Neil Gaiman is the award-winning writer of several comic book series, most notably Black Orchid and Sandman. He has also written several novels, including American Gods, the Newbury Medal winning The Graveyard Book and Stardust. One of his first novels, Coraline was, like Stardust, turned into a feature film. A few days ago I had the privilege, along with Scott Dally of Film Fever Radio and Brandon Hartley of Another Portland Blog, to sit down with Gaiman and talk about the new film. We each got to ask a couple of questions and below is my portion with Neil. You can read more questions with Gaiman at the other two blogs.
PCZ: You’ve work in comic books for many years now, where artists are always giving their interpretations of your written words. Has that helped you feel more relaxed and open to other people putting his own spin on film versions of your books?
NG: I think probably it does. I use the same philosophy in films, or try to, that I did in comics, which is you find somebody brilliant and you let them get on with it. I guess in many ways that came from watching Alan Moore’s experiences. With Alan it was kind of like watching your friend go walking off through a mine field and every now and then you’d go, “Oh, he lost a leg there.” Which doesn’t mean you can avoid all the possible mines, but it means that set of land mines won’t happen. Alan’s attitude has always been, “They give you the check, you cash it, it has nothing to do with me.” Watching how that soured for him to the point where someone’s just made League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and it was this thing that’s part of his heart and now they’ve pissed all over it. Then, watching that get to the point of, “I don’t even want your fucking money,” which is the point he’s got to now, with no name on it. All of the money for Watchmen goes to Dave Gibbons, which is fine, he [Alan] doesn’t want it.
For me, I don’t want things getting made that I’m not proud of. I don’t want things getting made I don’t like with my name on it. I mean, I say no to a lot of things now. With Coraline I went out when it was finished, sent the manuscript to my agent and said please can you get this to Henry Selick. And a week later I got a phone call from Henry Selick saying this thing is awesome. People ask Henry now why his visuals with what he did were not influenced by what Dave McKean did with the illustrations in the book and he says, “Look, I read it eighteen months before Dave McKean illustrated it,” which he did. Henry had done his first draft version of the script before Dave McKean had set pen to paper. So, this was the world as viewed in Henry’s head.
PCZ: I thought the stop motion animation look and feel was perfect for the story and really captured the tone in a way that live action really could not have. When you first started talking to Henry about the film, was it always the intention to do it as stop motion animation?
NG: It was always my intention. Henry showed the script to a guy named Bill Mechanic who probably bought it for him. Then, we learned that Bill Mechanic had a deal with Disney which meant that the one thing he was precluded from doing was animation. So, there was a period of time where it was suddenly a Henry Selick live action film and all of us, including Henry were going, “It’s got to be stop-motion animation.” Luckily Bill’s deal with Disney expired and Henry came to Laika and we had the film here [in Portland]. There was a point where people were pressing for it to be CGI because stop-motion was so old-fashioned. I’m so glad that argument was lost or won by the forces of good. That this is not CGI makes it special in this CGI day. You can look at things and everything is real. You know it’s real and you could touch it and everything is hand made. Water comes out of the shower and it’s bits of resin of various sizes. It’s special.
Many thanks to Neil Gaiman for his time. For our interview with director Henry Selick, click here.