The Chase Begins: Neil Gaiman Talks "Stardust"

Wed, June 13th, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

TV/Film
Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher

Paramount Pictures releases "Stardust” on August 10th, based on the hugely popular illustrated fantasy novel by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess. Starring Michelle Pfieffer, Robert De Niro, Claire Daines, Ricky Gervais, Peter O'Toole, Sienna Miller and Ian McKellen, “Stardust” tells the story of Tristran Thorn, a young man who sets out to retrieve a fallen star and present it as a gift to girl he loves. Along the way, Tristran encounters witches, faeries, fantastical creatures and immense danger.

"Stardust" has won numerous book awards since its debut at Vertigo in 1997, and has been reprinted several times, even as a non-illustrated prose novel. CBR News spoke to the distinguished authors last year, when they discussed in detail their involvement with the film adaptation of their novel and its impressive cast. We speak now with writer Neil Gaiman, who has taken on a highly public role in documenting and promoting the Matthew Vaughan-directed film.

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Hi, Neil, thanks for talking with us today. To begin with, where are you in the world right now?

Right now I'm actually at home out near Minneapolis.

You've been globe trotting a lot lately, so some time at home must be a nice change of pace. Lets' get to it. So often, when a creator sells his creation to be made into a feature film or TV show, they're often not all that involved with the production. While you didn't write the screenplay for "Stardust," you have been actively involved with the production from the beginning. You had early meetings with director/screenwriter Matthew Vaughan and screenwriter Jane Goldman and have been a very visible part of the promotion of the film. Was that always the plan and how important is it for you to be close to this film?

I don't think it ever was a plan, but I sort of learned my lesson back in 1998. That's when I sold the rights to "Stardust" to Miramax. They actually spent a full two years of their option not developing the film, but instead negotiating contracts with various other companies to co-develop "Stardust," at the end of which we were no closer to making a "Stardust" movie than we were before and I no longer had any confidence in them. So, I got to take my toys and go home.

I then spent most of the next five years saying no to people. There were lots of people who wanted to make "Stardust" movies and there were lots of chiefly beautiful young starlets and directors who would say, "We love 'Stardust,' we will give you lots of money, please give it to us and go away." I would say no and I kept it.

Now, I had worked with Matthew Vaughan previously. He produced a short film that I directed called "A Short Film About John Bolton" and I really liked him and, more than that, I really trusted him. Early on in the production process we talked about it, actually, while we were still doing "John Bolton." [Matthew's] wife was pregnant, she had a broken foot, she read "Stardust" and fell in love with it. She made Matthew read it and he fell in love with it. So Matthew was very interested in producing it more than anything else. He asked me about it and we then had lunch with Terry Gilliam, who had just made "Brothers Grimm," and he said, "I can't do 'Stardust.' I just made 'Brothers Grimm.'" So, that was sort of where Matthew and I left it and I thought that was a pity because I really liked and trusted Matthew. You don't get to trust people very often.

I later e-mailed a friend of mine who was a producer and wanted to do some stuff with me and asked him, "Is Matthew trust worthy?" He wrote back and said, "Isn't that rather like asking if this Lion a vegetarian?" [laughs] But Matthew really was trust worthy and I liked him.

By a series of miss chances, Matthew became a director. He hadn't planned to become a director, but they had the script for "Layer Cake" and Guy Ritchie was meant to have made it, but he didn't so Matthew did. Then [Matthew] went off to do "X-Men 3," but he sort of lost confidence in the script, the budget and various other things, so he came home. A week after he got home he phoned me up and asked, "Can I direct 'Stardust?'" I though about it and I thought, "You know, he's talked to me about his visions for 'Stardust' and it seems to be very much the thing I wrote, he loves it and I like and trust him."

