From his first major feature film, “Dawn of the Dead,” it was clear that 43-year old Zack Snyder was a filmmaker with an extraordinary visual eye. That of course was confirmed with his critically acclaimed and audacious “300”, and further cemented with “Watchmen” – his stylish and dark tale of flawed superheroes in a twisted version of 1980s America.
While the film is bound to receive a mixed response from fanboys and critics alike, one thing is certain – this is Snyder’s passion project and one that establishes him as a unique artist. Paul Fischer chatted to him one-on-one in this exclusive interview.
Question: First of all, why do you think 2009 is the right year for Watchmen?
Snyder: It’s interesting and, it’s a thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I think it’s almost like, pop culture has reached a point where the saturation level of sort of comic book iconology can’t get any deeper into the mainstream of culture, I always say, like, my mother knows that Superman has a Fortress of Solitude and she has no business knowing that. It’s like – that’s the kind of knowledge that, was once reserved for only the most devoted comic book reader, but now, it’s just out there. I think that that’s the kind of thing, I think, that – we’ve reached a point now where Watchmen – can you have a real idea, in a superhero movie? Can you talk about reasonable problems, and real adult stuff? I think up ’til now, it would have been very difficult.
Question: And to do so intellectually, within a mainstream studio milieu. How do you find that balance?
Snyder: Yeah. I mean, that’s it. I feel like – and I’ve got to give credit to the studio, in a lot of ways, because this movie is not easy, It’s not easy to just stand there and say, ” You know what, Zack? Look what he’s doing. He’s lost his mind.” If you’re not a fan of the graphic novel, or don’t own, like, a comic book museum, it’s a difficult thing. From a business standpoint, you’ve got to believe that – okay, pop culture’s got to be ready, in some ways, for this. And I think that it’s not – it was hard for me as a movie, just because it was…
it’s a complex and difficult puzzle spread on a table, and I had to kind of put the pieces all together in the form of a movie. That part was difficult intellectually and physically. Fighting, and everything. just to have that little IV drip of action that I’m trying to create, just to keep the kind of feeling of a superhero movie sort of through it. But the truth is, I really had to stop – the studio was saying – supporting that. Such a strong, and sort of singular point of view. To the point where they’ve made a movie that is, I think, pretty radical.
Question: You also resisted casting this with movie stars. Was that something that you felt very strongly about, going into this?
Snyder: Yeah, it was. I mean, I feel like – look. We talked about the sort of Ocean’s 11 version of the movie for a while, but I think the truth is, I think Patrick Wilson was the first actor I actually said, ” This guy is Dan,” And I think it in some ways set a tone, that I was just going to go for the best actor, that I thought was the right person for each role. I think that’s what happened.
Question: I think Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Comedian was one of the most astonishing performances in the film. And he told me when I spoke to him that “Grey’s Anatomy” got you to him. And I’m trying to figure out what the connection was.
Snyder: Well my casting director knew him, and knew his work on Grey’s, and had seen him in some other things. And he sort of felt like he had this, just, man’s man look. And when I finally sat down and talked to him, when he left the room, I was like, ” Oh my God. That guy, he’s perfect.” His voice and his size, and his kind of – he smiles, and he’s charming. Instantly charming. But on the other hand, I felt like he was capable of being – like, if he got mad, somewhat dark. It’s a different thing.
One of the great testimonies to that is, the studio – one of the big questions they asked me was, like, ” How are we supposed to feel about him?” And I said, ” What do you mean?” And they said, ” Well, we kind of like him. But he does horrible things.” I go, ” Well, that’s right.” That’s like – that’s the point. You’re supposed to not – his morality is ambiguous, and you’re not supposed to be able to figure out exactly – you’re supposed to not like him, based on what he does. If you find yourself conflicted about that, that’s the correct feeling.
Question: Where do you strike the balance between being visually audacious, and creating a narrative that audiences will respond to? Especially audiences who haven’t read the book?
Snyder: Yeah. it’s interesting, because for me, the pictures I make tend to be big and operatic; that’s the thing I can’t kind of help. But I think on the other hand, sort of accessibility to, like, a mainstream audience, or people who haven’t read the book – call them whatever you want. My feeling with that is, what I tried to do, what I wanted the experience of Watchmen to be, was the experience that I had when I first read the graphic novel, which is to say, I hadn’t read the book when I first read it.
The only experience I had with it was my love of comic books, so the problem was, though I loved comic books, and I had comic book reference, and I read the graphic novel – I was able to say, ” Oh, I see what’s happening here.” Now, my feeling is that mainstream pop culture, now, with the amount of Superman, Batman, Fantastic Four, X-Men movies that have been shovelled on them– they now also have that same pop culture reference that they need to appreciate the movie.
Question: I guess this is destined to be controversial for Watchmen, for fans of the graphic novel, because of the ending. What kind of conversations did you have?
