they’ve at least tried to stay close to the books. Yes, they had to (or wanted to) change a lot (even in the very first season) but they were still staing somewhat close to the source. You and your writing team are raping the original material, butchering stories, tearing them into blody chunks and calling this adaptaion. While almost every short story from the first two books could have been turned into self-contained episode.

    Please, stop.

  7. Well because you didn’t understand what made The Witcher unique. You had a perfect opportunity but you had to push your agenda. Yes Witcher fans want to see a very good adaptation without repeating “destiny” 100000 times, Mixing the timelines without any real purpose, not skipping important details ( Geralt and Citi meeting years before) . Pale yennefer, red or chestnut brown Triss

  8. The Witcher saga is still a relevant work. You do not need to add modern views to it. Politics and cinema should be separate. This is already some kind of parasitism on a big name. Yes, it’s impossible to fully adapt, but you can’t also turn adaptation into fanfiction, which happened to the series.

  9. Well, that’s what I meant with being an experienced watcher. If you’ve seen List, Fringe, Westworld, or the recent Watchmen, you don’t get confused by simply following three characters aka three timelines. Not a single one if them jumps back and forth, it’s pretty straightforward. They just start at different points in time. It took us three episodes to figure that out, but we enjoyed that twist very much and loved how things got closer and closer to each other, up until the retelling of the Fall of Cyntra (Cintra? Forgive me, it’s been a while.) in the final episode. We thought it perfectly underlined the tragedy of it all (“oh fuck he was THERE?!”). It was FUN to figure it all out. The moment when the different episode symbols come together to form the series logo was pure genius, goosebumps and everything. And I’ve seen loads of reaction videos on youtube. Some get – and understand – the different timelines from episode 1 on (yes, there are hints) and Yennifer hasn’t even been introduced. I haven’t seen anyone there who started the show who did not enjoy it from start to finish, and that includes several book readers. Some are confused, yes, but they enjoyed it anyway. I understand several of the criticisms made here, but damn, every time someone whines about “it’s too complicated” I want to hit them over their heads with something and scream “then stop looking at your cellphone and pay attention”. Inception is complicated. The Prestige is complicated. Westworld is complicated. This? No. This is just a little fun. And Geralt’s one word answers are so much more fun because you know he can be very eloquent if he wants to be, which is very much part of the show as well. I don’t get all your hate. It just feels off and toxic. As I’ve said, I’ve seen and talked to Witcher book readers from very different sites, lives, countries, and who all loved the show. You guys really seem to be part of a hate bubble you’ve created for yourself. Outside that bubble.

  10. I’m just going to say this. I am all for adaptations, and a new “fresh” perspective.

    As a fan of the Witcher books, the games, both computer and console, short story comics, I’ve learned a lot about the stories, the characters. The lore itself.

    The Witcher audiobooks have even replaced my music. I love the nods to the Norse and Slavic mythology. I have played and beaten Witcher 3 many times, on all difficulties. So, I’m no newbie to this.

    There are many things that are off about the show. I could go on all day; about how they changed the story up, but I won’t. I’m just going to leave this here, and you can do what you want with it.

    At least hire a language consultant.
    Either Jackson Crawford ( specialist in Old Norse and Scandinavian languages), or Peter Kenny (The one who narrates the Witcher audiobooks). Both are skilled in inflected languages.

    When I heard “Triss” say “Meli-telly” instead of “Melleetelluh”, I almost turned the show off..

    You’re already taking liberties with the story. “At least” do that. At least..

    I won’t even mention at length about “Borscht” Three Jackdaws…
    This is an adaptation from a Polish story, by a Polish writer. I’d advise getting someone who actually understands the “Polish” language.

    The only one I have heard, thus far, with even a slight knowledge of the elder language is the one who portrays Lady Eithné of Brokilon.

    There are many different aspects that made the games and the books great. The reason being; is they put time and effort into it. You can’t very well expect someone who has loved and followed the story from the beginning, to love a conglomeration of different bullshit thrown together to create an adaptation. Then, expecting the die hard fans to enjoy it. That is simply not how that works.