So we started talking about it and Matthew said we needed a scriptwriter. I thought about it for a minute and made some phone calls. I knew Jane Goldman for years and discovered that she wanted to work in film and loved her writing. So, I phoned Jane up and asked if she'd be interested in doing "Stardust." I told her to go read it, she did and then I put a meeting together between Matthew and Jane, they hit it off and went off to write "Stardust" together. They'd send me drafts very nervously when they finished and I had no compunction in telling them exactly what I thought worked and what I thought didn't, and sometimes they'd listen and agree and sometimes they'd argue, which was fine, too.

Then November two years ago I flew out to England, to Matthew's house, and Jane and I sat and we read the entire script aloud as Matthew sat and listened. Again, we all had notes.

What was fun was the way that we had been working was I had given Matthew the rights to "Stardust" for nothing, which really is one of those "Kids, don't try this at home." Do not do this. If you are reading this and you're a young creator of comics or short stories or what have you and somebody who wants the rights to something for nothing comes along, the answer is no. Bad. Do not do this. But I did it because I liked Matthew and trusted him and didn't need the money. It seemed right. It seemed more like a bunch of us setting out to do this thing together than it was me selling my baby and walking away hoping they wouldn't treat it badly.

So, your position as the face of this film really grew throughout the production process.

Completely. Nothing was ever planned. It was weird and it was goofy and some of the things I wound up getting involved in had a wonderful effect. For instance, they were meant to be shooting in Iceland, but they couldn't because you can't bring horses to Iceland and I got a phone call from Matthew asking if I had been anywhere that looked cool. I had recently been to the Isle of Sky and just said, "You have to shoot it in Skye in the Fairy Glenn" and they did and the stuff in Skye looks absolutely stunning. It's a landscape like you've never seen before.

Also, of course, I have my blog and I got to sort of document the process. I wasn't really allowed to post photos, but nobody was going to tell me other wise. What were they going to do? [laughs] So, I got to sneak a few early images up on the blog. And it's been very useful in terms of spreading the word on things. When our dates changed to August 10 th , I could put it up on my blog and the world knew in five minutes.

We all know that Hollywood loves themselves a franchise these days. Looking at the summer 2007 box office slate, most of the films are sequels of some sort. Now, considering the buzz is as high as it is on "Stardust" right now, and provided it performs well at the box office, is the Village of Wall a place you would consider returning to as a writer?

I think I put up on my blog at one point a note about how, when they were talking about how we hadn't really come up with a good tag for the poster, I suggested, "Stardust - it's not a sequel to anything." Really, I would so much rather that it not being a sequel to anything remains that way. Could we do more films? Absolutely. Are there opportunities to spin-off in a dozen different directions? Sure. Would it be more fun to do something else that we haven't done before? I think so. I'd rather do what Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright did. Instead of making "Shaun of the Dead II," they made "Hot Fuzz."  That makes me aesthetically much happier, rather than doing the second one of something because the first one made money.

Wrapping up here, I have to ask a comics question. We haven't heard anything about the Miracleman situation in a while. What's the status on that?

As always, it's an enormous can of worms and it's enormously complicated. The last thing I got was a legal thing from McFarlane suing me - I don't know if suing is the correct word - because we put out the Randy Bowen statue of Miracleman claiming that he owns 100% of Miracleman and we shouldn't have been allowed to put out the statue. So, we have to answer to that. I think that is the current status. It's still a legal can of worms and McFarlane is still squatting on it. I can't quite work out where he gets the idea that he owns the entire thing. That's what his lawyers are currently claiming and I guess more lawyers are going to have to sort it out.

It's astonishingly silly especially considering he's already lost all 18 counts in his previous court case with me, incredibly effectively, to keep going. I guess he figures that this is better because it'll be decided by a bankruptcy judge since he's bankrupt rather than by a jury.

So, pretty much it's still a big mess and we're no closer to seeing "Miracleman" collections any time soon?

Yes. I would be very, very happy the day that we can actually bring out, legitimately, without any worry of McFarlane turning around and suing, new collections. I would love that. To bring out "The Golden Age" and to be able to reprint Alan Moore's stuff, I would love that.

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