In an isolated Oregon town, a middle-school teacher and her sheriff brother become embroiled with her enigmatic student, whose dark secrets lead to terrifying encounters with an ancestral creature.
I’ve known Nick Antosca for years. We first worked professionally together in 2015 when I brought him in to polish a film I was producing called The Forest. Nick did fantastic work. Natalie Dormer was amazing in it, but – the film was not. That said, Nick and I kept up. One day he came to my office – he had written a short-shorty that was going to be published in McSweeney’s. He wanted to develop it into a feature. So we did some work, fleshed out the story, and he scripted it with Henry Chaisson.
Even as we were making plans to take the project out, I was working with Guillermo del Toro on our adaptation of Fantastic Voyage in Toronto. He mentioned that he had a deal with Searchlight to produce genre films, and did I happen to have anything? I mentioned Antlers. Guillermo loved it (we both love Wendigo stories). From there, it was a short walk over to Searchlight. Searchlight, it needs to be said, is a dream. They are the most filmmaker-friendly studio around. All film lovers, all fearless. Just an absolute joy to work with.
We talked about directors, had a few meetings, and very quickly settled on Scott Cooper. Scott was an interesting choice – he’d never done a genre film like this. But he was intrigued. (Side note; always been a fan of Scott’s from Crazy Heart onwards – but Hostiles? Man, that is my personal favorite of his. That is a fucking perfect movie.) Scott’s involvement brought in Keri Russell and Jesse Plemons. We made the film in Vancouver. It’s a grim and eerie meditation on addiction. I think it got hammered by the pandemic, but it’s a film we’re all very proud of. I wish we could’ve featured the Wendigo creature a bit more in the movie because that monster was an absolute wonder.
Finally, about eight years ago, Sandman became unencumbered again. I tried to convince Warner Brothers to develop it as a TV show, but they were adamant that it be a movie. That said, they would let me produce it. So I requested that Neil be made a producer as well – which, incredibly, no one had ever done before. We developed a number of scripts with Jack Thorne. The experience was delightful, and, as Neil himself has said, it was the only feature version that actually felt like Sandman. Of course, WB had no interest in making it.
So I cajoled and cajoled WB. By now, streaming was a “thing,” and finally, WB agreed to let me pursue it as a streaming show. I said there were two conditions; Neil needed to be an executive producer, and I wanted him to write the pilot with me. WB agreed.
Neil was in South Africa, showrunning Good Omens. I broke the good news – and hoped he’d agree to co-write it, which he did. That said, it took another few years before our schedules aligned.
By now, though, I had developed Foundation, which had been green-lit. So we needed to find a third Musketeer, someone who would write the pilot with us and handle the day-to-day showrunning, while I was ensconced in Foundation. As it happens, I was good friends with Allan Heinberg. We’d never worked together – only socialized. But I knew his comics-credibility ran deep and that his love for Sandman was very specific. So I brokered a dinner with Neil, connections were made, and we agreed to proceed as a trio.
We then pitched the show to all interested buyers – and it was a crazy pitch. Normally, you go to them, but since Sandman was so special, we wanted buyers to come to us. So, with the help of DC and WBTV we “art directed” two conference rooms at WB. The first was like a Victorian parlor room – you came in, and the walls were lined with “paintings” of the Endless and other artifacts that evoked the aesthetics and feel of the Sandman universe. There was a taxidermized Raven; there were life-sized props of Dream’s talismans – the bag of sand, the ruby, the helm. The next room, where the pitches took place, was covered wall-to-wall in Sandman merchandise. It had all the various editions of the books, the action figures, the porcelain maquettes, even a wall-sized collage featuring photos of fans sporting Sandman and Death tattoos, wearing cosplay costumes. The point we were making was that Sandman was special, and we needed to do this right. We needed to preserve everything that was quirky and dark and difficult. At the end of the process, virtually every buyer threw their hat in the ring – but Netflix and their commitment to Neil’s vision won the day.