Exclusive: The Creators of Stardust

In 1996, Neil Gaiman was wrapping up his seven-year run writing the highly-praised comic book “The Sandman,” so there was a lot of interest in his next project Stardust, a prose fantasy tale with illustrations by frequent collaborator Charles Vess. It was serialized by DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint before being collected and reprinted in various formats, including one without illustrations that helped bring Gaiman over to a non-comics reading audience.

Now, Stardust is being turned into a major motion picture by producer/director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) and ComingSoon.net’s Superhero Hype! had a chance to sit down with Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess at this year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego to discuss it and the other projects on which they’ve been working.

Superhero Hype!: Why is now the right time for “Stardust” to be made into a movie?

Neil Gaiman (below right): I think partly because we’ve actually entered a world in which studios are not quite as scared of fantasy as they used to be. They’re still not entirely comfortable with it. As recently as two or three years ago, I had the head of a major studio explaining to me and believing what he was saying that people don’t like fantasy films. And I said to him, “But hang on. What about Lord of the Rings? The Harry Potters? If you list down the top 15, top 20 biggest grossing films in history. Shrek? They’re all as I would think of as fantasy films”. And he said, “Well, no, that’s not fantasy. They’re just their own things”. I think we’re now actually at the point where people and major studios are a lot less scared just of the idea of fantasy. In all honesty, I don’t think that the viewing public has ever had a problem with fantasy. I don’t think of “Stardust” as being any more of a fantasy than the original Disney “Snow White,” in terms of what it demands from an audience. You need to understand that some witches can be wicked. You need to understand that you have some young princess that are heirs to the throne who are trying to kill each other, and that everyone’s out to get a fallen star, who happens not to be a lump of meteoric metal, but to be a very beautiful young lady with a broken leg and a foul temper, who has no desire to be dragged half way across the world and presented to anybody’s girlfriend. At the end of the day, it’s a love story and it’s an adventure and all of those things. I don’t know that it would of ever been made though, if it wasn’t for the fact that Matthew Vaughn read it, loved it, wanted to make it, went out to the investors who put the money into “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock” and “Layer Cake” and said ‘I’m going to make a big budget fantasy movie now. Trust me’.”

SHH!: It’s amazing how he did that, because he obviously didn’t have to get that much money together to make Guy Ritchie’s movies or “Layer Cake.” I have to assume that something like this requires a lot more money.

Gaiman: I think Matthew went and raised 20-25-30 million, something like that, and the other 40 million was put up by Paramount. Which I think at least gave Paramount the confidence to make that little leap. But what’s amazing about that money, as well as everything, it’s all up on screen.

SHH!: “Stardust” was originally published in 1997, but when did you two actually start working on it?

Charles Vess (below left): We started in ’91 but then we started actually putting it…

Gaiman: I had the idea in ’91. In ’93, you did the paintings, like about 4 or 5 paintings…

Vess: Yes, 4 or 5 paintings, but there really wasn’t a story yet but we knew what we were doing, so I just did the paintings because we were going to present it to publishers and property auctions and they have to see something first. And then…

Gaiman: Then I started writing, and DC bought it, I think, at the end of ’94, and I started writing it end of ’94/beginning of ’95…

Vess: It took about a year and a half

Gaiman: More.

Vess: More…to do it all?

Gaiman: I think it took about… because I started writing it, let’s say the beginning of ’95 and the first issue came out in…

Vess: ’97.

Gaiman: ’97 and you were still drawing the last issue…

Vess: Oh, yes. (laughs)

Gaiman: …when the first issue came out.

SHH!: You two have obviously collaborated a lot, but is it just as much about you getting inspiration from Charles’ painting as him visualizing your words?

Gaiman: Oh, completely. That was one of the driving forces for me behind everything that happened that I did in “Stardust” was 1. I want to see Charles draw this. 2. Wouldn’t it be cool if Charles drew this? Or occasionally 3. I love that thing that Charlie drew, that little drawing that he did of that character, wouldn’t it be cool to bring that character or that thing back so I could make him draw that more?

SHH!: But you didn’t write the script for the movie?

Gaiman: No, I didn’t. The script was written by that flame-haired temptress over there. (points to the aptly described Jane Goldman sitting behind us)

SHH!: How involved have you been with the film otherwise. Have you been on set at all?

Gaiman: I was very involved in that the most important thing that I did was I went out and I found a writer who I liked and trusted and put her together with Matthew. I don’t really believe that a writer ought to barbeque their own babies. We get precious. We miss the things that are important and strain on the things that aren’t, and also, we know why we did that the first time, and we can’t always see another way around.

SHH!: And how about yourself, Charles? You obviously have a very distinctive art style, and I wasn’t sure how that might translate to real people, but then I saw the picture of Michelle Pfeiffer on the chariot pulled by goats.

Vess: I’ve been trying to figure out how to put it into words, but the best thing is that “Stardust” is a very large world and I built my “Stardust” over there, and they built their “Stardust” over here, and they both co-exist, but they’re different visually. It’s got the same spirit. It made me very happy to see what they’ve done. It had some very talented people working on it, and I don’t see any problem with re-interpreting anything as long as you’ve got really keen minds on it.

