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Gaiman on comic book movies

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This was reprinted in a Canadian paper today. I thought it might be of interest here.

 

 

http://film.guardian.co.uk/features/featur...1722069,00.html

 

'$1m a minute to film? No problem'

 

Once upon a time it was just too expensive to turn the lavish fantasies of comic book writers into movies. But not any more. Renowned graphic novelist Neil Gaiman reveals all

 

Friday March 3, 2006

The Guardian

 

I  can still remember how excited everyone was, 17 years ago, by the arrival of the Batman film. Frank Miller's story of an ageing Batman coming out of retirement, The Dark Knight Returns, had, along with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's Watchmen and Art Spiegelman's Maus, spearheaded the first, abortive, graphic novel explosion, and I believed that a good, serious Batman film was all that was needed to put it over the top, legitimise comics and change the world. Two decades later, we live in a world in which comics have spawned a generation of summer blockbusters. This summer it's a Marvel v DC face-off, X-Men v Superman, with Spider-Man waiting in the wings for 2007.

 

Comics and movies have always been a two-way street. Will Eisner's seminal The Spirit, back in the 1940s, took from Orson Welles and the films noirs as much as it borrowed from radio or Broadway, and there have been movies made from comics pretty much as long as either medium has existed. Last week an interviewer asked me whether I thought that the recent success of superhero movies meant that we might see a world in which comics that don't include the capes-and- tights brigade might also have a chance at making it onto the silver screen. "You mean comics like Road to Perdition, Ghost World, Men in Black, A History of Violence, Sin City, From Hell, American Splendor . . . ?"

I started to suspect that there might be a cultural sea change occurring a few years ago, when The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was released. It was not the first time that a bad film had been made from a good comic, not by a long shot, but it was the first time that the world at large seemed aware of this. Review after review pointed out that the film had none of the wit or brilliance, or even coherence, of the comic it was taken from.

 

Like many of my co-workers in the world of comics, I'm also involved in making films these days. This is seen, I realise from talking to acquaintances and journalists, as a step up, signalling that I've finally left the gutter. (Still, filmic legitimacy only goes so far. Opera seems to be the cultural front-runner, while books, with or without pictures, trail some way behind.) I like film. I am not very good at writing for film yet, which is what keeps me interested in it. Most of all I like the astonishing process - it's hard to get near a film set without remembering Orson Welles' description of a film studio as "the biggest electric train set any boy could ever have". When I first went to Hollywood, the only people who read comics were the most junior assistants, the kind who weren't allowed to speak, who just went and fetched the bottled water. But that was a while ago. Now those people are running studios.

 

There was a time when those of us who made comics would try and explain what advantages comics had over film. "Comics have an infinite special-effects budget," we'd say. But we missed the point, now that movies have, for all intents, an infinite special-effects budget. (I was writing a script for Beowulf last year, and, worried that a climactic airborne dragon battle was going a little over the top, I called the director, Robert Zemeckis, to warn him. "Don't worry," he said. "There is nothing you could write that will cost me more than a million dollars a minute to film.")

 

Still, the "unlimited special effects" nonsense hides a truth or two. Ink is cheaper than film. Film, especially big budget film, often needs to compromise in order to be liked by the biggest possible number of people around the world. A comic tends to be a small enough, personal enough, medium that a creator can just make art, tell stories, and see if anyone wants to read them. Not having to be liked is enormously liberating. The comic is, joyfully, a bastard medium that has borrowed its vocabulary and ideas from literature, science fiction, poetry, fine art, diaries, film and illustration. It would be nice to think that comics, and those of us who come from a comics background, bring something special to film. An insouciance, perhaps, or a willingness to do our learning and experimenting in public.

 

That was certainly how it was making MirrorMask, a film I wrote and which artist and director Dave McKean designed and directed recently for the Jim Henson Company. As long as we gave Sony something "in the tradition of Labyrinth", Dave could make his film (it's my script, but in service of Dave's story and vision). It didn't have an unlimited special effects budget, or any kind of unlimited budget at all, but Dave still managed to put things on screen that hadn't been seen before - huge stone giants floating in the sky, a librarian made of books and voiced by Stephen Fry, a horde of monkeybirds all called Bob (except for one, called Malcolm). We made MirrorMask on location in Brighton, and in a blue screen studio in London, then Dave took 15 animators to an office in north London and worked for 18 months telling the story of Helena and her peculiar dream.