    But, all said and done; it is decent. Henry Cavill also does a great job as Geralt. The fighting elements are also pretty good.

  11. I came to the show without knowing anything and I expected to dislike it but I loved it. Especially the main characters and the mythology. I’ve read the books after I finished the show and I can understand where the complains are coming from especially the missing opportunity of Geralt’s and Ciri’s meet in brokilon. My least favorite change from the books is that they had Yennefer not knowing the wish and doubting her feelings for Geralt. Hopefully they’ll resolve this early in s2 because their love and their care for Ciri is the core of The Witcher Saga. I loved that they showed us Yennefer’s backstory but I hated how much time was wasted in Istread, a minor character in the books (I would prefer a young Triss with Yennefer in Aretuza given all their history afterwards) although I have the feeling that they set Istread for a villain role – working with Stregobor for Vilgerfortz with all the prophecy and ancient artifacts they made him interested in (meh). If that turns out true I can’t wait Geralt and Yennefer to kick his ass.

    The acting (Anya and Henry are fantastic leads but everyone did a great job), the costumes (except the Nilfgard armor), the locations, the cinematography, the atmosphere, the fighting, the monsters (the striga and kikimora) were brilliant.

    Tbh season one was a challenge bc it was based on sort stories and it’s difficult to adapt those in modern TV who loves serialized story telling. But it was a prologue for the next season which I believe will be even better with a more coherent story and a clear direction as it is based on the 1st book of the main saga. And with the addition of more Witcher and Geralt’s origins and Yen & Ciri bonding I can hardly wait!

  12. I loved the first season but it had some flaws. Geralt and Ciri not meeting at Brokilon forest was a crime and how did they dare to imply that Yennefer’s feelings were because of Geralt’s wish? I know that’s not true and they’ll fix it sooner rather than later because The Witcher – as Lauren loves to repeat – is the story of love and family. I wasn’t fond of Nilfgaard armor but that will change in s2, I’ll keep my judgment about Cahir and Frigilla to see how their story will continue. I hated Istread, I know he was there for Yennefer’s story but I could have done with less Istread and more Triss and more Frigilla. In the books he was in a short story as a plot device but my guts tells me that they set him up for a villain role or at least an association of Vilgefortz along with Stregobor. Most of everything else were superb, The Locations were breathtaking, the cinematography was amazing, the casting was extraordinary, the fights, the last battle. Geralt and Yennefer captured my heart. I loved Yennefer’s story and when the two finally met their chemistry was unmatched as I imagined reading the books. S2 can’t come soon enough, I have faith it will be even better now that everyone is on the same timeline and the main saga begins. I can’t wait for Kaer Morhen and to learn more about Geralt’s childhood, Yennefer training Ciri, the scoia’tael, more Witchers, more mages etc.

  13. @ Samson There’s a fair amount to criticize, but I find it difficult to understand the confusion some people found in the timelines. There are three of them, and they move only forward in time and collapse to two, then one, as Geralt meets Yennefer and Ciri, which is a good deal less convoluted than some timelines I’ve kept track of in stories. Moreover, the first episode makes it clear that their are separate timelines when Ciri mentions that Queen Calanthe’s first battle was long ago, and Renfri mentions Calanthe’s first battle as a recent occurrence.

    The season strings together mostly anthology stories that were rarely placed more firmly on the timeline than “before the novels begin” (particularly Geralt’s episode plots – his stories in the first 4 episodes could take place in almost any order and it wouldn’t affect anything else. So long as Season 2, starting the cover the actual novels, has a much tighter plot, it’s fine.

