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Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Exclusive: Neal Asher interview - his work on the new Heavy Metal film and what he would do if he was Supreme Overlord of the Earth

I recently got in touch with Neal Asher, author of many wonderful books such as Gridlinked, Cowl, Brass Man, The Skinner, Prador Moon and his new book, The Gabble - and Other Stories. They are top quality science fiction tales full of tough heroes, murderous wildlife, sarcastic war drones, immortal pirates, massive aliens, and lots of mad, crazy violence. I highly recommend them (start with Gridlinked and follow the exploits of secret agent Ian Cormac).

Neal is also a fan of the Libertarian Party, not a big fan of the current British Government, hates all the kerfuffle caused by scientists going on about global warming, but most importantly for this site, he has been working on a screenplay for a segment in David Fincher's and Kevin Eastman's new Heavy Metal anthology movie. Neal is also a top bloke and very kindly agreed to the following interview with me.

What did you think of the original Heavy Metal film?

Neal: Since the likes of Led Zeppelin was the only Heavy Metal I’d heard about until I was contacted about this, I can’t give an answer to that.

How did you get involved with the new anthology?

Neal: A couple of years back someone in the comments section of my blog directed me towards a short video on You Tube. This turned out to be a thing called
Rockfish,(see it below - LFF) produced by Blur Studios. It was a short CGI animation of a fisherman on an alien world, using some very high-tech equipment to go after a creature resembling either a Dune sandworm or one of those big worms in the film Tremors. I really enjoyed it and, even though I saw the first ‘Final Fantasy’ film, realised just how much closer had come that time when actors would be competing for parts with computer programs.

I emailed Tim Miller, who is the head honcho at Blur studios, just to say how much I enjoyed Rockfish. He emailed me back, glad of that opinion from a ‘professional’ writer, also adding he had books of mine on his shelf. We had further intermittent contact after that, like when I saw Blur’s excellent short cartoon Gopher Broke and clips from The Duel then, whilst me and the wife were in Crete last February, I got an email from him telling me that he, along with Hollywood heavyweight David Fincher, and Ninja Turtles creator and owner of Heavy Metal magazine, Kevin Eastman, were developing a project I might be interested in: a Heavy Metal movie. After laying out what it was all about he pointed out one story of mine that would be just right and asked if I had anything else that would fit. I loaded a load of my stories to a pen drive, went down the Internet café and sent them, later sending many of the rest.

What are the different challenges with writing a screenplay as opposed to a novel or short story?

Neal: This started with short stories. I had to amalgamate three into one, chop one down, one was virtually untouched and on request for certain material, wrote two more. I’ve since turned a few of these into screen plays which requires a whole new layout and conversion from text-to-brain to film-to-brain i.e. what a character is thinking or feeling must be displayed – all that internal action must be made external, authorial narrative cannot sit separately (unless you want a bodge job with a voice-over), also had to think about viewpoints for scenes etc etc. Not easy, but not impossible when I run stories like a films in my head anyway.

What, if any, information can you divulge about your story for the segment? Will it feature any of your characters and technology or is it all new creations?

Neal: I can’t divulge too much but, yes to the technology and no to the characters found in my books, and of course plenty of the gratuitous violence you’ll find in my stories too.

As Heavy Metal is going to be animated do you have carte blanche with the story or have you been given specific guidelines to follow? Will your segment have to tie in with the others? If so how difficult has that been to co-ordinate with the other writers?

Neal: Not Carte Blanche – I provided stories and a few were selected. As for guidelines, well, as I mentioned above, I was given guidelines for two new stories and produced them. How it will tie together I just don’t know.

Following on from the animated Heavy Metal world would you like to see Blur do some proper adult sci-fi? Would you let them, or another animation studio do something with your novels instead of going down the live-action route?

Neal: Who’s to say this isn’t adult science fiction? I’ve seen the superb artwork that’s been produced for this project, from artists in Blur Studio and scattered about the world, and I’ve seen the kind of CGI Blur produces (just check out www.blur.com) so know it won’t be cartoonish. I know that my own stuff has adult themes and assume the same applies to the stuff from the other writers involved. But of course, this being Heavy Metal, there’ll certainly be lashings of sex and violence.

As for Blur or another animation studio doing something with my novels, why not? Certainly I’d like to see them live action, but them being animated doesn’t discount them from that. Quite the reverse in fact – the more visible they are the better.

Which of your books would you like to see made into a film first? If it was to be live action who would be your ideal director?

Neal: Frankly, I don’t know. I would love to see The Skinner turned into a film, but of course I wouldn’t want it turned into a bad film. I’d love to see Cowl on screen because I know for sure that there’s some pretty convincing CGI dinosaurs out there! But I tell you something; I would much rather see the Cormac books turned into five-season TV series since so much would be lost by chopping those books down to fit the film medium. Don’t ask for much do I? As for directors? I just don’t know enough about film land to comment, other than to say I’d want an enthusiast who actually gets it (like Jackson with Lord of the Rings), rather than film by committee.