 

Whether you're making comics or film, much of what you're doing is done for dollars and for US-based multinational corporations who sell back what you've done to the UK and to the world. MirrorMask was a very English film, albeit made with money from Sony. Alan Moore, tired of bad films made from good comics he had written, and of the accompanying Hollywood-associated irritants (including a legal suit over The League of Extraordinary Gentleman), recently removed his name from the upcoming adaptation of his graphic novel V For Vendetta, disassociated himself from his previous films and, in the kind of definitive grand gesture that indicates that you really mean business, also declined his share of the money that came with them.

 

Even knowing that Alan's renounced it, I want to see V For Vendetta. V and I go back almost 25 years, to the first time I picked up a copy of Warrior magazine and saw those wonderful black-and-white David Lloyd-drawn people staring hopelessly back at me. (I find it hard enough to adjust to a world in which the V graphic novel is coloured; a colour V for Vendetta seems as pointless as colourising Citizen Kane.) Moore's story of one lone anarchist up against a fascist British state - in a world poised halfway between Tony Blair's dream and Eric Blair's warning - meant something important to me and to a handful of other comics readers, when it was first published, and the film trailer, composed primarily of images taken from Warrior covers, hooks into that.

 

Alan Moore himself is resigned, amused and wryly bitter about the process of turning comics into film. "Comics are one step in the digestive process of Hollywood eating itself," he told me. "Are there any films made from the comics that are better than the original comics? Hollywood needs material to make into films as part of an economic process. It could be a Broadway play or a book, or a French film, or a good TV series from the 1960s that people want to see on the big screen, or a bad TV series from the 1960s that nobody cares about but still has a name, or a computer game, or a theme park ride. I expect that the next subject of films will be breakfast-cereal mascots - a film that chronicles how Snap, Crackle and Pop met and explores their relationship. Or the Tony the Tiger movie."

 

"Films are no friend to comics," he concluded. "I think they actually impoverish the comic landscape. Turning it into a sort of pumpkin patch for movie studios to come picking."

 

At my most cynical I also wonder whether the world of comics might simply become a cheap R&D lab for Hollywood. The San Diego comics convention, once a summer gathering of a few thousand comics readers and creators, has in recent years become a Sundance-style event with over 100,000 people in attendance and where the year's major SF, fantasy and horror movies are announced and previewed. I confess that I am always relieved when another year passes without anybody making a bad film based on Sandman, the comic on which most of my reputation within the medium rests.

 

But I remain optimistic. While Frank Miller's film of Sin City isn't as powerful as his comics, it was still his vision up there on the screen in the film he made with Robert Rodriguez, uncompromised by the change from one medium to another. MirrorMask is Dave McKean's film from first frame to last, visually and musically. Nearly 20 years after the first Batman film, I realise that film doesn't confer legitimacy on comics. But it's still an awful lot of fun.

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It's strange how he's far more willing to accept abuses of Alan Moore's work than he is to shut up about how terrible the scripts he's seen for the Sandman are, isn't it? (Not, to his credit, that he was on about that there.)

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It's strange how he's far more willing to accept abuses of Alan Moore's work than he is to shut up about how terrible the scripts he's seen for the Sandman are, isn't it? (Not, to his credit, that he was on about that there.)

In fairness, I'd imagine that any putative Sandman scripts there have been are probably infinitely worse than even the most egregious things done to Moore's work...

I seem to recall someone telling me that the first words in one of them were something like "Hahaha, puny mortals! Your weapons are useless against me!"

...spoken by Morpheus, no less :blink:

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It's strange how he's far more willing to accept abuses of Alan Moore's work than he is to shut up about how terrible the scripts he's seen for the Sandman are, isn't it? (Not, to his credit, that he was on about that there.)

In fairness, I'd imagine that any putative Sandman scripts there have been are probably infinitely worse than even the most egregious things done to Moore's work...

I seem to recall someone telling me that the first words in one of them were something like "Hahaha, puny mortals! Your weapons are useless against me!"