Snyder: I got to say that – the only thing I think that – yes, I think that the militant faction of Watchmen purists will have a problem with it, but it’s been my experience now, with all sort of my – the fans that I rely on, that are pretty hard core, to evaluate the Watchmen quality of the movie – they’ve all said to me that the end is fine. What I would consider – they’re like, ” The movie is so radically insane, as far as its Watchmen-ness, that to obsess over that is – you’ve caught yourself in a weird position. Because that’s the least of what you would expect the problems to be.”
Question: Now, this is a very dark, very intense, very violent piece. How commercial do you think it is? And what do you hope audiences will derive from the experience?
Snyder: I feel like the movie has potential to be incredibly commercial, because I think that it just is so connected to pop culture, It deals with problems that are so in the vernacular of almost every movie-goer and that is cinematically and sort of thematically. Not to mention the fact that I think that – this was the same problem I had – after I finished 300, we would talk about it before the movie came out.
And everybody was like, ” Well, I don’t think this movie’s going to work on a mass scale, because it’s too everything.” it’s too much naked men, too much violence, too much – it’s too crazy. And it’s weird, because I feel like pop culture sort of embraced 300 because it was weird and different. Because I had this whole thing about, like, I think that people now – everyone has the giant 50-inch plasma at home. They don’t need to go to the movies to experience movies, you don’t have to leave your house. And so I feel like, you need a reason to get off of your couch, so I think that Watchmen, because it’s another way of doing it, it’s slightly different. I won’t even say slightly. It’s a pretty different kind of movie experience. And maybe that is the thing that rings across, and makes people go, ” Fuck, I guess I got to go check out this movie that everyone’s talking about, or that looks crazy, or has these giant pictures or these big ideas in it.”
Question: Is that why you became a filmmaker because you wanted, as a filmmaker and as an audience member, for audiences to experience the cinematic side of the movie-going experience?
Snyder: Well, I’m absolutely obsessed with the cinematic side of the movie-going experience, I am not a fan of – though I think it’s fine, for people to download movies, and I’m a fan of the Blu-Ray or the DVD, and all that’s important to me – the movie movie is still – that communal experience of going to the movies is really what it’s all about for me. So, yeah. I mean, I guess I’ve always been a movie fan, since I was a kid. So it’s important to me that people get out and go see the movie in the theater.
Question: What will the Blu-Ray be like on this? I mean, what are you doing?
Snyder: Well, the Blu-Ray’s pretty amazing, because it’s like – we’ve done this incredible new thing called Director Walk-Ons, so while you’re watching the movie, I walk into the movie, and the movie shrinks back. And I freeze the movie, and I bring up other reference that I had for making the scene.
Snyder: Yeah, it’s crazy. It’s insane. It’s really cool. And then also, the director’s cut is another 30 minutes longer than the movie that you’ve seen in theaters. So there’s a whole other thing happening in it.
Question: Would that be an added extra, or will there be a director’s cut version of the movie?
Snyder: It’s a director’s cut version. I think it’ll probably contain the theatrical and director’s cut, though.
Question: If one believes everything one reads on IMDB, you’re apparently making five movies.
Snyder: I’m really right in the middle of making Guardians of Ga’Hoole, and then I’m starting Sucker Punch in the fall.
Question: Guardians of Ga’Hoole is an Australian film?
Snyder: Yes. We’re making the movie in Australia. I mean it’s basically an Australian production, where 90 percent of the actors are Australian. Pretty much all the technicians are Australian. It’s an Australian movie.
Question: Where are you shooting?
Snyder: We’re in Sydney.
Question: At the Fox Studios?
Snyder: The Fox Studios is where Animal Logic is based.
Question: When do you think that’ll be done?
Snyder: That’s done in 2010. I’m down in Sydney probably – once every other month.
Question: How do you like it? How do you like working there?
Snyder: I love it. I love Sydney. It’s amazing.
Question: And after that?
Snyder: And then I’m working on Sucker Punch, is the only thing I’m working on.
Question: And what can you tell me about that?
Snyder: I’ve always wanted to make an action movie. People are always like, ” Well, you made 300.” I’m like, ” Yeah.”
Question: And this is not an action movie, Watchmen.
Snyder: It’s – yeah. Watchmen’s not really an action movie, either. But I really wanted to make, like, a balls to the wall, like, crazy action movie. That just kind of – again, I just kind of want to sort of do a genre-busting action movie. That’s like, its own thing. That’s kind of what Sucker Punch is.
Question: Are you surprised by this extraordinary success you’ve attained as a director now? I mean, it seems to me that people are more interested in talking to you about this film than the actors.
Snyder: It’s funny, because I haven’t really put it in that kind of perspective, to be honest, but I find that really interesting. On the other hand, I just do what I do. And like I say, I love movies and I do want to sort of show ’em something now. I really do want to show the movie-going public something else and another way of doing it.