Recently at the 2006 Comic-Con International, we sat it in on a roundtable discussion with the revered Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess. As these artists created the novel and piece of graphic fiction that was the blueprint for the upcoming film of the same name, Stardust, it was a rare opportunity to pick both their brains about the film.
Directed by Matthew Vaughn, Stardust is a fantasy, adventure love story. In the sleepy English village of Wall a young man named Tristian (Charlie Cox) goes on a quest to win the heart of his beloved, Vicotria (Sienna Miller). His journey in search of a falling star Yvaine (Clarie Danes) takes him into a magical world where he faces the witch, Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) and a pirate, Capitan Shakespeare (Robert De Niro). Adapted from the 1997 award-winning novel written by Neil Gaiman (Princess Mononoke, Beowulf).
How involved were you in the casting of Stardust?
Neil Gaiman: I was quite involved in the casting of the movie. It was really fun. They had a website where they put all of the footage... they'd film dozens and dozens of actors and actresses and it would all be available for me to look at. At one point I wound up in Los Angeles operating the camera on a sort of short list of five potential stars. Which is really bizarre. Matthew was meant to be doing it and I was just meant to be hanging around, but he said, "I can't concentrate on their performances. You do the camera."
It was great. I got to be very involved. I got to veto a few people. At least with a couple of people... cast the deciding vote. I felt like I was playing an important part in it. I was trying to get Charles involved except that Charles lives in Virginia, where, technologically speaking, they will burn people at the stake for possessing such things as toasters. So Charles doesn't have anything that would play Quicktime films.
Charles Vess: I would see a digital blurred image of someone and a bit of sound and that would be it. I'd be like, "Who is that? What are they doing?"
Neil Gaiman: I thought maybe I could help. I would hate to go and see a film of one of my things and have it be awful. I've been sent sent scripts for Sandman over the years that made me feel physically sick. There was at least one I didn't finish. It was the one that began with the foolish mortal, "As if your puny weapons could hurt me, The Mighty Lord of Dreams, The Sandman!" So I know how bad things can be and what I had here was a director/producer who loved the book for what it was and wanted to turn it into a film. And who also understood that a film and a book are not the same thing.
The end of Stardust is completely different from the end of Stardust the book. If you film the end of Stardust the book as a film, you'd have a lot of people sitting there in the audience going, "Well, that was kind of disappointing. All of these characters sort of missed each other." In the book, that's actually part of the fun. You're sort of looking at things from above and you're watching these characters. You know the ironies that are building up. So we had to work out ways where everyone gets to come together at the end, and it all gets to be enormously fun. But, it gets to be fun in ways that I'm cool with and that Charlie is cool with, as opposed to that thing where you're sitting there looking up at the screen gritting your teeth.
Charles Vess: Getting smaller and smaller.
What was the most difficult challenge for you during production?
Neil Gaiman: I have to say... the whole thing. When you go out to Pinewood and you look at what they've done... what they've done is made a $150 million dollar movie for $70 million dollars, with every penny on the screen and they've done it, partly, by eschewing the CGI work if possible and actually doing it for real. So you walk in and there would be the Witches Lair. In the book, what I did was I wrote it as a cottage with a huge mirror in it and through the mirror you can see the pallets that they used to live in. And the young, beautiful versions of the witches who were there.
So what Matthew and Jane (Goldman, the screenwriter) did was they took that and they compressed it. And you've got these witches living in a corner. This dusty, deserted corner of what turns out, when the lights go on, to be this enormous house. Charlie and I were walking this house. They built it. They built a giant, flying pirate ship. I feel faintly guilty that all these people had to hammer and nail and paint. It's quite astonishing.
Do you have a preference for practical effects vs. CGI?
Neil Gaiman: To be honest, I like practical effects wherever possible, but there's that horrible moment in things like The Brothers Grimm where it's, "Oh, CGI!" I love CGI if it's invisible. I don't like it when it's there and obvious. It's not that there won't be any CGI sequences in Stardust, there's several that we've seen animatics for.
Charles Vess: The scenes in Iceland... and they look like CGI but it's just Iceland.
How much input did you have in the art direction?
Charles Vess: I was on the sidelines going, "Go! Go! Go!" That's about it.
Is Stardust pretty faithful to what you did?
Charles Vess: It's faithful to the script. It's like someone has built their world of Stardust slightly over to the right from mine that's over here on the left. It feels the same but it doesn't look the same.
What's the status of The Sandman?
Neil Gaiman:The Sandman doesn't have a status. If there was news, I would tell you. Warner Bros. is very cognizant that Sandman is one of the jewels in the crown. They are aware enough of what it is to know that they don't want to make a bad Sandman film. On the other hand, they have no idea how to make a good Sandman film, or a good trilogy of films... . My personal theory is that it's going to wait until, one day there'll be a Sam Raimi, as with Sam Raimi on Spider-Man and Peter Jackson with The Lord Of The Rings, there will be somebody for whom the material... who has a vision and can convince the studio to follow along with them.
Honestly, I would rather not see a Sandman film than see a bad Sandman film. I think most of us are in the same position.
Stardust comes to theaters March 9, 2007 from Paramount Pictures.