Last week producer Joel Silver talked about how filmmaker Zack Snyder’s version of the “Watchmen” was a “slave to the material” and how director Terry Gilliam’s version would have been “a MUCH, much better movie.” Snyder and his wife, producer Deborah Snyder, are all too aware of Silver’s comments and had a lot to say about the subject as well as discussing the sequel “300: Rise of an Empire,” “Man of Steel” and its follow-up feature “Batman vs. Superman.”
With “300: Rise of an Empire,” this is the first time you’ve produced a movie and not also directed the movie. Is that odd?
Zack Snyder: Yeah, it’s very odd! It’s odd, but, you know, it’s funny — I’m getting used to it.
Deborah Snyder: He can appreciate what I do a lot more now, I think.
Zack Snyder: Yeah, right. And also, having written it, you’re really deep in it when you’re writing it. And then, suddenly, you hand it over and you’re like, “Well, that’s that, I guess.” I was around the whole time, it’s just a difficult, but weirdly rewarding, process to see it all come to life. You wrote this thing and it’s how, I guess, writers must feel when they show up to the premiere and go, “Oh my gosh, the movie is alive now.”
Now that “Batman vs. Superman” was pushed back until 2016, could you now have had time to direct this?
Zack Snyder: No, no. That’s why I couldn’t do it. We would had to have been shooting now and, even then, we probably wouldn’t have been able to because we’re about to go shoot the new movie.
The original “300” was so important to you, career-wise. I feel you’re still connected to this story.
Deborah Snyder: Yeah, we absolutely are. That’s why when we made the decision and knew basically that Zack couldn’t do it, to find someone who would share the same vision that we had. And it’s a tricky thing, right? Because when you have the “300” name, there’s an expectation from the audience of what this is going to be. Not just visually, but there’s also just an attitude with what we did in the first film.
Visually, the first “300” was very unique. Since then, others have … maybe “ripped off” is a harsh term…
Deborah Snyder: You can say “ripped off,” I think that’s fair.
Zack Snyder: An homage! [Laughs]
But now, because of that, seeing this style again isn’t as unique of an experience. Is that a concern?
Deborah Snyder: No. Because I feel like what this one is — it is “300.” It’s not an imitation. And it lives in the same world as the original, but it also builds upon it I think in a way that is unique. You know, the fact that it is on the water. And I’m not a huge fan of 3D and I prefer to see movies in 2D. But this really lends itself to 3D and I think our fan-base will appreciate that it ups the ante.
Was “Watchmen” the most “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” project you’ve ever been a part of? Now Joel Silver is criticizing you for being a “slave” to the source material while touting a very different from the source material script that Terry Gilliam was going to film.
Zack Snyder: It’s funny, because the biggest knock against the movie is that we finally changed the ending, right?
Right, you used Dr. Manhattan as the threat to bring the world together as opposed to the alien squid.
Zack Snyder: Right, and if you read the Gilliam ending, it’s completely insane.
Deborah Snyder: The fans would have been thinking that they were smoking crack.
Zack Snyder: Yeah, the fans would have stormed the castle on that one. So, honestly, I made “Watchmen” for myself. It’s probably my favorite movie that I’ve made. And I love the graphic novel and I really love everything about the movie. I love the style. I just love the movie and it was a labor of love. And I made it because I knew that the studio would have made the movie anyway and they would have made it crazy. So, finally I made it to save it from the Terry Gilliams of this world.
In Gilliam’s version, Dr. Manhattan is convinced to go back in time and prevent Dr. Manhattan from existing. But the specter of his existence is the threat to the world, which is kind of what you did at the end of the movie anyway.
Zack Snyder: Right, of course. It’s just using elements that are in the comic book already, that’s the only thing I did. I would not have grabbed something from out of the air and said, “Oh, here’s a cool ending” just because it’s cool.
Deborah Snyder: But it’s interesting because, you’re right, it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You have people who are mad that the ending was changed and you have other people saying, “Oh, it was a slave to the graphic novel.” You can’t please everybody.
