March 9, 2019
SXSW 2019

'I’m going to write something that’s unlike anything I’ve written before' - Neil Gaiman Discusses His Craft

Magic and singing nuns abounded at Neil Gaiman’s featured SXSW discussion yesterday.

The beloved author and showrunner was on hand in Austin yesterday to talk about his writing process, how he feels about adaptations and what it was like to write Good Omens with Terry Pratchett. The discussion was led by actor and writer Kirsten Vangsness, who is a friend of Gaiman's and an unabashed fangirl of his work.

They began by talking about his process and how he always sets out to write something totally unique, but doesn't always get the results he wants.

"I’m going to write something that’s unlike anything I’ve written before," he said is his usual starting point. But then, when he looks at his completed work? "You can see exactly how it lines up with everything you’ve ever done."

He accepts that his writing is generally going to feel like it comes from the same body and background.

Gaiman also said that, for him, writing is a way of posing and answering questions. For instance, he talked about writing the 2007 novel American Gods as a way to work through his curiosities about living in the American Midwest. (Gaiman is originally from England but now lives in the U.S.)

Gaiman shifted to discuss how he feels about the many adaptations of his various works. Generally, his attitude is fairly laid back, and he is not precious about staying absolutely true to the source material.

"Find somebody that you trust and like, and you say, 'Go and have an adventure,'" he said.

He pointed to Coraline as an example. When he read an early draft of the film script, he told writer/director Henry Selick that it needed to be even more different than the book.

However, with Good Omens, he felt the opposite. The novel was a labor of love between him and the late Prachett, and he compared the experience to being asked to paint a ceiling with Michelangelo. For years, the two writers tried to get an adaptation made.

In 2015, Gaiman said Pratchett called him and told him, "You have to do this."

Pratchett passed away shortly after.

"Find somebody that you trust and like, and you say, 'Go and have an adventure.'"

Therefore, during the adaptation process for Good Omens, Gaiman said, he insisted upon some elements based on whether Pratchett would have enjoyed watching it.

"I had to make the thing he wanted," he said.

These are two very different approaches to adaptations, clearly, but Gaiman can justify himself in the latter case of a passion project and the honoring of a dear friend's memory. Both are valid examples of how creators can feel about their intellectual property.

The discussion was briefly interrupted when nuns from the Chattering Order of St. Beryl showed up in the hall and serenaded the audience with an unusual version of a familiar chorale. Gaiman also showed trailers for Good Omens and American Gods, as well as the first few minutes from episode one of Good Omens.

Now, with Good Omens completed, Gaiman said he’s ready to return to new work, including a short story and a novel he put aside a couple of years ago.

"I’m getting back to the itching place," he said.

Good Omens  premieres on May 31 on Amazon Prime.


For more, see our ongoing list of coverage of the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.

No Film School's podcast and editorial coverage of the 2019 SXSW Film Festival is sponsored by Blackmagic Design.     

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