Behind the Scenes: The Sandman | Industry trends

It’s considered one of the great graphic novels of all time, and now it’s finally made it to the screen. As author Neil Gaiman says, no doubt The sand man could only have been realized now that technology and budget make its hugely complex world build possible.

“Technologically, I really think we’re at a point right now where we’re getting to do Sandman in a way that we couldn’t have dreamed of doing even 15 years ago, even 10 years ago,” Gaiman says. “Longer-format romance TV series now have the special effects and budgets to bring that world to life. So it’s now possible to make Sandman, but not easy.

The right time to do The Sandman

The history of repeated failures to adapt The sand man is almost as epic as the comic book series itself. There have been several doomed attempts since the book was published in 1989, including a film from rights holders Warner Bros in the 90s.

The sand man.  Kerry Shale as Nimrod in The Sandman Episode 110.  cr.  Laurence Cendrowicz dash Netflix © 2022

“For over 30 years, my role in Sandman adaptations was simply to try to prevent bad things from happening,” says Gaiman. “And fortunately, I have always succeeded in this field.”

His masterpiece is credited with establishing the graphic novel (with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ watchmen in 1987) into the mainstream. The French and Belgians have long accepted comics as works of art; the United States revered DC/Marvel superheroes and exported Japanese manga to the world; but the Brits have always been a little sniffy about comics.

Maybe it was something about the important questions of life, death, immortality and classic Greco-Roman mythology of The sand man which caught people’s attention.

A story that spans the ages

The sand man is a pretty intellectual stuff with references to Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe and Robespierre and Marco Polo, Cain and Abel and Lucifer. Its central realm, the Dream, is like Narnia, Middle-earth, and Hogwarts rolled into one, only more complex, dark, and magical. The story spans eras, delves in and out of real and dreamlike worlds, and numbers in the thousands.

The sand man.  (Left to right) Mason Alexander Park as Desire, director Louise Hopper in episode 110 of The Sandman.  CR

As producer Allan Heinberg says, “Sandman is quirky. It changes genres. It is a historical fantasy. It’s a horror story. It is a drama of modern times. It’s high fantasy.

Trying to cram a story of such magnitude into a feature film, or even a series of feature films, was never going to work. As of 2020, it was DC’s biggest comic book property that had yet to be adapted. Gaiman’s other works like american gods and good omens were adapted for television.

The ten-episode Netflix adaptation of The sand man received acclaim from fans and critics alike, the most obvious reason being that producers Heinberg and David Goyer allowed Gaiman to play a pivotal creative role.

Or as Gaiman puts it, “This adaptation is the first time I’ve been ready to board.”

The sand man.  (L to R) Gus Gordon as Paul McGuire, Tom Sturridge as Dream, Laurie Kynaston as Alex Burgess in episode 101 of The Sandman.  CR

He is producing and co-writing the pilot and helped cast Tom Sturridge as the story’s protagonist Morpheus, also known as Dream.

Working from the original comic book scripts

Perhaps because of Gaiman’s involvement, the team decided to go back to the very beginning; not to the visuals of the original comic, but to the author’s text, which he wrote before any artist drew a single panel.

The sand man.  Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer Morningstar in episode 104 of The Sandman.  cr.  Laurence Cendrowicz dash Netflix © 2022

“As far as my prep, one of the things Allan provided me with that was gold was the original comic book scripts by Neil Gaiman,” says VFX Supervisor Ian Markiewicz. “Not the comics, not the comic strips, but the scripts he wrote for the artists [where] he described what he was trying to achieve.

Besides the comics, the main points of contact for creators were the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, in particular A matter of life or death.

“Sandman needs time… You need space for a great story. You need time to care about the characters. -Neil Gaiman

“Starting with Neil’s notes was the perfect way for us to think about adapting the show,” continues Markiewicz. “Because sometimes the comic book panel is very comedic, and it has this wild, offbeat, goofy quality, which I don’t think the show has that much.”

