Neil Gaiman has been gearing up the last few months to make his feature directorial debut with an adaptation of his own comic, Death: The High Cost of Living, which sees the anthropomorphic personification of death assume mortal form for one day out of a century (yes, shades of Meet Joe Black). As part of the preparation, he spent some time on the set of Hellboy II, shadowing Guillermo del Toro to see how a great director works. While there was nothing official, there was some belief that work on Death would begin in earnest after that visit. When I sat down with Neil for a one on one about Beowulf, the all-CG film that he cowrote with Roger Avary (and which is actually quite incredibly terrific), I asked him where he was in terms of getting started on Death, and the answer was quite simple: ‘Right now we’re on strike.’
I was surprised, since I thought that Gaiman had pretty much finished the script, but it turns out that among the many things he learned from his time with Guillermo was that he needed to take another pass at it. ‘I was looking forward to rolling up my sleeves post-Guillermo, but I realized one of the things about the draft is that it has some scenes I don’t want to shoot. And I thought, "I should fix that. I should rewrite them into scenes I want to shoot. And I can." I would watch the way Guillermo would tailor material towards himself as a director, and it was like how I would tailor things for an artist. I would give them things they like to draw and they’re good at drawing, and that will make you look good. I thought I should actually do that with this script and me as a director, which I wasn’t doing. I was writing it for a hypothetical director, and now I need to do a me as director draft. That’s really the next thing that has to happen. But that’s just personally. We’ll see. There are lots of things happening on Death, but they all seem to be contingent on each other and there’s nothing I would feel comfortable talking about for fear of jinxing everything."
The path of Sandman and his sister, Death, to the screen has been long and convoluted – Beowulf began when Gaiman called Avery to basically thank him for leaving a Sandman adaptation rather than turn Dream into a fist fighting crime fighter – and it looks like we’re still not in the home stretch. I’m a fan of Gaiman’s short film, A Short Film About John Bolton, and have been looking forward to what he could pull off with Death: The High Cost of Living. I’ll remain looking forward, and hope that Death isn’t another casualty of a long and ugly strike.
Look for the rest of the Neil Gaiman interview, as well as an exclusive chat with Roger Avery, in the coming days. And start looking forward to Beowulf - the movie delivers.