...spoken by Morpheus, no less :blink:

Gaiman mentioned that in an interview, in fact. He has no reason to lie, but I do find it a bit offensive that he's gone on record a couple of times* as saying "well, they may be doing something terrible with Moore's work, but I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt until I've seen it," when he's throwing tantrums all over his website about finding first draft scripts of his own comic unacceptable. That's well out of order, imo.

 

*(The other occasion being Constanteen.)

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Yeah, but has Alan Moore even spoken out about how he's against all negative portrayals of comic characters in film, or only his own?

 

Of couse you're going to be far more personally attached to your own work!

 

Gaiman is speaking as a fan when he says he's giving another movie a chance until he sees it, because it's not his work!

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Yeah, but has Alan Moore even spoken out about how he's against all negative portrayals of comic characters in film, or only his own?

 

Of couse you're going to be far more personally attached to your own work!

 

Gaiman is speaking as a fan when he says he's giving another movie a chance until he sees it, because it's not his work!

Moore's atitude has always been that it's their film not his comic and he wants nothing to do with it. This strikes me as a pretty healthy attitude.

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I do find it a bit offensive that he's gone on record a couple of times* as saying "well, they may be doing something terrible with Moore's work, but I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt until I've seen it," when he's throwing tantrums all over his website about finding first draft scripts of his own comic unacceptable. That's well out of order, imo.

 

Why? As you've just said, when he's talking about Moore-related projects (and, as a reader of Gaiman's blog for many years now, I only ever recall this subject coming up in response to reader questions, so it's not like he's going out of his way to talk about it), he's referring to films which he hasn't seen, or scripts he hasn't read. With that in mind, and considering that he has to deal with various film studios and personnel as part of his job, it'd be downright unprofessional for him to comment on them, negatively or positively. The complaints he has about adaptations of his own work are based on scripts he's actually read, and projects in which he's personally involved, and therefore knows enough about to form a clear opinion. Perhaps he just doesn't want to mouth off on subjects about which he doesn't actually know enough to comment authoritively?

 

"Throwing tantrums all over his website" is a ridiculous exaggeration, too. He's mentioned the subject a couple of times over the last few years, almost always in response to direct questions from either interviewers or fans - and he's had just as many positive things to say about, for example, Stardust, and other things adapted from his work. I think you're searching for unreasonable behaviour where none exists, I'm afraid...

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I do find it a bit offensive that he's gone on record a couple of times* as saying "well, they may be doing something terrible with Moore's work, but I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt until I've seen it," when he's throwing tantrums all over his website about finding first draft scripts of his own comic unacceptable. That's well out of order, imo.

 

Why? As you've just said, when he's talking about Moore-related projects (and, as a reader of Gaiman's blog for many years now, I only ever recall this subject coming up in response to reader questions, so it's not like he's going out of his way to talk about it), he's referring to films which he hasn't seen, or scripts he hasn't read. With that in mind, and considering that he has to deal with various film studios and personnel as part of his job, it'd be downright unprofessional for him to comment on them, negatively or positively. The complaints he has about adaptations of his own work are based on scripts he's actually read, and projects in which he's personally involved, and therefore knows enough about to form a clear opinion. Perhaps he just doesn't want to mouth off on subjects about which he doesn't actually know enough to comment authoritively?

 

"Throwing tantrums all over his website" is a ridiculous exaggeration, too. He's mentioned the subject a couple of times over the last few years, almost always in response to direct questions from either interviewers or fans - and he's had just as many positive things to say about, for example, Stardust, and other things adapted from his work. I think you're searching for unreasonable behaviour where none exists, I'm afraid...

The throwing tantrums bit is an exaggeration, but is he actually involved with this Sandman flick, and might the fact that he isn't be part of his problem with it?

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He's not involved. Seriously, all I've heard him say about the subject was that he'd read the script, and was unimpressed by it. Given what I've heard about the content of said script from other sources (albeit unconfirmed), I don't think that's an overreaction, and I certainly don't read into it the depths of hypocrisy which you apparently do.

