Neil Gaiman accepted an invitation to shadow director Guillermo del Toro on set in Budapest in June. Saying yes was a no-brainer. He slid both book and script drafts aside and committed two weeks to the learning experience.
“I think I’d like to direct a movie,” Gaiman explains. “There’s always a very vague feeling of frustration when other people direct my stuff, even if they do it brilliantly.”
Directing a feature would be a first for the bestselling author, beloved for his comics (“The Sandman”), graphic novels (“Violent Cases”) and children’s books (“The Wolves in the Walls”). But Gaiman has taken studio meetings since nearly the beginning of his 20-year writing career.
He scripted “Neverwhere” for the BBC in 1996 and the visually stunning but financially disappointing “MirrorMask” in 2005. Gaiman and Roger Avary cranked out their first “Beowulf” draft in 1997 on spec.
The zeitgeist finally seems to be right for Gaiman’s fairy-tale brand to catch the greenlight.
“Stardust” hits theaters in August, directed by Matthew Vaughn. “Beowulf” is due in November, with Robert Zemeckis at the helm. And Gaiman’s popular young-adult novel “Coraline” is being adapted by “The Nightmare Before Christmas” stop-motion maestro Henry Selick.
“It seems like everything’s catching up to me,” Gaiman says. “In the ’90s, I’d have meetings with studio execs and watch their eyes glaze over. Afterwards, the assistants would get me to sign their copies of ‘Sandman.’ Now the lowly guys who were bringing bottled water are running the studios.”
Gaiman hopes the renewed attention will allow him to have some say in every screen adaptation of work that bears his name, whether that means handpicking the crew or writing and directing it himself. The process, he realizes, is far different from writing comicbooks or novels, and Gaiman welcomes the challenge.
“If you’re writing a novel or a short story, what you write is the thing itself, whereas in a movie script you’re writing something more akin to a battle plan,” he says. “Things are going to change.”
For now, he’s studiously observing how other directors work while rewriting “Death,” a script he drafted years ago that he hopes to direct.
“Mostly I’m just interested in figuring out what you can do with film. I’m learning so much.” After spending a week on set with del Toro, he says, “It was astoundingly easy as a director to lose a three-page scene I’d been incredibly proud of as a writer.”