Monday, December 03, 2007

strikes and scripts and stuff

I'm feeling like a particularly bad sort of striker. The WGA strike was called the day before I left LA for the UK, and I've not been within a thousand miles of anywhere that we're picketing since. I get nice emails every day telling me where in New York the pickets are going to be, but New York's a long way away -- for the time span of most of the emails, it's not even in the same country as I am. And now I'm starting to get a bit frantic about the last couple of chapters of THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, I may go to ground to finish them and vanish completely.

But in case anyone had any questions (and judging from the FAQ line, a few people have), yes I wholeheartedly endorse and approve of the strike, and, for whatever it's worth, voted for the strike powers (along with about 95% of the WGA membership, so no surprise there).

The bit of this that puzzles me most is that elsewhere in the world, the idea that the writers get paid when the work is watched online is one that's been taken for granted. If I wrote a TV series for the UK, I'd get less money upfront (not much less) but I'd be well recompensed for repeats, DVDs, internet downloads and so forth. (For whatever it's worth, I get 125 times as much in royalties on a hardback novel as I'd get on an equivalently priced DVD.)

At the very end of this post -- in case they break the various RSS feeds -- I'll put two video summaries of the issues. Partisan, of course.


Hi Neil,
I went to see Beowulf as soon as it came out and I liked though it didn't quite match up to Stardust which blew me away.
Anyway I thought I had found two mistakes in Beowulf.The first was the mountains of Denmark. This is something Denmark is famous for not having and is a major point for jokes by Icelanders as myself about the country which used to rule us. But then somebody pointed out on the forums that though this does not conform to reality it does fit the poem which says:
"'......sailors now could see the land, sea-cliffs shining, steep high hills, headlands broad.' "

Oral tradition does these things to poems. The version was probably not written down by anyone who had ever seen Denmark. Somewhere there might have been versions that speak of the great flatness of Denmark but those are forever lost to us. The other point might be a little harder to explain away by the poem. Iceland is mentioned at least twice in the movie which is out of place since it was probably not inhabited at that time nor is it likely that anyone who might have known of it would have called it by this name. Was it just your love of the country that made you mention it or are there other reasons? Or will you take the high road and blame your co-author? Icelanders will probably not be offended as they do like to hear the country mentioned. Anyway, thanks for writing this journal, it is especially fun for me since you tend to mention both folklore (I am a folklorist) and libraries (I am a library and information scientist) a lot and very favorably too.
warm regards from Cork, Ireland,
Óli Gneisti Sóleyjarson

Yes, the cliffs and high hills are from the poem.

In the script the line of dialogue was,

"They sing our shame from the middle sea to the ice-lands of the north."

I'm not sure whether that's what Anthony Hopkins actually says in the film, though. (And I have no idea where the just-as-anachronistic Vinland line from the Skylding's Watch came from, either. Wasn't in any draft by Roger or me.)

Incidentally, I thought I'd mention again that the Beowulf script book has a lot of the answers to this kind of thing in it, and that none of the descriptions of it currently online seem to explain what kind of thing the book is.

I found a review ( which says,

How does a script filled with guts and gore and f-bombs become PG-13 animated fare? Witness "Beowulf: The Script Book" (HarperCollins Entertainment, $16.95), which is actually two scripts, both by graphic novelist/author Neil Gaiman and
Oscar-winning screenwriter Roger Avary.

The first script is what you get when you combine the writer of "Pulp Fiction" (Avary) and the writer of "Sandman," "Stardust" and "American Gods" (Gaiman), with no rules or outside interference. The second is their draft of the final studio script.

Avary provides a Foreword and "Middleword" that describe his decades-long obsession with "Beowulf" -- a centuries-old, 3,000-line poem -- and his growing compulsion to re-create it onscreen. He eventually, wrenchingly, gives up on directing "Beowulf" in the face of Steven Bing's big bucks and director Robert Zemeckis' passion for the project. Gaiman gives the Afterword, in which he says of the introduction, "Roger Avary is much too honest about getting the script made.
That's because Roger is a Holy Madman."

Gaiman and Avary first huddled in Mexico in 1997 to create the tequila-fueled first draft, in which the monster Grendel's penchant for human flesh knows no censorship. It does, however, follow the timeline of the original Old English poem.

Later, they have Zemeckis' input about taking cinematic liberties, along with his blessing to let their imaginations run wild, as his innovative Performance Capture animation process (as seen in "The Polar Express" film) knows no bounds.

The timeline and the setting is changed in the final draft -- instead of a story in two parts and in two countries, Beowulf begins and ends in King Hrothgar's court. Beowulf is awarded Hrothgar's throne rather than return home. Instead of meeting Beowulf as the strapping dragonslayer he becomes, we first meet old King Beowulf in his court ... and it's apparent you're in for a different experience than in the first script.

Just as intriguing as the script changes are those honest Avary moments. For instance, he finally finds peace with giving up his "baby" to Zemeckis when "Z." agrees to use Crispin Glover to portray the monster Grendel. The director had a contentious relationship with the eccentric actor during "Back to the Future 2," which resulted in Glover suing Zemeckis when the director inserted the actor's image into scenes. "To this day, the verdict protects actors from having their
likeness used without their blessing," Avary writes.

Still, Glover got the job, and Zemeckis used his newfangled technology to make him into a monster onscreen, which may have been payback enough.

The book of "Beowulf" scripts also contains artist Stephen Norrington's renderings that were commissioned by Avary when he believed he would be directing his first version, further fueling the question asked by presenting two visions back-to-back: "What if ...?"

(The mention in the song, though, is completely my fault. Sorry.)


Hi Neil, I'm a Swedish fan who was hoping to buy some your books from, but apparently Audible doesn't sell them to Swedish people. Can you tell me why this is? As there is no Swedish or even European reseller of your books in audio form, this mean nobody gets my money and I'm stuck listening to Orson Scott Card.

There are lots of rights issues around the world that mean that companies selling audio things like songs and books don't always sell everything everywhere. On the audio books, you can always buy the CDs and rip them yourself. And there are even some audio books that come with MP3 CDs so you don't have to rip them, just drag them to your MP3 player.

(I just checked and Amazon is currently discounting the ANANSI BOYS MP3 CDs, so it's the cheapest way of buying the Anansi Boys audio.)

Neil, I was wondering what you thought about Philip Pullman's books and and the controversy in the united states about the new movie based on his first book.

I like Philip Pullman very much, I like his books ditto, and I think the controversy is stupid. Does that help?


And here are the videos:

and here's another,

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