Cult fantasy author Neil Gaiman is one of the most-adapted contemporary authors with at least six TV shows and movies based on his literary works, such as the movie, “Coraline,” and the TV shows “American Gods” and “Lucifer.”
His latest mini-series, called “Good Omens,” was his most complex and personal adaption, Gaiman told Business Insider, in an interview alongside series director Douglas Mackinnon.
“Good Omens,” which debuts on Amazon on May 31, is a fantasy series about the Antichrist who brings the end of the world, based on the 1990 novel by Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett. It’s one of the most ambitious projects to premiere from Amazon Studios, which is working on bigger, genre series including a “The Lord of the Rings” TV show. The production was also emotional for Gaiman, who adapted the book — which centers on an angel and a demon who are best friends — to fulfill the last wish of his friend, Pratchett. The author died in 2015, before “Good Omens” was picked up by coproducers Amazon and BBC Studios.
“I got to make something incredibly personal,” Gaiman said. “I got to take the biggest thing the BBC Studios has made, the biggest thing on Amazon today, and come through on the promise that I made to my friend who died that I would make a television show that he would like and be proud of.”
Making a TV adaption that stays faithful to the book
Gaiman, who wrote and executive produced the series, also served as the showrunner — a first for him over more than two decades of writing for and working in TV and film. He oversaw every piece of the production, from budgeting to post-production, so that he could control the elements of the book that went into or were cut from the series.
“He wanted to see it before he died,” Gaiman said of Pratchett. “Then he died. So I’m going to make a ‘Good Omens’ for Terry that Terry would love.”
Amazon — which produced “Good Omens” along with BBC Studios, Gaiman’s The Blank Corporation, and Pratchett’s Narrativia — backed Gaiman’s vision for the version of “Good Omens” that Pratchett would’ve wanted to see, Gaiman said.
Gaiman and Mackinnon usually treat TV and film adaptions as different beasts than the books they are based on. “You’re making something else,” Mackinnon, who has directed episodes of TV adaptations including “Outlander” and “Sherlock,” said. “You have to admit that.”
But, with “Good Omens,” Gaiman did not want to compromise. The TV show stays true to the novel. Gaiman, Mackinnon, and the rest of the cast and crew committed to bringing the version of the book that Pratchett would have wanted to life, with its quirky characters and casual cups of tea in between plot points.
“I’m not sure if the word adaptation actually covers it,” Mackinnon said. “We just made ‘Good Omens.’ It’s like ‘Good Omens’ Plus.”
Behind the scenes on the making of “Good Omens”
The production started with Gaiman, who wrote the entire series himself. “For the first two years, it was basically me and a copy of the novel,” he said.
In 2017, after Gaiman had the six scripts and the series was picked up by BBC Studios and Amazon Studios, the show went into pre-production. Gaiman and Mackinnon had only a couple of months for pre-production, a fraction of what they should have had, Mackinnon said, because the show’s all-star cast was only available for a tight window. Michael Sheen, David Tennant, Jon Hamm, Miranda Richardson, Nick Offerman, Frances McDormand, and Benedict Cumberbatch were in the series. There were more than 200 speaking parts overall.
“Good Omens” started shooting in London in September 2017, and filmed for a total of 120 days.
Post-production, which Mackinnon called the hardest post-production process he’s ever been a part of, took about 11 months. Gaiman and Mackinnon sat side by side in a London studio, staring at screens day in and day out, while overseeing the editing and visual effects.
Some days started at six in the morning with pickups, or scenes shot after principal photography to flush out the production, and ran until 10 at night or later. Others started at 8 a.m. and went on until 2 a.m. the following day. Those days involved editing and coordinating with actors — who, by that point, were all over the world working on other projects — on looping, or replacing the dialogue in scenes. Gaiman or Mackinnon might nod off during those long nights, and the other would take control.
“It was a fatal flaw and our grand plan for the two of us just to do it together,” Mackinnon said. Series usually have more than one director and several producers, he said. “But, if ‘Good Omens’ is distinctive at all, that’s because we did it. The very thing that is the tough thing is the original thing.”
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On Friday, the series, which has gotten positive reviews from a solid share of critics, premieres on Amazon — six months before it airs weekly on BBC Two. It brings to an end Gaiman’s years-long journey to make “Good Omens.”
Two hundred and fifty members of the cast and crew reunited in London on Sunday to screen all six episodes of the finished product, many months after their involvement in the series wrapped. Gaiman and Mackinnon consider it a testament to how much the production touched those who worked on it.
“It’s a bit dreamlike actually, a bit unreal,” Gaiman said of Friday’s series premiere. “We did it and that feels amazing.”