SXSW Interactive: Chuck Lorre – In Conversation with Neil Gaiman


Contributor

Made it! I had to rush from the Much Ado screening at the convention center over to the Long Center. SXSW is no joke when it comes to getting to and from events!

Right now we’re watching video clips to familiarize ourselves with them both and  their work. Nail’s is, of course, charmingly odd.

17.32

Last question:

You guys spend years and years creating characters. Eventually that ends. Your show or story is finished. Is it difficult exorcising that character out of your brain so you can move onto a new character or story?

Neil: with the exception of sandman, which I did for about 9 years and stopped at the point where I still loved it but knew if i went on for another 2 years I wouldn’t love it anymore. I stopped because I still loved it and wanted to come back int he future. I have a terrible tendency to want to come back to characters or do sequels and then move on to new and shiny – the excitement of something I haven’t done yet.

Right now I”m feeling incredibly 1996 because I”m writing sandman and a everywhere story called how the marquis got his coat back.

Chuck: you don’t exorcise fictional characters anymore than people. They take on a life of their own and it’s a remarkable thing to see happen. Putting it down or getting rid of it is never a thought for me. I’m just lucky to see then go out in the world.

17.25

What’s the status of the American Gods TV show?

Neil: they’re waiting very patiently on the third draft… of the pilot.

Sandman is completely and utterly owned by DC which is Warner Bros. May go over to the bigs creen or stay with warner television. They don’t tell me.

Chuck: I work there maybe I should talk to someone

Neil: You should do!

CHuck: I’ll talk to someone. Sandman should be on a screen.

17.23

Q&A

You both had success taking something you had free on the web and then monetized it. I see people worried about lowering the value of literature with the pries of books online. Can you talk about the feeling of doing somethig free and

Neil: I used to be terribly angry and send grumpy letters to anyone who put my things on the web and then found bad transiations of all my books were being pirated in Russia. And I was really upset, until I noticed that my book sales were going up and up and up in Russia. I wonder what happens when you try giving stuff away. Put the whole of American Gods up for free for one month and the sale of my book went up 300%

Give stuff away. In my experience it gets your stuff out there and more people have it and more people want it.

Chuck: Television is free last I checked. You just have to suffer through 8 minutes of ads.

Neil: As things become cheaper to make,people are actually keener on wanting beautiful things that can’t be duplicated. The kindle crowd wants beautiful hardcover books. People are actually realizing the beautifulness and uniqueness of the object itself is valuable. The object-ness of books. The sheer physicality of it is an absolute delight

17.17

Holy shit, all the proceeds from Chuck’s book goes to a clinic in California where if you need a doctor you get a doctor (his words).

17.15

Neil: I’ve always wondered about comedies – is there ever a point where you go in and add laughter.

Chuck: more often than not on Two and  Half men and BBT we take laughter out. If you put laughter on a shitty joke people go “bullshit.” And the minute they do they walk away from the show. Don’t put laughter o something not funny. Make it funny. Rewrite it.

Neil: have you ever had a show not be funny? What do you do?

Chuck: Rewrite it on the spot. The relationship with the honest is so fragile. If it’s not honest, don’t air it.

17.10

Over lunch Neil and Chuck discussed that all successful sitcoms, at their heart, are stories about family. Even Cheers, or office comedies – they serve as surrogate families.

Early on in the BBT they had the characters eat ridiculous amounts of take out chinese food. What they were doing was what families do – share dinner together. Sharing their day and their troubles. They’re being their for each other with the dynamics of a family.

Neil: for me so much of telling a story is playing with the dynamic of family. Especially with television people are coming into your home week after week and they become sort of a peculiar part of your family.

17.05

Chuck: No matter what you want to say about sitcoms, that it’s a mongrel art form – whatever – it’s… Well, it’s a little bit of theater. And its limitations can make it beautiful.

17.03

Chuck: I still have a box of Teenage Mutant Ninja turtle cookies I haven’t opened

Neil: If you eat them now they’ll give you strange powers

Sitting in front of an audience and talking about creativity is less frightening than staring at a blank screen with no ideas. Neil works alone. What’s itlike with a room full of writers?

Chuck: Running down a tunnel for nine months with a train behind you There are large economic forces that keep you going no matter not. You find yourself asking “what if” a lot. What if these characters – how will they handle various situation. If the characters have an reality to them at all they have flaws and how they cope with adversity with or in spite of those flaws is what’s important.

A sitcom is so intimate it’s by and large, more often than not, two people talking on the cough. It’s not great physical moving. It’s dialogue. How people react to each other.

And sometimes sitting a room with other writers it’s terrible. And sometimes you hate everyone else in the room but ok we keep going. We don’t give up.

 

16.58

Neil: In the history of American television there have only been two Sandman fans and they’ve both been played by Johnny Galecki. I hope by now he’s read some Sandman. You’ve made me cool with my kids.

16.57

The show that most requires a leap of faith, according to Neil, is the big bang theory. Nerd humor matters. There was nothing indicating nerd humor would be popular

Chuck: We never set out to write about nerds. The word nerds was applied after. The driving idea was let’s see if we can write a series about brilliant characters who can’t navigate the minutiae of life. They’re passionate about the things they love, and those alternate realities are an escape.

16.52

Chuck: You work in a more organic way and that fascinates me

Neil: I do and I don’t. I have weird lines in the sand. My blog, from 2001 has never had a place for a conversation. Originally because the technology didn’t exit, and then I decided I liked it the way it was.

It’s fascinating to see two others discuss their boundaries regarding feedback from their audience. Authorship is a traditionally solo endeavor and with that changing it’s important to find a way to balance fan reaction but keep control of the conversation.

Neil’s discussing using readers letters, during sandman, and the inherent sexism of language to trick fans into assuming Dream’s older brother is Death.

Chuck: In 1962 you couldn’t have had some poll saying we want four young men in silly haircutes singing barbershop harmonies. Sometimes we can’t know what we want.

16.46

They really are both wearing an awful lot of black. It makes me wonder if they steal from each other’s closets.

16.45

Chuck Lorre: “Can we just say Neil walked out as the Hebrew Johnny Cash.”
Neil: “Semtic Men in Black!”

Neil: this is all happening because Chuck accidentally wrote a book. It’s a collection of vanity cards from his television career. It started with Dharma and Greg. Neil mentioned pausing, with a VCR at the time, to read the pages of text characters were holding.

Neil: I’m someone who, if confronted with text, has to read it.

Chuck: you have too much free time.

Neil: when I got the book, I felt delighted, not guilty, to realized the believe rant from American Gods ripped you off. So thank you.