Gaiman: What really sort of put it into perspective for me was when I was in the art department last week, and you had a table where they’d laid out all of the main visual references they were using for the movie they were making. And you had castles of England, and you had old English cottages, and you had weird landscapes, and you had Charlie’s book “Stardust.” But it was one of the things they wanted. If they were setting something in a castle, they’d look at what Charlie had done as the castle but they’d also look at…

Vess: Real ones…

Gaiman: Real ones, because Charlie’s one was a drawing.

Vess: And if we were doing the book now, it would be a different book.

Gaiman: It wouldn’t look like that, yeah.

Vess: So you keep learning and growing and doing things.

Gaiman: And I love the fact that we have the witch riding around in a goat-drawn chariot.

Vess: Yeah, and they did it, yay! (laughing)

Gaiman: And they did it. I don’t really mind that she doesn’t have black hair and a red dress. Now she has blonde hair and a green dress. It’s fine. You don’t look at her going, “Oh my God. Why isn’t she drawn the way that Charlie’s was.” You look at her going, “There’s Michelle Pfeiffer and she’s amazing, and she’s the scariest thing I’ve ever seen on screen!”

SHH!: Of course, a lot of people will never have read or seen this book, so this will be their first impression of “Stardust”

Vess: Yes.

Gaiman: And what I like is that they’ll go out find the book. In fact, my son, who was out at Pinewood with me for a while and saw all this footage and loved it, then went home and read the book, which he had never read it. I saw him yesterday and he was saying, “It’s really cool, Dad. I loved the way the end is so different, and you did this and you did that at the end and you couldn’t do that as a film, but you could do it as…” and I was saying exactly, that’s what I loved about the end is that it’s different.

SHH!: Neil, you’ve been getting more involved in the movie biz, having written “MirrorMask” for Dave McKean. You told us that you’d still like to direct Death: The High Cost of Living, so how do you foresee yourself as a film director?

Vess: One of the things I find is that when you start doing work outside of what you generally do, it makes you grow as an artist. And when you come back to those things you generally do you have a whole other perspective and it’s really fascinating to do that kind of thing.

Gaiman: Yeah, also I’m easily bored. There are some people out there who are novelists, or some people out there who are comics writers, or some people out there who are screenwriters, or people who are directors. I’m not one of them. I’m a storyteller who loves the fact that I’m allowed to work in all sorts of different media. I love the fact that the thing I did this year that I am most proud of was write the script for the musical opera adaptation of my children’s book “The Wolves in the Walls,” which the National Theatre of Scotland did. It’s a completely off the wall thing and was just wonderful to do.

SHH!: And it must be somewhat involved to just start directing films.

Gaiman: Yeah, I think so. I’m meant to be doing some other directing currently for a bigger series of short films for a channel or network.

SHH!: As far as other things based on your novels, “Coraline” is happening with animator Henry Selick, who I spoke to before.

Gaiman: Henry is so happy. I got an e-mail the other day from Lenny Henry telling me that his wife Dawn French and her partner Jennifer Saunders had just been up in Portland recording their parts. Ian McShane is doing the Old Man. Isn’t that cool?

SHH!: A lot of the comic work you’ve done has always been involved with the DC Universe in some way, so is there a chance of there being a “Books of Magic” movie and would you be interested in being involved in that?

Gaiman: No, there won’t. “The Books of Magic” movie got so far from… when it was being developed and each successive script got further and further away from “Books of Magic” to the point where when Paul Levitz and I read the last one, we basically turned around to the filmmakers and said, “You’ve got a really good film on your hands. If you call it ‘Books of Magic’ and the lead character was called Tim Hunter, and people went to see it because of that, they would be upset. We think you should change the name of the lead character, change the name of your movie. Absolutely go make it, it’s great, but please give us back our title and our character and give us a little bit of money if ever you make it.” So that’s what’s happening currently with that and we’re looking at ways to turn “Books of Magic” either into a movie or something else, but it’s starting from scratch with Matt Greenberg who actually developed the first few scripts for “Books of Magic” the film and then quit when it was starting to get weird.

SHH!: You also wrote a screenplay for Robert Zemeckis’ “Beowulf” with Roger Avery, but you two seem to have such different sensibilities.

Gaiman: Currently, we’re writing another movie together. We’re adapting Charles Burns’ “Black Hole,” so that’s me and Roger Avery, too. We do have very different sensibilities which means that… How do I put this? A good collaboration produces something that neither one of you could have written. The thing that I love about “Beowulf” the film is that it’s not something that I could have written and it’s not something that Roger could have written. It was written by a peculiar two-headed creature called Neil and Roger, who I think did a really good job of it. I couldn’t be much prouder of it, then I could be if I had written it on my own.

SHH!: Charles, what are you working on these days?

Vess: I just finished twenty pages of the “Fables” original graphic novel along with Michael Kaluta. I’m illustrating Susanna Clark’s new collection from Bloomsbury, with twenty-two black and white illustrations.

SHH!: You and Michael collaborated on the art for the “Fables” book? (Note: it was just released last week by Vertigo Comics.)

Vess: Yeah, he penciled and I inked and painted, because I had so many deadlines I asked him to help. And then Neil and I are doing a book called “Blueberry Girl” for Harper Collins. It’s a picture book, but more of an inspiration book than a children’s picture book. And I’m doing a book called “Coyote Road” for Viking.

SHH!: And that’s prose, too?

Vess: “Prose with decorations.”

The movie based on Neil and Charles’ Stardust is scheduled for release by Paramount Pictures on March 16, 2007.

Source: Edward Douglas