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Neil Gaiman on Coraline, Alan Moore and Twitter

8 May 2009 by Rob Daniel

Nail GaimanCoraline author and all-round dream weaver Neil GaimanWith his wild shock of hair, sharp dress sense and frontman good looks, it's easy to see why Neil Gaiman is often dubbed a rock star of fantasy literature. But, the author is better described as a magician. 

He is a man whose work has spellbound millions of readers worldwide and captivated Hollywood, with his big screen gigs including Beowulf, Stardust, and Coraline, the latter adapted by The Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick.

Scarily prolific, Gaiman is a novelist, screenwriter, and poet.  But, it's for his award winning comic book series, particularly The Sandman, that he is best known. 

Apart from an almost mystical ability to tell a good story, the writer is beloved by millions due to an equally good knack at putting people at ease and making time for just about any topic they want to talk about. 

Which makes him a great subject for interview....

What was your reaction to the Coraline movie?

Neil Gaiman: I loved it.  Because of the nature of stop motion things are produced very slowly, so Henry was running things by me every three or four months.  I’d get a DVD with the full film, plus voices and animatic storyboards, with bits filled in with the stop motion animation.

So, I had a sense of the film going forward, and I'd make suggestions and basically be a sounding board for Henry.  But as we got toward the end I told him, now stop and let me see the final twenty minutes when I see the whole thing for the first time.  

Coraline 07Coraline and Wybie prepare for the showAnd how did that screening go?

NG:  It was terrifying.  I was holding my breath and really nervous.  The original plan was that Henry would show it to just me, but I thought that would be the most excruciating experience for both us.  A world in which I would be watching the film and Henry would be watching me would be no fun at all.

So, instead I packed out the cinema with family, friends, friends of friends, my family doctor was there, and we just filled the place.  That was great. 

The 3-D in Coraline is real magic.  You know when people watch fireworks and go, “Oooooh”?  That was the noise when people saw the 3-D for the first time, an entire room of people doing the fireworks noise. 

Without wishing to denigrate Beowulf, a film I wrote and is better in 3-D than in 2-D, Coraline is different.  It’s the first time anyone’s been able to use 3-D with this amazing precision. 

Henry uses 3-D the way filmmakers in the 1930s got to experiment moving from black and white to colour, like in the The Wizard of Oz.   In the same way people back then weren’t used to the wonderful Technicolor in that movie, I think people now will be surprised at Henry’s use of 3-D.

So, is this a film that has to be seen in 3-D to get the full impact?

NG:  I think you can see it in 2-D or 3-D, but if you see it in 3-D you’re getting something really special.

Henry Selick was asking you for feedback.  Did this give you an itch to get behind the camera yourself and start directing?

NG:  Um, I still have that itch.  I directed a short film in 2002 and loved it, and 18 months ago got a chance to spend time with Guillermo del Toro in Budapest when he was shooting Hellboy II.  I’d love to direct, but I keep butting my head against this whole 24 hours in a day thing.

You seem to have a good working relationship with Hollywood.  Alan Moore has been vocal about his opinions on Hollywood.  Do you think films can do justice to books and comics?

BeowulfBeowulf - Gaiman's previous venture into the world of 3-D moviesNG:  Alan’s position, and I hope he doesn’t believe I’m misquoting him on this, has changed over the years.

Initially it was (cue great impersonation of Moore), "Give me the cheque and you go and make your thing and my book is over here."  And that changed over the years to, "I don’t even want your f***ing money, go away… and my book is over here."

My attitude has always been, I like films, I think they’re great.  And I’m at a point where I’m a cheerfully internationally bestselling author, the money is not terribly important, so I go and find people whose work I enjoy and get them to do things.

For example, I finished writing Coraline and thought, who do I want to make this?  Well, if anyone’s going to make it into a film I’d like it to be Henry Selick, so I stood by him for nine years. 

There was a point when the option on the movie had expired, so I gave them a nine month free option because I like Henry and I trusted him, and his was the film I wanted to see.  And that in itself is the best bit.

Coraline’s been compared to The Wizard of Oz, Narnia and Alice in Wonderland, but I also saw a lot of Spirited Away director Hayao Miyazaki in here.  Do you think he could have directed this movie?

I would have loved a Miyazaki version of this.  I did the English translation of Princess Mononoke, which means I’m one of the luckiest people in the world because when I go to Japan I get to hang out with Miyazaki.  

Spirited Away 03Love Spirited Away? Then you'll go ga-ga for CoralineLast time I was there I visited him at Studio Ghibli and expected just to shake him by the hand, but he took the rest of the day off, showed me around and looked after me.  It’s like having Walt Disney spend the day with you, it's awesome.

So, with the Miyazaki stuff, we have very similar things.  People said to me Coraline and Spirited Away are very similar, and I say, yes but Coraline was finished in 2000 and Spirited Away came out in Japan in 2001. We were just working on the same kind of thing at the same time.

Mr Miyazaki of course is always retiring, and then comes back and does another film.  But, if one day he read one of my things and wanted to film it then I would just be very happy.

A friend of mine got married recently and your poem, The Day The Saucers Came was read at the wedding.  You’re cropping up in the most unexpected places.

Oh!  That’s so great!  There are times when you hear things like that, and… it stops things just being numbers, it makes things people again.  It’s why I keep Twittering, because I love the fact there is a world out there full of interesting people.


Rob Daniel

Coraline is released nationwide on Friday 8th May.  CLICK HERE for our review.