Neil Gaiman Exclusive Interview – CORALINE

     January 26, 2009

Written by Matt Goldberg

Our partners over at Omelete recently did an interview with author Neil Gaiman for the upcoming flick “Coraline”. While we’ll be speaking with Gaiman this weekend, we wanted to give you a chance to check out his thoughts on “Coraline”, defining Batman for years to come, and his work on the adaptation of “Black Hole”.

I got to see “Coraline” last week and I was really happy with the finished product. It feels very true to Gaiman’s writing and while kids can see it, it’s the first “Hard-PG” I’ve seen in a while. But the animation is gorgeous and while the 3D makes it neat, it would hold up just as well seeing it in 2D. And here’s Erico Borgo’s interview with Gaiman.

Intro andInterview byby Érico Borgo of Omelete

Neil Gaiman arrived at the Los Angeles hotel dressed in his usual black jacket, holding a Google phone. The author, who zealously keeps in contact with fans online, took a picture before sitting down with journalists to discuss the new movie ‘Coraline.’ After adding the photo to Twitter at got down to business.

“Coraline”, which began as a book, became a theater play, a comic book story, is now a movie and a video game…

Neil Gaiman: And a musical! And a puppet play!

Wow… Well, I know you didn’t plan it, but is it getting harder to write knowing that your work is going to be recreated in all those medias?

Gaiman: You don’t think like that when you write. You never sit down and go “I will write something and then it will become this thing and it will be a film”. You think “what am I doing on this page?” You think “what’s happening in the next paragraph”, you think “can I figure out how this chapter ends?” You are always dealing with the small picture, which is what keeps you sane. If somebody said upfront “Neil we want you to write a book, which by the way will then also become graphic novel, three puppet plays and a seventy million-dollar animated film”, I don’t know that I would be able to write at that point. I would be terrified because that’s never the option. But that’s exactly what happens when you’re writing a sequel. I almost never write sequels. But there could be one for “The Graveyard Book”, which is being adapted to be a film.

Doesn’t the pressure get bigger with writing for an audience and all the marketing possibilities?

Gaiman: It’s taken so long to get to this point – and I look around and I’ve been writing for twenty-five years – This is my fifth movie and each one is a little bit bigger and a little more successful than the one before and the movies in a lot of ways are kind of irrelevant because what matters to me is the success of my books. “The Graveyard Book” has been 16 weeks on the New York Times best seller list and that is cool and important and that’s where I put my craft and my love for that thing. The best that I think that I can ever do is what I did with “Coraline”, which is I find people that I like and trust, I find the person that I want to give my baby to and I say “look after my baby.”

So success has given you the chance to have greater control of your work rather than just selling the rights?

Gaiman: No, because I’ve always had that power and I’ve used it all the way back. You always have the power to say no. You don’t get to hear about the times I say no because these projects don’t get made. Eleven years ago Iturned down an offer from Miramax for 3 million dollars for all my short stories. That was at time when 3 million dollars was an awful lot of money to me and it would have changed my life and it would have been cool but I thought “no, they would have complete control and the rights to every short story I have written to make movies or do anything”. I thought about it for two or three weeks and I went the other way.

So do you hand your story over and then just trust them or are you on set all the time?

Gaiman: In the case of “Coraline” it was pretty easy. I finished the first draft nine years ago in 2000 and I gave it to my agent and said: “Please give this to Henry Selick,” because I had seen “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and even though it was called “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” I was smart enough to understand that the main man was Henry Selick. I then saw “James and the Giant Peach” and thought Henry had something really interesting. Especially as a stop motion director he was just beyond compare. He’s the best there is. I loved the fact that he seemed to understand that sometimes you can show sometimes bravery shines best in dark places. So Henry had the book 18 months before it was published and he bought the rights about a month after that. I read his drafts of the script and stood by him. The first one was too much like the book and we needed to expand it. But there was one point where the option expired. Henry and Bill Mechanic [the producer] came to me and said “we can’t afford to buy the option right now but please can we have a free option?” this is something you would never do as an author. You never give anybody a free option on anything. You just don’t, it’s really bad form. I wanted Henry to make this film and I knew that if I stuck with him that one day it would happen. There were a lot of other people when the option was up who I could have taken the film to who would have been able to pay a lot more money than Henry, who I actually gave it to for free, but the point was I wanted Henry.

Now the film is ready, is it exactly what you expected?

Gaiman: It’s what I hoped Henry would make, which is Henry’s film. It’s very much a film of my book and it hits all the beats of the book and it expands a little bit because it’s not a very big book. But he instilled it with Henry’s wonderful imagination and he doesn’t stop anything. I love the fact we still have the ghost children in there. You still have the rat’s head bitten off by the cat. It’s so strange because I think adults have a lot more problems with this kind of story than children do. It’s true for the book. It’s always adults that say to me that they finish reading the book at three o’clock in the morning and go around the house turning on all the lights. I never get that from the kids.

You wrote in your blog that the last trailer for “Coraline” was the first that you really liked. Why was that?

Gaiman: Because it looked like the trailer of the film. The problem that I had with the early trailers for the film was that they made it look like it was “Alice in Wonderland”. That’s not what we are doing here. That’s not what Henry [Selick] has made. It was strange because I would have people saying: ‘I love the book but the book is so cool, but the adventure in the book doesn’t look like it’s going to be anything like that’ and I’m going: It’s very faithful and they’d say ‘I have seen the trailers’ [and I’d say] but those are trailers. What I loved was finally a trailer that made me say look! this is a trailer for a film and it actually feels like a film and if you don’t like this trailer then don’t go and see the film, but if you like this trailer you will not be disappointed by the film.

According to DC Comics you wrote the most important Batman story in the last ten years or so because it will set the tone for Batman from years to come. So how do you feel about it?

Gaiman: I’m nervous and very happy. I had the most awesome artist in the world in Andy Kubert. I couldn’t have imagined anything that would have got me writing a two-part Batman series and then I got a call from Dan Didio [DC Editor] saying we want you to write the last Batman story. The last issue of Batman, the last issue of Detective Comics, as a two-part story and you can do whatever you like, as long as it’s the last Batman story. And I got to ask Andy Kubert to do stuff that you wouldn’t get any artist to do and he pulled off everything I asked him, so it was glorious.

What happened to the “Black Hole” adaptation?

Gaiman: Roger Avary and I handed in our various scripts. We got our second draft in before the writers’ strike and then David Ficher came on board and basically we were told that we were too expensive and that Ficher’s way of working, of writing involved getting the writer to do 12-15 drafts and they couldn’t afford us for 12 or 15 drafts. So they were going to keep us in reserve because they had one final polish on our original contract and they would get young enthusiastic scriptwriters and they would bring us back in the end, depending on what they do or not. It’s a strange thing with film. When I’m doing novels it’s mine, it’s my thing. When I do films it’s in the knowledge that you are a kind of a hired hand and its paying your health insurance. And that’s pretty much what it is. You come in and do drafts and things and it may or may not ever actually appear and if it does get in there, you may not be recognized for something you did anyway. On the other hand, they do give you millions of dollars and they do pay your health insurance and it’s certainly something I can live with.

“Coraline” hits theatres on February 6th.

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