Allan Heinberg, producer of Netflix’s The Sandman, said in an interview with EW that he’s been looking forward to adapting the iconic comic by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg since he first read it as a student.
Following years of writing for TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy and The O.C, Heinberg has landed on his dream comic. However, he was immediately faced with a problem.
“I’ve now been making TV and movies professionally for 24 years, so I reread the books specifically with an eye toward, ‘How am I gonna be able to do this?’” Heinberg said in the interview with EW.
“Then I called [producer] David [S. Gover] back and said, ‘I can’t do it. It’s impossible.’ In order to pull this off, so much of it would have to change in terms of how we approach the material.”
Eventually, Heinberg’s concerns laid in front of his eyes. After his word-for-word adaptation of The Sandman as an audible audiobook, Gaiman was ready to keep turning things around for the TV version.
Several page-to-screen changes were cosmetic, including the casting of black actresses Kirby Howell-Baptiste and Vanesu Samunyai to play the characters Death and Rose Walker, who were portrayed as white in the original comic.
However, a few other details had to do with how the stories were told.
The Sandman #6 Adaptation: “24 Hours”
“24 Hours’ is a perfect example of a story where most of the dialogue is people ordering their meal from a waitress, and most of the drama is handled by Neil as the narrator, who’s telling you what’s going on in their hearts and in their dreams,” Heinberg stated.
“We essentially had to rewrite it and do it as a play, where if you’re sitting out in the audience and you’re watching people come on stage, everything has to be revealed in their interactions with each other. We can’t tell the audience what’s going on at any point. We didn’t veer away from the material, but the way that it’s presented and the way that you meet the characters is very different.”
In the ten episodes of The Sandman now available on Netflix, the plot circulates in the first 12 issues of the comic. However, although the first few are one-off short stories (signifying that viewers only get to have one episode with Howell-Baptiste’s Death, for example), the second half depicts a longer story titled The Doll’s House.
Hence, viewers dive into the characters of Samunyai’s Rose and her friends. However, many adaptational alterations were still required – mainly due to Dream being often absent from the happenings of The Doll’s House in the comic.
“It was a pleasure for the department heads because those last four episodes behave like a TV show, where you have one cast, and you actually have sets that you go back to,” Heinberg stated.
“Whereas in the first six episodes, we have six different casts and six different worlds. As a TV show, a serialized drama, we really wanted to do both and be able to tell all those stories, but we couldn’t tell any story that didn’t push Dream’s story forward.”