You want to talk development hell?
Meet Neil Gaiman, prolific author of horror and fantasy fiction, graphic novels and kids books. More than a dozen of his books and stories have been optioned by Hollywood producers. Not one has yet been produced.
Gaiman is hoping his luck is about to change.
Bill Mechanic’s Pandemonium Films has secured film rights to Gaiman’s new bestselling illustrated kids suspense story, “Coraline,” for Buena Vista. Henry Selick (“The Nighmare Before Christmas”) will direct from his own adaptation, and Michelle Pfeiffer is said to be interested in the lead.
Mechanic declined comment on casting, but told Daily Variety he expects the pic will likely lense in first-quarter 2003 as one of Pandemonium’s first productions.
“Coraline,” just out from HarperCollins, is the story of a bored girl who discovers a portal to a sinister universe behind a locked door in her family’s apartment. The book “reads like a slightly darker ‘Alice in Wonderland,'” Mechanic said.
HARVEY AT THE HELM?: Mechanic is hardly the first Hollywood honcho to see the cinematic potential of Gaiman’s writing. Miramax co-chair Harvey Weinstein, who hired Gaiman to translate the screenplay for “Princess Mononoke,” is so enamored of the author’s work that he wants to direct a short film based on Gaiman’s short story “Chivalry.”
That’s right, a short film directed by Harvey Weinstein.
“I love the story,” Weinstein said, “and it would be a great chance to work on directing before taking on ‘Mila 18′” — the Leon Uris adaptation Weinstein has said he’d like to helm as a feature film.
Gaiman’s other projects in development include the novel “Good Omens” (co-authored by Terry Pratchett), which Terry Gilliam has said may be his next feature, and an adaptation of Nicholson Baker’s novel “The Fermata,” which Gaiman is writing for Robert Zemeckis’ Image Movers.
Warner Bros. has optioned the graphic novel series “The Sandman” and “Death: The High Cost of Living”; the novel “Neverwhere” is under option to Henson Pictures; and Gaiman is collaborating with Brian Froud on an original fairy tale for Sony animation.
Gaiman has numerous other projects in active development, but it now appears “Coraline” may beat them all to the screen.
“I’ve long ago got past the point of expecting any of them to happen,” Gaiman said. “The real art form of Hollywood is the deal.”
GOOD COMPANY: Gaiman, who first became popular as a writer of graphic novels, can take solace in the company of other genre writers like Jim Thompson and Elmore Leonard. Both were wildly popular among a small circle of devoted readers before bursting onto the Hollywood scene — though Thompson was dead before his career really took off, as movies like “The Grifters” and “After Dark, My Sweet” helped spearhead a full-blown Thompson revival in the 1990s.
Ironically, Gaiman’s appeal in Hollywood, which according to HarperCollins executive editor Jennifer Brehl may stem from his high-concept plots that hold out “the possibility of magic existing in our everyday world,” may be precisely what makes them so difficult to adapt.
But despite the development hurdles thrown in his path, Gaiman, repped by CAA and the Writers House, maintains a good-humored interest in Hollywood. “It’s always been the storytelling that has fascinated me,” he said. “Also the learning process — learning to write different kinds of books.”
In addition to his ambitious writing schedule — Gaiman is under contract at HarperCollins for another novel and illustrated book for kids, as well as two novels and a short story collection for adults — he runs a Web site with some 500,000 regular visitors. He’s also still committed to writing screenplays, and broadening his horizons by adapting other writers’ books.
“I’m now writing fewer and fewer scripts of my own stuff,” Gaiman said. “I’ve gradually learned that, if nothing else, it’s a lot more fun to do original projects or scripts based on other books. You don’t keep bumping up against the same thought patterns that brought you the original thing.”