Zack Snyder: And that’s the problem with genre. That’s the problem with comic book movies and genre. And I believe that we’ve evolved — I believe that the audiences have evolved. I feel like “Watchmen” came out at sort of the height of the snarky Internet fanboy — like, when he had his biggest strength. And I think if that movie came out now — and this is just my opinion — because now that we’ve had “Avengers” and comic book culture is well established, I think people would realize that the movie is a satire. You know, the whole movie is a satire. It’s a genre-busting movie. The graphic novel was written to analyze the graphic novel — and comic books and the Cold War and politics and the place that comic books play in the mythology of pop culture. I guess that’s what I’m getting at with the end of “Watchmen” — in the end, the most important thing with the end was that it tells the story of the graphic novel. The morality tale of the graphic novel is still told exactly as it was told in the graphic novel — I used slightly different devices. The Gilliam version, if you look at it, it has nothing to do with the idea that is the end of the graphic novel. And that’s the thing that I would go, “Well, then don’t do it.” It doesn’t make any sense.
I can’t imagine people being happy with that version.
Zack Snyder: Yeah! If you love the graphic novel, there’s just no way. It would be like if you were doing “Romeo and Juliet” and instead of them waking up in the grave area, they would have time-traveled back in time and none of it would have happened.
Over your career, do you feel critics have been fair to you?
Zack Snyder: I don’t know. You know, it’s a funny thing that you should bring it up. I always feel like — and I always believe the movies I’ve made are smarter than the way they are perceived by sort of mass culture and by the critics. We set out to make smarter movies than what they’re perceived to be, do you know what I mean?
Deborah Snyder: I think it has to do, in a way, because I’ve thought about it, and I think some of it maybe is that if they have a visual style — if they’re from a graphic novel, if they happen to be genre — I think people sometimes don’t want to look to see if there’s a deeper meaning. To see if there’s symbolism, to see if there’s other things going on. It’s easier to dismiss it and say, “Oh, it looks like a video game.”
Zack Snyder: And, also, “It looks like a video game.” Well, maybe it’s supposed to look like a video game.
That’s interesting, because people can have the debate over what Superman did or didn’t do at the end of “Man of Steel,” but, visually, it looks a lot different than your prior work.
Zack Snyder: From the beginning, I had a philosophical approach to what I would do with Superman. And I always sum it up by saying that the most realistic movie I’ve made is a movie about Superman –because that’s what I felt like the movie needed.
Did you ever consider making it with a different visual style?
Zack Snyder: No. I mean, I had a knee-jerk reaction to that script that was “this movie needs to feel like it’s stone-cold real.” And that was, to me, ironic and I’m always looking for some ironic element within the storytelling — like some bit of meta. For me to get excited about it, it needs to infiltrate the movie. And for me, that was that a Superman movie would be real.
I was in Hall H at Comic Con this past July when you announced “Batman vs. Superman.” The news of that movie had leaked a few hours prior to your announcement. Are leaks disappointing to you?
Zack Snyder: Yes and no. [The leak] was definitely not a planned thing.
Deborah Snyder: Things get leaked so often these days, it’s a shame because even casing announcements, or whatever, you’re in the middle of a process and sometimes they’re so off base — and then it gets picked up by multiple places and it’s all over the place.
Like Adam Driver being Nightwing, which wasn’t true.
Deborah Snyder: Or some of it, you’re just having conversations, but that doesn’t mean they are a contender, but you’re just exploring and it gets made public. It’s kind of a shame that you can’t go through the process in a pure way and then be able to announce it in a way that’s exciting. With the [Comic-Con] announcement, there was rumblings and we were like, “Aw.” Because we wanted to bring it to the fans. We wanted to bring them something special. We went to Comic-Con for “Watchmen” and we were bringing the cast to announce it and it got leaked a couple of days before. We wanted to give that to them and we got cheated out of it.
Zack Snyder: I think it does another thing. The leak becomes the audience involvement. They are now part of it, the process. Do you know what I mean? And you have to take that as the world we live in, as opposed to “Oh, that’s too bad.”
I am under the impression that the three big casting announcements that weren’t wrong — Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot and Jesse Eisenberg — were done on your timetable. Is that accurate?
Zack Snyder: That is accurate.
And nobody saw those coming.
Zack Snyder: Right! And that was fun. That’s fun for us when we’re able to announce Jesse Eisenberg to the audience.