All along, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman was almost a movie before Netflix

if you ever thought Would Patton Oswalt be a good voice for a talking raven? Netflix The Sandman is here to answer your question. Whether it is affirmed or denied is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. but sandman Creator Neil Gaiman has said in a blog post that Oswalt was the first person they cast for the comic book adaptation, and he was very conscious of his choice.

“The question was, could we find an actor who could get you to care for a dead person who was now a bird in Dreaming – one who’s not sure what’s going on, or if it’s all a good thing idea is? And were we able to find a speaker who was like that sandman Fan who used to queue to get his sandman Comics signed?” Gaman wrote. “The answer was we could if we asked Patton Oswalt (he/him). And Patton was the first person we asked and the first person we cast the day before our pitch The Sandman to Netflix.”

If this seems like he’s thinking about it, just know (if you don’t already) that this development is a damn long time coming. Much like how Dream of the Endless faces years of trying to rebuild its empire, Gaiman has been on a translation journey for about 30 years The Sandman comics on the screen. In those decades, that screen was big and silver and small and serialized, but it was always just a little bit elusive.

As we now know, Netflix would finally catch on and give the story a neatly serialized home, along with a hefty budget and a cast as endless as its hero. And now, in addition to the chapters of the original comic, we can also look back at the chapters of sandman‘s attempted development and the alternate realities we may have seen had sandman previously optioned.

The 1990s: Working on a Sandman film

Dream of the Endless, huge, pale, shock-haired, holds Doctor Destiny in his palm.

Image: Neil Gaiman, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III/DC Comics

As Gaiman recalls, the first meeting he ever had was about a sandman Movie happened in 1990. He went to a meeting at Warner Bros. where executives asked him what he wanted to see in a film sandman Movie. “‘Please don’t do it,'” Gaiman recalled meeting at a 2020 press roundtable. “I remember Warner CEO Lisa Henson looked at me very confused and said, ‘Nobody is ever come into my office and asked not to do a film before that.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s me. Please do not. I’m working on the comic and a movie would just be a distraction and confusing. Just let me do my thing.’ And bless everyone, they kinda kept me going.

While it was some time in coming, Warner Bros. made moves to adjust the story as the decade progressed: in the mid-1990s, Roger Avary (who was co-writer pulp fiction starring Quentin Tarantino and directing silent Hill and Beowulf) was tapped to guide. The script was written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (a duo behind it Aladdin, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and Shrek, among other gems); The story merged The Doll’s House and Preludes and Nocturnes storylines and was intended to be partially animated. Avary was eventually fired but continued to work with Gaiman Beowulf.

A few years later scripts and creative crew change, sandman Adaptations continued to languish in Hollywood. At least one script was rated by Gaiman as “not just the worst sandman script I’ve seen, but almost certainly the worst script I’ve ever read.” (While some contemporary sources attribute this quote to Gaiman, who spoke about the Elliott/Rossio script, others seem to think that this was a later version of Warner Bros. plans.)

The 2000s: What is the Sandman?

From The Sandman Universe #1, DC Vertigo (2018).

Image: Si Spurrier, Bilquis Evely/DC Comics

After the end of the millennium on a grumpy note for sandmanGaiman spoke at Comic-Con 2007 about not compromising his vision just to see the opportunity sandman On the big screen. During a question and answer session, Mania Entertainment quoted Gaiman as saying:

I’d rather not see a ‘Sandman’ movie than a bad ‘Sandman’ movie. But I feel like the time for a ‘Sandman’ movie is coming soon. We need someone who has the same obsession with the source material as Peter Jackson did on The Lord of the Rings or Sam Raimi on Spider-Man.

To remind you how much has changed between then and now, I also want to note that Gaiman went on to talk about how Zack Snyder “was doing Guardian right now, and he knows what he’s doing, and I hope it’s good.” That same year, Gaiman was also quoted as saying that Terry Gilliam would be his ideal choice for the comic’s adaptation, but that Gaiman (on this Zeit) was busy getting $70 million so he could fit in Good omens.

