“A year in the life” of artist, writer and creative visionary Neil Gaiman — that’s how producerJordan Rennert and director Patrick Meaney described their new documentary. While no release date beyond 2015 has been announced, clips revealed during a panel dedicated to the upcoming film at Comic-Con International in San Diego reassured fans it will be worth the wait.
Gaiman, one of the most beloved modern storytellers, has created innumerable worlds across comics, novels, films and more. As wonderful as Gaiman’s fictional stories are, the story of his life and work in the real world is easily as fascinating. Filmmakers Rennert and Meaney are eager to bring the “real” Neil Gaiman to the big screen.
Rennert and Meaney spent a year with Gaiman during his 2013 international book tour chronicling everything that happened behind the scenes. The film compiles interviews with fans, fellow writers, celebrities and tour footage to capture the essence of Gaiman’s life, and the filmmakers both agreed it was not without its challenges.
“The amount of stuff he’s doing is crazy. He’d do press, he’d do radio interviews — signings would go until 2 a.m., 3 a.m., two or three thousand people,” said Meaney. “He’s easily the busiest man in show business.”
The schedule was grueling, at one point taking Gaiman to twenty-one cities in only twenty days. Many nights Gaiman signed books and shared moments with fans well after venues closed, only stopping to soak his battered hand in a bucket of ice. “He actually lost a fingernail,” said Cat Mehos, who called herself Gaiman’s very own “Pepper Potts.”
In addition to his creative work, Gaiman also serves as co-chair of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s advisory board. “That’s a quarter of a million people in less than a month, coming up with their hopes, their expectations, all of the emotional experience that they have connected with in that book,” CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein added. “[They’re] coming up for that one moment, and getting their signature, and having that magical transaction — and this one very haggard and tired Englishman, who is not showing it, who is looking in your eye, and in that moment connecting with you. It takes a very rare and profoundly mentally tough person to do that.”
Despite being exhausted, Gaiman often continued to sign books and meet with fans, insisting that venue owners keep the doors open until he had a chance to connect with every last person waiting in line. According to Mehos, it is likely that Gaiman will stop doing signing tours as they take too much out of him. If that prediction comes true, it’s possible the documentary will be made all the more significant as a chronicle of Gaiman’s final signing tour.
From the excerpts shared, the film depicts a kind and generous person, committed both to sharing his stories as well as promoting a love for reading in general. Gaiman explained that his own experience with reading is what drives him. “As a child, the moments I look back on with the most joy and happiness — it was reading. I’d have a book, find a meadow, [or] take a canoe out to a pond.”
The film also features a behind the scenes look at Gaiman’s charitable work with the CBLDF, a non-profit organization that works against the banning of comics, and the protection of writers and artists against censorship. Gaiman’s own foundation has partnered with CBLDF a number of times to enable them to take on more cases.
“In the early days, when he was doing the angel tours it was to raise money for the cases we were working on,” said Brownstein. He went on to share the case of cartoonist Mike Diana, who was prosecuted in the state of Florida for making “zines”, and ultimately convicted of creating obscene material. As a result of his conviction, Diana was prohibited from drawing — even in his own home.
“Righteously appalled by that [case], Neil took the road and told that story. He talked about the rights of retailers who were facing similar situations of being prosecuted for selling artwork to adults in the adults-only section of their stores,” said Brownstein. “Thanks to Neil’s commitment we were able to grow our legal team, and meet our cases.”
Brownstein explained that Gaiman’s commitment to ending censorship of comics (and books in general) reaches beyond just defending those writers and artists who have been targeted. Quoting Gaiman, Brownstein said, “You know what would be really helpful? If we could just educate people about the value of comics before it its goes into that courtroom.” According to Brownstein, the commitment of the Gaiman Foundation had enabled CBDLF to establish programs like “Raising a Reader,” which focuses on the ways in which comics enhance literacy for young people.
Film clips shared during the panel featured interview excerpts with a host of Gaiman friends and fans as well, including Terry Pratchett, David Mack, Wil Wheaton, Michael Sheen and Bill Hader. Ultimately what emerged from the clips was an inspirational and intimate portrait of Gaiman as a man deeply invested in his friends, fans and his charitable work.
The still-untitled film should be finished plan later this year before premiering at a film festival in early 2015. The filmmakers suggested fans who want more info should stay tuned to @gaimanmovie on Twitter for updates.