Monday, June 24, 2013

Neil Gaiman Discusses SANDMAN and BOOKS OF MAGIC Film Failures

With all the comic book characters adapted into movies over the last decade, it's been a little surprising that none of acclaimed writer Neil Gaiman's various comics projects (apart from Stardust) has reached the big screen.

Gaiman recently appeared as a guest on the Empire Magazine Podcast and discussed having a number of his various works as unproduced screenplays.  As you might expect, the process of pitching the properties to studios and developing them for production often resulted in the films straying farther and farther away from the original source material.

His best-known comics work, The Sandman, was originally slated to be directed by Roger Avary in 1996 but Avary was fired after creative disagreements with Warner Bros. executive producer Jon Peters.  The project carried on with various writers and script revisions, but was ultimately stalled in Development Hell by 2001.

During the Empire Podcast, Gaiman remarked, "We also dodged a bullet on the worst of all the Sandman scripts.  It was so bad, I couldn't even get to the end of it.  I read about five to ten pages and went 'I can't bear this.'  And later read a summary of the plot on Aint It Cool News because somebody there got hold of the script, and I just felt sick the whole way [through].  [In that script] Morpheus' first line was, 'As if your puny weapons could hurt me, Morpheus the Mighty Lord of Dreams.'  And I went, 'Oh no, that's awful, this is terrible.  He was kept by electromagnets underneath New York and it must have been about 1997 or '98 because it was a millennium based plot.  [The lead characters] had to do some stuff before the millennium, the lead characters were brothers, Lucifer, The Corinthian and Sandman were brothers, and it was this race against time to gather a bunch of MacGuffins before the millennium.  It never got made and whoever wrote [that script] got paid more for writing that than I ever was for writing the entirety of Sandman.  So in terms of how I feel about stuff [I write not becoming films], I feel fine."

Meanwhile, Gaiman's four-issue limited series The Books of Magic introduced young British magician Timothy Hunter in 1990, years before J.K. Rowling's famous creation Harry Potter.  It was optioned by Warner Bros. as a film before the first Harry Potter novel was published, with Gaiman serving as executive producer in 1998.  After several years of revisions, the script moved far away from the original concept and the project has yet to emerge from Development Hell.

"The worst one of all was Books of Magic," said Gaiman during the Podcast.  "It was really weird because the first draft and the second draft scripts were really good.  And they were good enough that they got everybody at the studio really excited.  But now everyone is giving notes and now everyone is piddling into this thing because they really like the idea of 'smelling their own weight' and it's slowly turning into this sort of 'urine soaked lemonge' and it's no longer any good.  Now the original writer leaves and a new writer comes in and all he knows is that the more you change, the more likely you are to have your name on the credit when they make it, so he's changing everything randomly.  And then he's fired and they get somebody else in but now they've got a director and the director goes away and does his own draft and I look at the [current] script and it looks like they're about to make it -- and for all I know they may have, because I called DC Comics and said, 'This has nothing in common with Books of Magic anymore other than the hero's name is Tim Hunter and the movie is called Books of Magic.  And if this movie happens, all it will do is upset any fans of Tim Hunter and The Books of Magic and make them feel used.  It's perfectly adequate for what it is, which is terrible, so why don't we ask if [the studio] can pay us off and they can use the script and we take back the name Books of Magic and they can call their hero something else.'  And they did and I was incredibly relieved and I have no idea if that film ever got made or not."

If you'd like to hear the full Empire Magazine Podcast with Gaiman, you can listen to it below...

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