 

More pertinent is the point I made which you seem to have missed - in your above post, which I quoted, you're not comparing like with like. Gaiman's refusing to comment about films/scripts he hasn't seen, but he is commenting on scripts he has read. That seems like an eminently sensible approach to the matter, regardless of whose work the scripts are based on. It's not like he's panning the Sandman adaptation sight-unseen, as you seem to want him to do for the various Moore adaptations.

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He's not involved. Seriously, dude, all I've heard him say about the subject was that he'd read the script, and was unimpressed by it. Given what I've heard about the content of said script from other sources (albeit unconfirmed), I don't think that's an overreaction, and I certainly don't read into it the depths of hypocrisy which you apparently do.

 

More pertinent is the point I made which you seem to have missed - in your above post, which I quoted, you're not comparing like with like. Gaiman's refusing to comment about films/scripts he hasn't seen, but he is commenting on scripts he has read. That seems like an eminently sensible approach to the matter, regardless of whose work the scripts are based on. It's not like he's panning the Sandman adaptation sight-unseen, as you seem to want him to do for the various Moore adaptations.

I'm not accusing him of hypocrisy, he just strikes me as being a far too precious about this.

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It's HIS baby.

As Gaiman said, he's known in comic book circles for one thing: Sandman!

It's his claim to fame that his name will always be synoymous with.

As Mark said, he's involved with the creative process on these scripts and is unhappy with what he has seen so far. Seems like a perfectly logical response when someone wants to adapt your own work to another medium.

 

Moore had the same problems with his comics being turned into films when he was reading the scripts, which is why he decided to just stay out of it. Less stress. He realizes he can't change anything, so to avoid a stroke, he's just going to completely distance himself from the entire process. Another sane and logical response to a problem.

 

I see both men acting completely normal and rational under the circumstances.

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It's HIS baby.

As Gaiman said, he's known in comic book circles for one thing: Sandman!

It's his claim to fame that his name will always be synoymous with.

As Mark said, he's involved with the creative process on these scripts and is unhappy with what he has seen so far. Seems like a perfectly logical response when someone wants to adapt your own work to another medium.

 

Moore had the same problems with his comics being turned into films when he was reading the scripts, which is why he decided to just stay out of it. Less stress. He realizes he can't change anything, so to avoid a stroke, he's just going to completely distance himself from the entire process. Another sane and logical response to a problem.

 

I see both men acting completely normal and rational under the circumstances.

I'm not sure getting to read the scripts counts as creative involvement, as he obviously isn't getting approval on them.

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It's HIS baby.

As Gaiman said, he's known in comic book circles for one thing: Sandman!

It's his claim to fame that his name will always be synoymous with.

As Mark said, he's involved with the creative process on these scripts and is unhappy with what he has seen so far. Seems like a perfectly logical response when someone wants to adapt your own work to another medium.

 

Moore had the same problems with his comics being turned into films when he was reading the scripts, which is why he decided to just stay out of it. Less stress. He realizes he can't change anything, so to avoid a stroke, he's just going to completely distance himself from the entire process. Another sane and logical response to a problem.

 

I see both men acting completely normal and rational under the circumstances.

I'm not sure getting to read the scripts counts as creative involvement, as he obviously isn't getting approval on them.

 

I might be very wrong here, but I seem to recall having actually read somewhere (possibly in Neil's own blog, which I too have followed for years) that Gaiman DOES have script approval on the Sandman movie, not that there is one in the pipeline at all, at the moment (probably because Gaiman has final approval, actually). I do, however, remember a script I read online about 6 or 7 years ago, and it was awful, so if I as a fan was horrified by their attempts at "adapting" Sandman, I can only imagine what Gaiman as a creator would have felt upon reading it.

 

What I've gathered from the many different authors' blogs and/or websites that I've read over the years, quite a few writers sell the adaptation rights to their work, but insist on script approval, precicely to avoid to many changes they would be unwilling to accept being done. Others are happy just to take the cash and accept that the film version will be something removed from their work. Neither attitude seems particularly unreasonable to me - it's harder to successfully sell a project if the writer retains approval rights, but by relinquishing them, you risk seeing your "baby" butchered.

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If he has script approval and can veto any scripts that he finds unacceptable, then what on earth is he complaining about? It isn't like they can go over his head to film something foul in that case.

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If he has script approval and can veto any scripts that he finds unacceptable, then what on earth is he complaining about? It isn't like they can go over his head to film something foul in that case.

