Interlochen Arts Camp alumnus Allan Heinberg launches new Netflix series “The Sandman”

Heinberg’s career was informed by the love of collaboration he discovered at Interlochen.

Alan Heinberg

Alan Heinberg, image by Purepop, cropped from original, used under license CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Allan Heinberg 1980 cabin photo

Allan Heinberg with fellow campers in 1980 (second row, second from right, center of image)

The Sandman poster

Tom Sturridge as The Sandman. Courtesy of Netflix.

When Allan Heinberg (IAC/NMC 80) was a young person reading comics, he fell in love with the fascinating characters and exciting storylines of Wonder Woman and The Sandman. He had no idea that he’d go on to adapt both of them for the big screen.

On August 5, Netflix launched its new series The Sandman with Heinberg as developer, executive producer, and writer. Tom Sturridge, Gwendoline Christie, Vivienne Acheampong, and Jenna Coleman lead a diverse cast in this reimagining of Neil Gaiman’s 90’s cult classic comic series. 

For Interlochen Arts Camp alumnus Heinberg, this achievement is just another step on a journey that’s been full of “dreams come true.” Through it all, Heinberg’s love for relational storytelling and passion for collaboration have continually propelled him to new heights. 

A love for relational storytelling
At first glance, it’s hard to pinpoint a single focus in Heinberg’s varied career. The celebrated writer and producer has many popular TV shows to his name, including hits like Sex and the City, Grey’s Anatomy, and Gilmore Girls. He was the screenwriter for the 2017 Wonder Woman film. Aside from filmmaking, he’s the creator of Marvel’s comic series Young Avengers

Looking back over his career to date, Heinberg sees a common thread that pulls all of his projects together. 

“I'm a relationship writer, primarily,” he says. “I'm interested in relationships and the way people love each other, whether it’s romantic love or filial love.”

A closer look at Heinberg’s work reveals that even his comic-based productions revolve around relationships. In Wonder Woman, idealistic young Diana leaves her Amazonian paradise and grapples with both the beauty and horror of the real world as it is torn apart by World War II. 

“What I think set Wonder Woman apart from the other DC superhero movies was primarily that it was a love story, and not just between Steve and Diana, but between Wonder Woman and the human race,” says Heinberg. 

The Sandman has similar themes. The titular character is an immortal being who controls the world of dreams. After being held captive for over a century, he sets out across the cosmos to restore the wreckage caused by his absence. 

“It's about a very honorable but imperious godlike entity who learns to be human, and the way that he learns the value of humanity is through love,” says Heinberg.  

According to Heinberg, themes like these are what makes a story timeless. The Sandman comics have staying power and attract an enduring fan base to this day. Although they have been out for three decades now, Heinberg thinks the time is right for an adaptation.  

“I think it's always going to be the right time for that kind of story, because the human condition doesn't change,” he says. 

Interlochen and interdisciplinary collaboration
Heinberg isn’t just interested in creating fictional relationships, however. In real life, he deeply values the trust and camaraderie that develops around a shared project. 

For him, the best aspect of his job is collaboration—seeing a group of passionate people come together and make a masterpiece. He frequently teams up with visual effects supervisors, comic illustrators, production designers, and, of course, other writers. 

“I really love working with a team of writers to refine the ideas, to mine everybody's emotional experience and to bring as much to an outline or a script as possible,” he says. “By the time it gets to me, it has the benefit of so many people's love, the depth of their feeling, and the wealth of their expertise and experience. That's the best part.”

Heinberg’s appreciation for this aspect of creative work grew in his time at Interlochen, which he says was “a huge influence on the way that I think about collaboration.” He attended Interlochen Arts Camp in 1980, when it was still known as National Music Camp. Heinberg was just 13 years old at the time, but has vivid memories of the experience.

“Everything that happens to you at 13 stays with you for the rest of your life,” he says.

I got to experience the incredible breadth of the way that people can express themselves creatively, especially at such a young age. It was so remarkable to be surrounded by people who were as serious about it at 13 as I was. I thought, ‘Oh, this can be a life.’

His favorite part about camp was that it “wasn’t siloed experientially,” meaning that young Heinberg was surrounded by gifted artists in all fields. The passion and diversity he saw around him solidified his own ambitions. 

“I got to experience the incredible breadth of the way that people can express themselves creatively, especially at such a young age,” he says. “It was so remarkable to be surrounded by people who were as serious about it at 13 as I was. I thought, ‘Oh, this can be a life.’” 

The memories stayed with Heinberg; years later, he name-dropped the institution in Marvel’s Young Avengers comics. The character Kate “Hawkeye” Bishop is nocking an arrow when a superhero colleague asks if she has ever “used one of those before.” 

“Every summer at Interlochen National Music Camp,” Kate quips in response. “I also play the cello.” 

Allan Heinberg Kate Bishop Interlochen reference

A dream come true
Heinberg’s path since Interlochen has led him to professional success, but he hasn’t lost sight of the reasons why he pursued this kind of work in the first place. 

“I've been a fan of Wonder Woman, the character, and of The Sandman, the comic for as long as I've been reading comics,” says Heinberg. “To have adapted both of these characters for film and TV is a lifelong dream come true. I am still astonished that this has happened to me, and I am enjoying it so much.”

Heinberg expresses thankfulness for the many doors that have opened to him along the way.

“I've been grateful for every experience. I've been lucky enough to work on some of my favorite shows with some of the most extraordinarily talented writers in the business,” he says. 

At the end of the day, his love for what he does keeps him heading forward. 

“I think when you love something hard enough and you move toward it, it creates opportunities,” he says.