TV - The Sandman

Ahead of The Sandman TV series dropping on Netflix on 5th August, read an interview with some of the creatives involved in taking the story from Panel to Screen...

There is another world that waits for all of us when we close our eyes and sleep — a place called the Dreaming, where The Sandman, Master of Dreams (Tom Sturridge), gives shape to all of our deepest fears and fantasies. But when Dream is unexpectedly captured and held prisoner for a century, his absence sets off a series of events that will change both the dreaming and waking worlds forever. To restore order, Dream must journey across different worlds and timelines to mend the mistakes he’s made during his vast existence, revisiting old friends and foes, and meeting new entities — both cosmic and human — along the way.

Based on the beloved award-winning DC comic series written by Neil Gaiman, THE SANDMAN is a rich, character-driven blend of myth and dark fantasy woven together over the course of ten epic chapters following Dream’s many adventures. 

Developed and executive produced by Gaiman, showrunner Allan Heinberg, and David S. Goyer, THE SANDMAN also stars Boyd Holbrook, Patton Oswalt, Vivienne Acheampong, Gwendoline Christie, Charles Dance, Jenna Coleman, David Thewlis, Stephen Fry, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Mason Alexander Park, Donna Preston, Vanesu Samunyai (formerly known as "Kyo Ra"), John Cameron Mitchell, Asim Chaudhry, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Joely Richardson, Niamh Walsh, Sandra James-Young and Razane Jammal.

In this newly released interview from Netflix, Neil Gaiman, Allan Heinberg, and David S. Goyer discuss crafting an authentic adaptation more than three decades in the making — and why THE SANDMAN series will delight fans across the world.

Neil, as the author of the comics and creator of this world, why did you feel that now — more than 30 years after the original comics were first published — is finally the right time to adapt SANDMAN?

NEIL GAIMAN: For well over 30 years, my part in SANDMAN adaptations was just to try and stop bad ones from happening. And fortunately, I was always successful in this. We got to 2020 and SANDMAN was the biggest DC comics property that still had not been adapted — it was widely considered one of the jewels in the crown; it was the adult comic that changed everything. This adaptation is the first time that I’ve been willing to come on board. We've reached a point that really did not exist when the SANDMAN comics began. Longer format, novelistic television series now have the special effects and budgets to bring this world to life. Technologically, I really think we're in a place right now where we're getting to make SANDMAN in a way that we could not have dreamed of making even 15 years ago, even 10 years ago. So it’s now possible to make SANDMAN, but not easy. It’s really hard. But the resources are there, the people are there, the skill set is there, and the determination is there — and the fact that we now have an entire generation of high-level creative people who have grown up reading SANDMAN who love it and want to bring it to life with authenticity. The determination everywhere to make this and get it right has been absolutely a breath of fresh air. This is SANDMAN being made for people who love SANDMAN, by people who love SANDMAN, and that is so incredible for me. It’s been so special. I feel like I’m on the cusp and I cannot wait until people see this show.

And why has this specific creative team been such a good fit for the story?

DAVID S. GOYER: I'm a longtime comic book reader, and I picked up the first issue of THE SANDMAN when it was on the stands at my local comic book shop in 1989. Initially, I just read it as it was published month to month as a fan, and like many people, I was just stunned and amazed at how creative and groundbreaking it was. In the late ‘90s, I adapted a short story of Neil’s called “Murder Mysteries,” and over the years we developed a friendship.

GAIMAN: David S. Goyer had been an executive producer on the only movie adaptation of SANDMAN that I'd actually liked. And as that project went away, David and I began to talk about the idea of doing SANDMAN as a television show.

GOYER: Because I was working on another show, I couldn’t be the SANDMAN showrunner. I had to find someone, a third musketeer, who loved SANDMAN as much as Neil and I did. I've been friends with Allan Heinberg for years. He didn't know Neil, so I brokered a dinner. Neil was impressed that Allan wasn't just walking the walk — he talked the talk. Neil quickly understood that Allan loved the comics as much as I did.

ALLAN HEINBERG: I fell in love with this story when the comic books were coming out in the ‘80s when I was in college. I had been working with Shonda Rhimes for about 15 years, and my deal at ABC was up, so I met with Warner Brothers in May of 2019. At the very end of the meeting, I said, "What are you guys doing with SANDMAN?" And they said, "We're actually taking it out to streamers, and we don't have a writer and we don't have a showrunner. David S. Goyer’s producing, do you know him?” By the time I got to my car, David had called me. That was it. I walked into my dream job.

GAIMAN: David enlisted Allan, who I had not previously known, although I had met, because in 1996 Allan had stood in line with his page of SANDMAN art for me to sign. The three of us agreed to co-write the first episode and we all talked it through, divided it into three, and went away and each wrote a third. Then we came back and knitted it together. Allan, as our showrunner, took overall responsibility for getting it onto the screen. But what was nice was having that as a script before there was a writers’ room. We'd set the tone, and the tone was SANDMAN.