When a fan at Comic-Con said he’d make the film himself if he had the chance, Gaiman replied, “I mean that. I grow vats of people like you all over the world. Eventually we will put a bunch of you in a room with knives and whoever gets out alive will be the winner and make it sandman Movie.”

The 2010s: From Kripke and Mangold to Goyer and Netflix

Tom Sturridge as Dream in Sandman on Netflix

Image: Netflix

But even when Neil Gaiman gave up, Warner Bros. and his deep pockets never did. supernatural Showrunner Eric Kripke was linked to a Warner Bros. television version in 2010 that never materialized (and Gaiman wasn’t happy with it). logan Director James Mangold pitched a concept to HBO, but nothing came of it.

Although the adaptation had been a snowball in development hell for a good decade at this point, sandman continued to be yelled at by executives — or at least one executive — in a 2013 interview with the Hollywood Reporter. When asked what DC titles she would like to see on screen, then-President of DC Entertainment Diane Nelson said: “sandman is at the top. I think it could be as rich as the Harry Potter universe.”

Here’s how she (almost) spoke it into creation: In December 2013, movement came into play, and true to his word, Gaiman won loyal fans of his comic. Gaiman announced that he is collaborating with David S. Goyer (the Blade and Dark Knight trilogies, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (3. Stone from the Sun, Looper) to bring the comic to life as a movie. They hired Jack Thorne (who created Shameless Skins, and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) to write the screenplay.

This version got relatively far: once again a screenplay was in circulation. Gaiman was in the room while they worked on the script. Goyer told Deadline in December 2014 that it was “a draft that Warners is very happy with and we’re moving forward, knock on wood”. Goyer went on with Gordon-Levitt as producer, star and director of the project and expected the script to go to the actors in 2015.

It was around this time that ownership of Vertigo was transferred from Warner Bros. to New Line (a subsidiary, not a separate entity). Ultimately, this C-suite switch would result in JGL leaving the project. “A few months ago I realized that the New Line folks and I just didn’t agree on what makes Sandman so special and what a film adaptation could/should be,” Gordon-Levitt wrote on his Facebook page in March 2016. “As a result, I unfortunately decided to withdraw from the project. I wish the team all the best for the future.”

Ultimately, Goyer and Gaiman stuck with the project. In the years that followed, they also lost screenwriter Eric Heisserer (arrival, shadow and bone), who told iO9 that he ended the film project because he felt the property belonged on TV:

I’ve had many conversations with Neil [Gaiman] I did a lot of work on the feature film and have come to the conclusion that the best version of this trait exists as an HBO series or limited series, not as a feature film, not even as a trilogy. The structure of the feature film really doesn’t fit that. So I went back and said here’s the work I did. It shouldn’t be here. It has to be on TV. So I talked myself out of the job!

And so the show eventually wound its way to Netflix. Even though sandman When a TV show was bought into multiple TV networks — including HBO — Netflix was the one making the big play, having recently lost its deal with Marvel. The streaming company signed what the Hollywood Reporter called a “massive” deal sandmanwith sources saying at the time it was the most expensive TV series DC Entertainment had ever made.

After 30 years of this process, Gaiman is publicly optimistic about the project. He said he will be more involved The Sandman when he was with the Starz adaptation of American godsbut less than that of Amazon Prime Video Good omens series (which he completely adapted). He, Goyer and Allan Heinberg will serve as executive producers.

While this will obviously be the first sandman TV (or film) adaptation to see the light of day, Gaiman seems hopeful he has the legs to go further than just one season. As MovieWeb quotes Gaiman in a press roundtable:

people would write The Sandman Scripts and they’re like, ‘But it’s an R-rated movie, and we can’t have a $100 million R-rated movie.’ So that wouldn’t happen. They had to get into a world where long storytelling is an advantage rather than a disadvantage. And the fact that we certainly have five editions sandman plus essentially 13 full books worth of material, is a really good thing. It’s not a disadvantage. It’s on our side. And the fact that we’re in a world where we can take things that only existed in comic book art that can now exist in reality. All along, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman was almost a movie before Netflix

Charles Jones

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