Tom Sturridge as Dream in episode 102 of The Sandman.  cr.  Liam Daniel dash Netflix © 2022

Reflecting the episodic nature of the comic book itself, each episode of the Netflix series stands on its own, moving from one time period, setting to setting, and genre to genre, even if it tells of greater consistency. story. The first episode is a period piece. The second takes place in the realms of Dreams, the third in contemporary London. Other episodes take place in hell and in an American restaurant.

“One of the big challenges of this show is just every episode [is different]adds Markiewicz. “Each episode has new lead actors, it has new locations, it has new characters, and new additional background. It’s set at a different time [with] a new wardrobe.

A natural fit for long-lasting television

Season 1 of The sand man on Netflix is ​​essentially the first two graphic novels – Preludes & Nocturnes and The Doll’s House – but the sheer scale of the 75-issue opus immediately raises the question of what to leave out?

The sand man.  Mason Alexander Park as Desire in episode 107 of The Sandman.  cr.  Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

“And if you throw that stuff away, is it still Sand sellerGaiman wonders. “Because if you lose ‘The Dream of a Thousand Cats’, if you lose Shakespeare, if you lose the serial killer convention, if you lose the Midsummer Night’s Dream sequence, everything Suddenly it’s not Sandman anymore.

The episodic nature of television may have been a more natural fit for the source material, but the panels still need to be adapted into scenes; short, digressing stories – like Death and Dream making a man immortal for a laugh – need to be folded into hour-long scenarios.

The sand man.  Tom Sturridge as Dream in episode 102 of The Sandman.  cr.  Courtesy of Netflix © 2022(1)

“Sandman needs time,” Gaiman told the BBC. “If anyone had ever tried to make a movie of game of thrones, that wouldn’t have worked either. You need space for a big story. You need time to care about the characters. In Sand seller the first season we have 340 talking parts. That’s a lot of people to know and we’re just getting started. We have adapted, so far, 400 pages out of 3,000.”

But where a panel can say so much on the page, letting the viewer interpret, imagine, and expand the world, television production had to actually nail down the visuals and, in most cases, physically construct them on stage.

Gaiman says the key was not to take a literal interpretation but to identify the most important feeling in the material and then find a way to visually translate that feeling. For example, in the story where Dream and Death walk around New York together, the realism of being in New York wasn’t as important as creating the feeling of a park, with city life just happening. at its edges.

The sand man.  (L to R) Vivienne Acheampong as Lucienne, Nicholas Anscombe as Merv Pumpkinhead in episode 107 of The Sandman.  CR

“We are dealing with such subjective things,” Markiewicz says. “It’s about dreams. This is Hell. Everyone has their vision of what it should be. And in some ways, we can never hope to achieve what it is.

The Sandman looks exactly as its creators want it to look

Much of the show’s surreal dream-states are rendered with asymmetrical aspect ratios – a distortion that seems to distract some viewers. The stretched nature of the visuals sparked a lot of discussion, but as Variety reports that it is a “deliberate creative choice, giving it the surreal feel of a dream. In short, The sand man “it looks exactly as its creators intended.”

Other treats fans might enjoy, such as:

  • Lucifer’s original character design is based on images of young David Bowie, which Gaiman sent to the comic artists for inspiration.
  • The production used both fake and real crows to film the Matthew the Raven scenes, as well as CG. There were three real crows on set, all with very different personalities, with vocal performances by Patton Oswalt.
  • Another distinctive character, Mervyn Pumpkinhead, is voiced by Mark Hamill.

“The truth of doing television,” says Gaiman, “is that there’s never enough money and there’s never enough time, but now you can’t handle enough. money and not enough time on a much larger scale.”

The sand man.  Boyd Holbrook as The Corinthian in episode 108 of The Sandman.  cr.  Liam Daniel dash Netflix © 2022

The science fiction and fantasy genre is currently experiencing something of a renaissance. Television’s longer canvas combined with cutting-edge visual effects made depictions of extravagant worlds and events more practical. The sand man is aptly timed to release before HBO games of thrones‘ after Dragon House and Amazon’s monumental account of The Lord of the Rings.

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