At a cosy restaurant under the shadow of Table Mountain Neil Gaiman shares the story of Terry Pratchett's dying wish with Good Omens TV adaptation
Cape Town - The six-part TV-adaptation of the beloved comedy fantasy novel, Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett recently premiered on Amazon Prime.
If you're not familiar with the plot of The Good Omens, the novel follows an angel named Aziraphale, and Crowley, a demon, who agree to join forces to find the missing antichrist and to stop the impending Armageddon.
With the armies of heaven and hell are amassing, and The Four Horsemen are ready to ride, the unlikely pair try to prevent the war to end it all.
From the dunes in Atlantis (Cape Town, South Africa) to a vacant office building in Weybridge (Surrey, England) the filming of Good Omens was a global effort.
During the final month of shooting in February 2018, Cape Town, Channel24 had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit the different set locations in and around the city, as well as sit down with acclaimed English writer, Neil Gaiman.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
The lovely walking and bike trails of the Cascade Country Manor in Paarl plays backdrop to the lush vegetation of the Garden of Eden.
The location was chosen initially because of the olive orchards, and cascading waterfall which is in walking distance of the hotel, but because of the severe drought that hit Cape Town in 2018, the waterfall was more of a trickling stream than rapid flowing water.
Fortunately, the graphics department found a clever workaround, using a little TV-magic!
The desert scenes were filmed on the vast Atlantis sand dunes, stretching over an area of roughly 32 km². Under the scorching South African sun temperatures reached as high as 27 °C.
The pits of hell were brought to life in a former abattoir, strewn with litter and dangling ceiling lights added to the dark, devilish atmosphere.
I met with Neil at Roxy Late Night, now over a year ago, for a mid-morning coffee (he had tea), and I learn that this is his first time visiting The Mother City.
"This is my first time in South Africa. Amanda [my wife] came through Johannesburg about three years ago, on her way back from Australia and when she came back, she said: 'We have to do this, you have so many fans down there'," he laughs.
About the experience of filming in Cape Town, he said: "I'm happy that we're filming here, because the magic of getting to make film and TV when it happens, sometimes it's a sort of reverse magic."
He explains: "You could be in a giant warehouse or shed for days on end, while other days you're building an African village and crucifix on Noah's Ark. You get to film on the dunes. While on the Atlantis dunes, I felt like I was on Mars. Being out there for two solid days making, movie magic, you couldn't pay for that as a vacation. It's quite marvellous."
He then points at Table Mountain and laughingly adds: "In Cape Town, you always have the shadow or sometimes rather a distant shadow of Table Mountain in the background, always telling you where you are. Looking a lot like a spaceport. You keep expecting things to start landing and taking off from it."
Neil recalls his first experience reading about South Africa, saying: "My first experience or knowledge of South Africa was incredibly warped because it was reading Tom Sharpe's Riotous Assembly when I was about 14."
The book, set in the fictitious South African town of Piemburg, Riotous Assembly is a satire about Apartheid and the police who enforced it. "I thought: 'This is a very strange book'!"
MO MONEY, MO PROBLEMS
Neil, whose works include the comic book series The Sandman and novels Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, and The Graveyard Book talks about the difference between writing for TV and print.
He explains: "The most significant difference between writing for TV and when writing a novel is the notes you get when you send it to your editor.
"When writing for TV, the danger is that you'll get feedback saying: 'We don't have enough money actually to make this chapter. Is it okay if instead of setting it in a spaceport on top of Table Mountain, we set it in the Roxy Late Night? Because we can do that!' he continues.
And not only is there the problem of "not enough money," but there is also the problem of "not enough time."
He uses the example of filming in Atlantis, saying: "We only filmed one scene on the dunes, which was the opening scene in the book, and it was vital to shoot during what's called the 'magic hour.' The hour before the sun goes down and when the light is beautiful and vibrant."
"It meant that we had the most crucial scene in the book to shoot over essentially an hour and a half."
A DYING MAN'S FINAL REQUEST - TERRY PRATCHETT
When Terry died in 2015, Neil was adamant that a Good Omens TV adaptation would never happen without his co-writer, but Terry had a sneaky suspicion that this would be the case, and had a letter delivered to his friend, following his death, urging Neil to finish the project without him.
"If it weren't for Terry Pratchett having extracted a promise from me to make this and see it through, and then dying, I wouldn't be doing this."
"I would be writing novels, staying at home, I would be playing with my son. My life got very upended by a promise to a dying man. I've never had a last request before. I hope I never have another one. They take up years of your life, and they mean you have to get up ridiculously early in the morning, but they also mean that you get to see something through."
He calls completing the project without Terry "hard," for two reasons.
"For one, when I get stuck on Good Omens, my immediate reaction is to call Terry, and he's not there. Secondly, when I solve a problem or come up with a creative solution, I want to call Terry and tell him: 'Look, look at what I've done'."
"But he isn't there.
"I have to keep my fingers crossed that he is happy."
Good Omens is now streaming on Amazon Prime.