Clearly we are in the year of Neil Gaiman, the filmmaker. With no less than three movies coming ('Stardust', 'Beowulf' and 'Coraline'), Gaiman has been making quite a few press rounds. Comics2Film had yet another chance to sit down with what was meant to be a roundtable with Gaiman and his 'Beowulf' screenwriting collaborator Roger Avary.
However, Avary ditched us just before the roundtable was set to begin. Gaiman seized the opportunity.
Neil Gaiman: Normally we've been starting with Beowulf and moving on to Stardust, but now it's me! Ha ha!
So now I can reveal that Roger's name is only on the Beowulf script for contractual reasons. Obviously he [air-quoting] "wrote it" but all the words were put down by me.
He was drunk.
He was completely unconscious. Two weeks. Dead drunk in Mexico. I told him that the elves had done it and he believed me.
OK. What would you like to know?
Q: Do you have a cameo in Beowulf or something?
Gaiman: No. It's terrible. I have all of these movies coming out and I don't have a cameo in any of them.
I just mistimed my cameo for Stardust. The only scene that I was there for the filming of was actually the one that we showed at the hall today at the end, and if I'd been sitting in the corner reading a paper or something, people would have noticed.
Q: I had heard that Roger had gotten scanned in for Beowulf.
Gaiman: Yes. It was very important to Roger that he get scanned and put in there.
Q: But not you?
Gaiman: Well, Roger looks like he could be a Viking. He's huge and hairy. For me they'd be going, "Why is that man wearing a black leather jacket?"
If I wasn't wearing a black leather jacket, nobody would even know it was me.
"They didn't have black T-Shirts in Viking times, surely." English professors would write and complain.
Q: Do you wear the black leather all the time?
Gaiman: I got a really good leather jacket when I was in Singapore last time. It was really hot there in the Philippines. The jacket was like, paper-thin. Like most paper-thin things it then ripped. That was the end of my paper-thing leather jacket.
Q: Frank Miller has become quite a respected source of material in Hollywood. Do you see yourself getting the same level of respect as Miller?
Gaiman: I guess I come out to something like Comic-Con and I suppose reminded of things like that because you can't really escape it. You get people coming up on panels and saying, "My question is: Oh my God! You are a God, man! You are a God!"
And you go, "Oh. Thank you."
Mostly I think of myself as somebody who tries to figure out what's happening on the next page. You don't get up in the morning and go, "Oh, I'm creating modern myths." You get up in the morning and go, "What the hell is going to happen in Chapter six anyway. I've completely lost the plot here and I need to get back onto it."
Q: Do you feel like you have another great story waiting for you?
Gaiman: Oh, yeah, I mean, what's nice is I probably have too many stories to tell. People keep getting grumpy with me because I don't like sequels. Mostly I don't like sequels because, given the choice between a sequel and something that I've never done, I'll do something that I've never done. And the people who want "Neverwhere II" or another "Stardust" story or more "American Gods" or more "Sandman" or more "Coraline" and standing there going, "Well, what about us?"
And I go, "Well, your thing wouldn't exist if I hadn't moved on to do something else anyway."
Q: You don't get attached to the characters you create and the stories you create?
Gaiman: Oh yeah. And sometimes it's enormously fun. Going back and doing "Endless Nights" with "Sandman", 5-6 years after I'd done my last Sandman story, I was really worried that it would be like one of those awkward things where you run into old school friends and you don't have anything to talk about.
But it wasn't. It was like running into a bunch of friends that you were really close with when you were 15 and suddenly you discover you have everything in common and it's just lovely to see each other.
Q: Are you doing work for Marvel?
Gaiman: The last thing I did for Marvel was "The Eternals", which I enjoyed enormously. Really I think that's the first time, probably since "The Books of Magic" that any comic company had ever come to me with a request.
"The Books of Magic" started with DC saying, "Could you do us a four book prestige series about our magic characters that's somehow also a story and a who's who."
For this one Joe Quesada came to me. We've got "The Eternals". Jack created them. People have cocked them up so badly now they're useless. Can you somehow clean them up and make them interesting and put them back into play in the Marvel universe.
Q: Sandman was like pocket universe. The Eternals story interacted with "Civil War" and things in the Marvel universe.
Gaiman: It probably would have been a different story if Civil War hadn't been going on. You cope. The joy and the tragedy of shared universes is that you're dealing with shared universes.
I remember in Sandman - Sandman #22 he was meant to go to Hell, except that there was still stuff happening in Hell in the rest of the DC Universe and they said, "No you're gonna have to put it off a month." And I got really, really grumpy.
Now I go, "Look, the timing of this is terrific." I got to link on to a bunch of stuff that became very, very useful later.
Q: How does your relationship with Hollywood work, compared to Alan Moore and Frank Miller?
Gaiman: Alan and Frank have very, very different relationships with Hollywood, and I have yet another different relationship with Hollywood.
Alan's relationship was very, very simple. He started off going, "It has nothing to do with me. You can give me the money. Go and make the film. I've made the comic and that's the thing."
And that's great.
And then he got hurt. Films that were not faithful, and films that were wrong got made. At the point where "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" is getting made...it was a bad thing.
Frank went through the traditional Hollywood experience with RoboCop 2 and 3. He wasn't happy with the films. He wasn't happy with what had happened and he went off and did not come back until Rodriguez sold him on doing Sin City that way. And that was Frank's return. Not that he hadn't written some scripts in the mean time.
For me, watching what had happened to Alan, taught me that I was not going to walk off and leave my babies.
I sold Stardust to Miramax at one point. It nearly went sort of Hollywood. It nearly went sort of wrong and bad. When I got the rights back I though, I'm not doing that again.
So for many, many years after that I would get my agent calling up and going, "Such-and-such Young Beautiful Star wants Stardust as a starring vehicle for herself."
And I would say no.
Or "Such-and-such director wants it"
And I would look at their stuff and say no.
Matthew [Vaughn], I trusted him. We worked together on a film that he'd produced and he actually stuck to his word, which is really weird.
I was approached by a producer and I found a scriptwriter friend of mine who had actually worked with this producer and I asked, "Is he trustworthy."
And he wrote back, "Asking if a Hollywood producer is trustworthy is kind of like asking, 'Is this lion vegetarian?'"
But I did trust Matthew. And when Matthew became, more or less by accident, the director of "Layer Cake", he prepared the script for Guy Ritchie. Guy wasn't interested. Matthew looked for a director and then said, "fuck it" and did it himself, and did it beautifully.
When Matthew walked off of "X-Men 3", was not happy with the script, was not happy with the budget, was not happy with what he was being asked to do, he basically called me up about a week later and said, "I want to do Stardust. I want to work with you on it. I want you to produce it with me. If you want to write it you can write it but whatever, I want to do it with you."
And actually I didn't want to write it. I went and found him Jane Goldman as a writer because I thought they would work really well together. I got to oversee it. I got to help. I got to advise. I got to argue. I got to check out the casting process. I got to feel that this was my thing.
Q: Do you prefer working with someone who is adapting your work, or adapting it yourself?
Gaiman: It depends on what I did the first time.
Mostly, I think I prefer not adapting my work. I think I prefer adapting other peoples work or doing something new in films because otherwise you wind up running through the kind of though patterns that created the thing in the first place.
It was much easier for me with "Coraline", for example to let Henry just do it, and then advise, and say "I wouldn't do that..."
Henry's been incredibly receptive.