GOYER: And then we pitched the concept, and to our delight, we found that Netflix would be the right home for THE SANDMAN. Then Allan and I went to upstate New York where Neil has a magical home, stayed for a few days, and during that time we broke the season and wrote the pilot together. It’s so cool that a TV series was born out of these two friendships that I had, and that all three of us came together through a genuine connection. It took 30 years to get this show made, and it took over a decade for me personally, but it finally feels like it's being made under the right circumstances. 

GAIMAN: SANDMAN is so big. It’s 75 issues plus a special, plus other stuff, and you immediately run into the question of what to throw out. What do you throw away? What do you leave? And how do you throw that stuff out and still keep it SANDMAN? Because if you lose “A Dream of a Thousand Cats,” if you lose Shakespeare, if you lose the serial killers’ convention, if you lose the MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM sequence, suddenly it’s not SANDMAN anymore. What’s glorious is that Warner Brothers and Netflix absolutely stepped up. I agreed to make this with the assurance that what I was making would be SANDMAN, and it is.

How has the team balanced staying true to the comics while still expanding on, and sometimes making changes to, the story?

GAIMAN: What’s been so interesting about Season One, which is basically the first two graphic novels — PRELUDES AND NOCTURNES and THE DOLL’S HOUSE — is how we keep going back to the comic. The comic is the place we go for problem solving. When we get ourselves into trouble in the script, we'll go back and go, "Well, what happened in the comic? How was that told?" And pretty often that will give us the key to get out of trouble.

GOYER: We wanted everyone involved in making this show to treat the story’s attributes as features, and not issues to be fixed. SANDMAN is quirky. It changes genres. It's a historical fantasy. It's a horror story. It's a modern day drama. It's high fantasy. Past adaptations tried to beat this complex story into submission and say, “It’s just this kind of story,” when actually, it’s every kind of story. Breakout shows these days don’t follow the rules, in the same way Neil didn’t follow the rules when he wrote the comics.

HEINBERG: We're trying to be extremely faithful to comics, and to their spirit. Neil is very present, even though he’s based in New Zealand. Every script, every prop, every costume, all the sets, everything gets Neil's eyes and his feedback. We're working with a lot of the original art, and all the props are almost to the letter as they are in the comics. It does feel like you’re living inside the comic book when you walk around the sets.

GOYER: We always say, “Does it pass the SANDMAN smell test?” Meaning, does whatever we're doing genuinely feel like SANDMAN? And between the three of us, we feel like we have the right internal compass to decide.

HEINBERG: Neil is one the finest and most generous collaborators I’ve ever known. And unbelievably generous in our approach to adapting SANDMAN for 2022 and beyond. He knows that David and I both have a fan's love for this story, so we've been very, very faithful. But he’s also been a staunch advocate for expanding the story, so that fans get even more of what they love; material that’s not in the comic books.

Can you talk about some of the key narrative adjustments you’ve made this season — making Johanna Constantine a key player as opposed to John Constantine from the comics, casting women and actors of color in key roles that deviate from the comics, expanding the Corinthian’s role — and the motivation behind those changes?

GAIMAN: It was incredibly liberating to be able to look at everything in SANDMAN from a perspective of now, and getting to ask, "Well, if I was beginning writing this story now, would I still do that?" Which was just freeing. We were able to give a new sense of balance to the characters, I think.

HEINBERG: From the very first pitch, Neil was already thinking about ways to make the show as inclusive as possible. THE SANDMAN comics were leagues ahead of everybody in the late ‘80s in terms of the depiction of women, race, sexuality, and gender. Neil was talking about all of those issues long before anybody else was, especially in a medium like comics. But in creating THE SANDMAN for 2022, we knew we wanted to expand the world and make some changes.

What are you most excited for longtime SANDMAN fans to see in this series?

HEINBERG: I have the advantage of being one of those fans. If anybody else had adapted this show and brought it to television, I would be looking at it as a fan first and foremost. So I’m viewing every element of the show through that lens, and trying — not only to deliver — but to enhance and surprise. The nice thing about Neil’s being as game as he is about opening up the material, is that I think we will be able to play with fans' expectations. They won't always know what's around the corner. We'll get there eventually, but Neil has been very, very up for taking detours and deepening our time with the characters.

GOYER: We know this property is near-sacred to so many people. I think fans of comics are going to be shocked at how faithful an adaptation this is. All their beloved characters are in there; we haven’t stripped anyone or anything away because it’s too strange or difficult to adapt. I have an out-of-body experience as I'm watching the episodes, because as a fan, I can't believe what I'm seeing; because everything's brought to life in the way that I’ve been dreaming it would be for thirty years.

GAIMAN: We know we have a huge fandom out there. For me personally, seeing this all come to life has been moving and often even overwhelming. And I think for the fans, seeing this thing take flesh, seeing this thing start to fly, hearing it, tasting it — it’s going to mean a lot. There are thousands upon thousands of people out there with Sandman tattoos that they put on because it meant so much to them. And I want all of them — because they're all going to be worried that we're making something rubbish — to be a little bit happier after they've seen the first episode. Every part of this show feels like SANDMAN. And that, for me, is the most important part, and what makes my heart happiest. I'm most excited for fans to see this story that, until now, and for over 30 years, has only ever been in their heads, actually happening.

The ten one-hour episodes of The Sandman drop on Netflix on 5th August

Images - Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022
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