Q&A: Neil Gaiman


British author Neil Gaiman is all too familiar with the rites of Hollywood, having co-scripted "Beowulf" and seen his own novel "Stardust" adapted for the big screen. But the new adaptation of his children's book "Coraline" was an endeavor on a whole new level, rendered as a 3-D stop-motion project with a director who is a master of that style, Henry Selick ("Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas"). The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Gaiman about his involvement in Focus Features' ambitious production and the rewards and rigors of watching his past work being re-created for film.

The Hollywood Reporter: Is "Coraline" intended for both kids and adults?
Neil Gaiman: I think it's going to be interesting for Focus Features to figure out how you sell a children's film to adults as well. It's a tough one, but on the other hand, the only person I think has ever straddled that line with something that was both creepy, funny, cool and for adults and for kids is Henry Selick with "The Nightmare Before Christmas."

THR: How did you and Henry come to collaborate on "Coraline"?
Gaiman: Two years before the book was published, I sent the manuscript to my agent and said, "We've got a while before publication; can you send it to Tim Burton and Henry Selick?" Because I love "Nightmare" and I thought that that might be the way to go, and I love Henry's sensibilities. And obviously I love Tim's. Whether Tim ever got it, I don't know. But the matter was moot because by the end of the week, we'd already got a phone call from Henry saying, "I want to make this." And in literally weeks, the deal was completely done. After that, it became one of those things where you basically wait six or seven years until all the stars are lined up in the right way.

THR: Was "Coraline" always going to be a stop-motion production?
Gaiman: You want it not because Henry cannot do computer animation -- I loved his little "Moongirl" film -- but the fact of the matter is with Henry Selick on stop-motion animation, you're watching the best. There is nobody better; this is as good as it will ever get. It's like giving a thriller to Hitchcock to direct. He's turned it into literally the most ambitious stop-motion film ever made -- I think at one point 40 actual sets were being filmed. Filming the entire thing in 3-D and (with) 300 people working on this, it's astonishing. In some ways, I think it's kind of groundbreaking.

THR: Have you generally been pleased with how your work has been adapted for the screen?
Gaiman: I don't know. You know, there are things that contractually I'm not allowed to grumble about. There are things where I feel like our ambition outreached the technology. On "Beowulf," I'm so proud of what we did, and I'm so proud of the fact that we made this $180 million-grossing adult cartoon. And I felt like we'd done something really, really cool that nobody noticed. But on the other hand, Bob Zemeckis sets the bar so high for himself that instead of people going, "Oh my God, this is the most astounding adult animated movie anyone's ever made," people look at it and go, "It's not really live-action -- or is it? Or what?" Which was a frustrating kind of place to find ourselves. With "Stardust," I was incredibly happy. I thought it was just a really sweet, fun movie.

THR: Even though obviously there are lots of things that were condensed and taken out?
Gaiman: The way the filmmaking works is always different. It's not that I look at "Stardust" and think that is the only film that could ever be made of "Stardust," and those are the only set of aesthetic decisions you could make. I'm perfectly cognitive of the fact that maybe in 15, 20 or 40 years, somebody could pick up the novel and you'd get a completely different film.

THR: Have you ever thought of directing?
Gaiman: Yes, I have. I should. I did shoot a film a few years ago just to find out if I enjoyed directing and was pleased to find out that I did. I discovered it was a lot like writing a book because you have the supreme power of saying, "Because I said so." It's a magical and wonderful thing.