Who would you like to see play Cormac and who would be the voice of Dragon?

Neal: Before now, while immersed in 24, I’ve said Keifer Sutherland for Cormac, but in the end, just a good actor. Maybe Kevin Mckidd from Rome … I’m just stumbling in the dark here. I visualise Cormac as someone, perhaps, a bit like Steve McQueen. The voice of Dragon? Maybe John Hurt?

Could you let another writer adapt it for the big screen if there was no other way for it to be made or are you a totally hands-on kinda guy?

Neal: I’m a take the money and run kind of guy. Given the chance I’d do the adaptation myself, but I’m not so daft as to think anything I adapt will reach the end of the scripting process un-mauled.

Did Blade Runner influence your universe? Blade Runner could almost be set in the Polity universe during the Quiet War.

Neal: Yeah, Blade Runner had its influence, along with just about any other SF film you could name, or book.

Your Polity novels are all intertwined and the Cormac ones especially are almost like one long (riveting) story. How do you stay on top of everything thats gone beforehand and have you made any slip ups in continuity that have gone to print? Do you get super-geek fans pulling you up on tiny inconsequential details that slip through the net?

Neal: I keep on top of it all by dint of the fact that when a book goes to press I’ve probably reread it between 5 and 10 times. The ‘find’ function in Word comes in mighty handy too. What can I say? This is my job and mistakes like that are only down to me. I read and reread and check until I reach a point where I can’t see anything that needs changing and to continue working at it might lead me to driving a Biro in through my earhole. Yes, the occasional super-geek has come out of the woodwork, but I find a pen through his earhole generally solves that one.

Do you think the Libertarian policy of increasing VAT on non-essential goods and scrapping income tax completely and VAT on essential goods would cut it in the current economic climate?

Neal: I don’t really know for sure. All I do know is that government tax is simply theft with menaces. However, tax of some kind is necessary to run essential services. I question whether nigh on 50% of income is fair (direct and indirect taxes) and just what services are essential. Do we really need a ‘Diversity Progression Manager’ on 40 grand, no, not really.

How would you go about solving the economic crisis and making the UK a better place to live?

Neal: Take a hatchet to thousands of stupid laws and pieces of legislation introduced in this country over the last fifty years, then use it on bureaucracy and the vast army of bureaucrats, use it to chop us away from the EU and the 55 billion we waft its way every year, then finally bury it in Gordon Brown’s head. That would be a good start anyway.

What was the first film you ever watched?

Neal: Shit, I don’t know. I’m old you know. I vaguely recollect seeing the old Journey to the Centre of the Earth when I was very young and shouting, “Look, there’s Freddy Frog!” when one of the plasticine dinosaurs appeared, but don’t know if that was the first.

What are your top 5 films of all time?

Neal: I get asked the same sort of question about books and, as always, the list is ever subject to change. Right now? Terminator, The Last Samurai, Aliens, Schindler’s List, Predator … but ask me the same question tomorrow and you’ll probably get a different answer.

What is your favourite piece of science fiction technology?

Neal: Well, if someone could inject me with a suite of medical nanomachines to repair all the present damage in my body, returning it to that of a twenty-year-old, and then manage to maintain it in that state for the next billion or so years, that’d do.

Who'd win the fight between a Polity Dreadnought and a Contact GSV from the Culture?

Neal: A GSV would dwarf even the largest Polity dreadnoughts, like the Cable Hogue, so I’m guessing the Polity dreadnough would get fried. Unfortunately, while it was getting fried, some sneaky Polity war drone would nip inside the GSV with a sack of CTDs.

If you were Supreme Overlord of the Earth what would your first decree be?

Neal: “Global warming is cancelled, now get a proper job.”

Finally, what books, films and gadgets would you like to get for Christmas?

Neal: I’d love a printer that last a few years beyond its guarantee and doesn’t require ridiculously expensive ink cartridges, but since that’s something you’ll only find in the most far-out science fiction, I guess its unlikely. But really? A few DVDs of things I’ve missed, some catch-up on the latest SF books, a bottle of scotch and no relatives in sight.

Thanks very much for your time Neal. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

There you go. My interview with Neal Asher ladies and gentlemen. Check out Neal's own blog, The Skinner, if you can. The Cormac books as a TV series would be great. Who do you think would make a good Ian Cormac? The Heavy Metal tale sounds intriguing. Can't wait to see more on that. For those of you interested in reading some his work here are more of Neal Asher's Books.

Will you be going to see the new Heavy Metal movie? Have you seen the original? What did you think of the interview? Which is your favourite Asher book? What is the nastiest alien critter that he has created? I'd have to pick the Hooder.

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