 

I have no idea what you're on about. Gaiman has read some Sandman scripts, didn't think they were very good, and has said so. That's all there is to this - it's totally unrelated to any interest he may have in seeing films adapted from other people's comics, and has nothing to do with whether or not the film is or isn't going to be made. It's just a simple case of a writer giving an honest opinion of a script adapted from something he wrote, and therefore has a proprietory interest in. Why is that so hard to understand?

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If he has script approval and can veto any scripts that he finds unacceptable, then what on earth is he complaining about? It isn't like they can go over his head to film something foul in that case.

 

I have no idea what you're on about. Gaiman has read some Sandman scripts, didn't think they were very good, and has said so. That's all there is to this - it's totally unrelated to any interest he may have in seeing films adapted from other people's comics, and has nothing to do with whether or not the film is or isn't going to be made. It's just a simple case of a writer giving an honest opinion of a script adapted from something he wrote, and therefore has a proprietory interest in. Why is that so hard to understand?

I just find it odd that he's getting precious about it after selling the film rights (or allowing DC to sell the film rights, whichever it was) and that he seems to think it's going to be possible to do justice to 1500 odd pages of comics in a couple of hours. What sort of scripts is he expecting them to come up with, given that?

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With the right script and director Sandman is completely possible.

When I blabbed to Gaiman at some signing or other, he wanted Peter Greenway to helm.

 

Preludes & Nocturns and The Doll's House could succesfully be fused to form a film.

The whole sandman run could be achieved within three or four films, but you would need someone acceptional.

 

Hollywood doesn't really create or allow those people now.

 

Regarding his reaction to submitted scripts and proposals, he always seemed to be quite humurous about them.

There wasn't much vitriol at all.

 

His biggest fear I believe was that ultimately Arnold Schwarzenegger would do Sandman.

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I just find it odd that he's getting precious about it after selling the film rights (or allowing DC to sell the film rights, whichever it was) and that he seems to think it's going to be possible to do justice to 1500 odd pages of comics in a couple of hours.

 

He's not getting precious - he's just giving an honest opinion on the quality of the scripts he's seen. Besides, no-one's suggesting that a movie take on the entire body of Sandman, from beginning to end. As I understand it, the plan would be to adapt the first two or three volumes into a single, edited-down story, with the potential for a sequel if it were to be a success.

 

It's not like he's coming down hard on any prospective adaptation of his own work - as I said above, he's had plenty of positive things to say about other projects based on books he's written, regardless of the level of involvement he personally has in the adaptations (he's even described the script for the proposed Books Of Magic film, which by most other accounts is pretty ropey, as being quite a good screenplay in and of itself, just a very loose adaptation which would probably benefit from severing all ties to the original story and being turned into an unrelated film). It's just one or two specific scripts which he's being critical of - and, as I and several other people here have stated, on the basis of what has been reported about the abysmal quality of various Sandman scripts which have been produced, he's thoroughly entitled to that opinion. He's not been vicious or dogmatic about it, he's never gone on about the subject at any great length, and he's always maintained a sense of perspective so far as I've seen. I don't see how that constitutes being "precious".

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I'm sorry, but refusing to write it off to experience and then let them to get on with producing whatever godawful pile of crap they want to is fairly precious, imo. Hardly in the Anne Rice league, though, it must be admitted.

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I'm sorry, but refusing to write it off to experience and then let them to get on with producing whatever godawful pile of crap they want to is fairly precious, imo.

 

In that case your standard for "preciousness" is absurdly demanding, and unrelated to any use of the word I've ever encountered before.

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I'm sorry, but refusing to write it off to experience and then let them to get on with producing whatever godawful pile of crap they want to is fairly precious, imo.

 

In that case your standard for "preciousness" is absurdly demanding, and unrelated to any use of the word I've ever encountered before.

Fair enough. I still say complaining about crappy scripts for a proposed film of a comic is closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, though.

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Fair enough. I still say complaining about crappy scripts for a proposed film of a comic is closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, though.

 

Not if you've negotiated a contract which gives you some degree of script approval, it isn't.

 

Anyway, that's me out of this discussion. Sorry I let myself get baited.

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