  14. I first saw the series without having read the books. I only knew about the Witcher from the games but I never played them myself. I expected not to like it tbh bc it was advertised as the next GOT and I wasn’t fan of that but I loved the Witcher. I loved the characters (especially the three main), the mythology, the atmosphere, the cinematography, the actors (Henry Cavill and Anya Chalotra were spectacular but all of them did a great job), the humor and even the violence and nudity was done with tact for the most part. I felt the writing had some flaws but first seasons of many of my favorite shows have the same problems.
    Now having reading all the books I can say that not having Geralt and Ciri meet at Brokilon forest was a huge mistake as it adds depth to their bond and to change The Last Wish with Yennefer not knowing the wish and believing her feelings are due to magic was senseless. I hope they’ll resolve that early in s2 because the whole saga is about the love of this family. I’ll reserve my judgment for Cahir and Frigilla to see where their story goes. I loved Yennefer’s backstory but I could do with less Istredd. I had no problem with him in the first two episodes he appeared but showing up in episode 7 out of nowhere and talking about the prophesy and Stregobor making me fear he’ll play an important role in s2 working for Vilgefortz perhaps and betraying Yennefer once again? I hope we won’t tolerate him for much longer, he was non existed in the books apart from a short story. I’d rather see Nenneke, Rience, Dijkstra, the Witchers and Philippa than him. The books defenetely have more depth but tbh the first two books are the hardest to translate on screen as they consist of short stories taking place decades apart and missing key characters from the saga. I’m confident that from Blood of Elves and on they’ll remain more faithful to the books, not scene to scene but to the spirit of them and won’t change basic storylines like they did with Brokilon in s1 because the books far more easy to adapt now that we have one big story arc.

    1. Re: Istredd

      I think you are right. It made no sense for Yennefer to go back to him in episode 7 (even if he was the safe choice) especially since it didn’t lead to “A Shard of Ice”. The only purpose of that scene was to set him up working for Nilfgaard.
      I: They allow my research, that’s all I care about.
      Y:Ah, a man of principle,

      I:They (Nilfgaard) care about the people. Everybody gets something.
      Y:…It sounds to me you’re bought in.

      I hope they will not expand his role at the expense of more important and interesting book characters. I want Rience, Dijkstra, Philippa etc.

  15. It does not really matter how you chose your writers. It would not matter so much if they stayed close to the books or took their own path. After all, “Apocalypse Now” couldn’t be farther away from the “Heart of Darkness”, and “Blade Runner” hardly resembles Dick’s “Do the Androids…”. But it has to be GOOD writing!

    Your writers delivered a hectic, incoherent screenplay with lines that are either pompous or infantile. The director, whom you have probably selected in a similarly complicated process, managed to give the whole production an air of a fan fiction film. It’s so badly shot, and so badly cut. The costume designer and scenographer fit in perfectly with their cosplay approach. And you even employed midgets to play dwarves!

    With all the money and efforts – you are responsible for creating an amateurish mash-up.

    Unfortunately, this was to be expected. I’ve watched your Jessica Jones. Same problem: good cast, despite best efforts, could not save bad writing. Although, admittedly, the directors were OK, the cast was splendid and the main title music was terrific.

    1. They aren’t our writers and neither are we responsible for anything. Redanian Intelligence is not affiliated with Netflix in any way. We just report stuff.

  16. I loved s1 but I also missed some key moments from the books and I wish they were included instead of some others we got. I keep praying we won’t loose anything from Ciri’s training at Kaer Morhen or Geralt and Ciri’s travel to Ellander and his speach about the Elves to Ciri or what being neutural means or Ciri’s training in magic with Yen and their bonding and I also hope they have a way to give us Geralt and Yen – even if they don’t interact in Blood of Elves – because with how things are left in s1 their future relationship and their family with Ciri will make no sense unless they both know their feelings are real and deep.

  17. I loved s1 despite its flaws but I think some of the credit for that should go to Henry Cavill too. It’s my understanding that being the huge fan of the games and the books that he is, he brought a lot of the things that worked in s1 and were universally praised (Geralt’s voice, the look of the character, the Renfri fight etc). If – for instance – any other actor, that wasn’t so passionate about this univesre was casted in the role, we would take a Geralt that speaks with the actor’s normal voice. I think Cavill understands this universe and character, maybe even better than the showrunner, and I hope in time he’ll get the chance to offer more of his input for the show. Having said that I loved the 3 timelines and Yennefer’s background although I wish more time was spent in the building of the 3 main character’s relationships since that is the heart of the show. But it’s possible that they keep that for the coming seasons!

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