For Patrick Meaney, Neil Gaiman: Live Dangerously was a labor of love, but it was also an exercise in restraint. After all, you can be a fan and do your job as a filmmaker, but you still inevitably have to pick a side. And Patrick’s a professional, as the documentary proves.
But, like he explains “I’ve been a fan for a long time now, even before doing the documentary,” and that shows. Only someone who had invested as much into Neil Gaiman, who describes him as an “impressive man” that showed him “how cool comics could be” and how “many different kind of stories one person could be able to tell” would make such an intimate, subtle and emotional film.
As we said in the review, this is a film by a fan, for the fans, though Patrick didn’t approach it as one.
Instead he “did research on any kind of stuff I hadn’t read of Neil Gaiman,” particularly, his short story collections, because he believed that it was important to be as familiar “with his work and his history as possible”
“You want to know what people who like his work would want to see,” he explains, and in order to do that “you have to be familiar with their work and what makes them special.”
The goal, after all was to make this documentary “accessible to every audience” and that’s why they approached Neil Gaiman with the idea in the first place. He, after all, has a fascinating story, on top of being a very quotable and personable guy. A documentary seemed like a no-brainer.
And if you’re going to make one, you want to make it as inclusive as you possibly can.
“If you are a huge Neil Gaiman fan, you can watch the movie and get new stuff, but even if you’ve never read a book of his, and don’t know who he is, I tried to make it so you could still watch it and get what’s so special about him. Tried to make it so maybe you’d be inspired to read a book, or discover more.”
I can’t speak for the non-Gaiman fans, but I’d say mission accomplished.
When the subject is this interesting, maybe the biggest challenge is not finding a story, but finding a balance – and editing.
After all, Patrick confesses that they “recorded around seventy hours of material” so the editing job was tremendous. It was especially so because, when Gaiman got comfortable “he started talking to the camera a lot,” or generally behaving like the camera wasn’t there, which is “exactly what you would want”
Even if it makes for a lot of material, which Patrick then had to sort through and, somehow, try to find the right mixture of life on tour, Neil Gaiman’s life and history, and interviews, while still giving a sense of who the author really was.
“Hopefully,” Patrick says, “what we did gives you a good sense of his career as a whole while at the same time giving you a specific look at this one moment he was going through, which was his last singing tour.”
And indeed, it was his last. Gaiman has been doing a lot more reclusive writing these days, and the people who got autographs that time still hold up their copies as trophies. Patrick, however, despite the easy access to Gaiman, wasn’t one of them.
“I felt so bad after seen him sign all those books,” he confessed, “that I couldn’t just ask him to sign mine.”
Of course, it’s all made bearable by the fact that Patrick, who, as we’ve mentioned before, is a fan, already owned a few signed copies and had actually lined up to get autographs with the author before. He still keeps those, and though they might not mean as much as the experience of filming the documentary, they mean something.
When asked for a funny anecdote that, due to time constraints, didn’t make it into the film, Patrick volunteered a moment where, when Gaiman was icing his hand after hours upon hours of signing books, and when they’d already spent enough time together to be comfortable with each other, he asked Patrick to come do the same, so he could see what it felt like.
Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t fun. Just cold and painful and just another reminder of why the job of a public figure isn’t always as easy as we imagine it to be.
Finally, Patrick says that if he could leave people with just one message, he’d want people who are artists, who create, whatever it is they might do to “get inspired by Neil’s attitude of do it, see what happens.” It’s very easy to doubt yourself, very easy to think you can’t do it or you shouldn’t do it, but Patrick – and Neil would both want you to not worry too much.
Just try. Pretend you’re someone who can do it. Don’t pretend you can do it, that’s not good enough. Instead, pretend you’re someone who can do it – and then act like that person would.
Before you know it, you’ll be out there doing the thing that scares you. And then you only have to worry about doing it well.
Neil Gaiman: Live Dangerously premiered on Vimeo on July 8th.