This is a weird interview. As we toured the abandoned Vancouver factory that had been turned into a prison for the Watchmen shoot, we came across Zack Snyder. A small group of journalists started chatting with him, essentially shooting the shit, and then others, who had been hanging on the outskirts, starting putting their tape recorders into the mix. And then it became a real interview. And then it became pretty much the only interview we got. So there’s a real disjointed quality to the whole thing, partially because it happened on set while a shot was being set up, and partially because we kept being in and out of Zack’s awareness. This interview was transcribed from five different sound files, with each file representing me turning off my recorder when I thought the interview was done and starting it back up when it turned out Zack had more to say.

As a result, the interview begins in media res.

Snyder: A lot of the dialogue, whenever we can, we go “Just say
that.” Why not? Sometimes it’s hard because there’s…  I mean, it’s
funny, because you think about how serious, when you read the graphic
novels, it’s like heart attack-serious in some ways, and then you get
Danny being Big Figure saying, “Hurry up, Williams! I want to smell
this guy cooking!” You know, it’s got a quality to it that’s… because
you don’t imagine when you read it, when you see it in a movie.


Where were you in your life when the book first came out?

Snyder: I guess I was probably in my first year of college.  

When you caught it as a mini series not the graphic novel?

Snyder:
I didn’t read it as a mini series, I read it as a graphic novel, so I
was aware of it but I was too, sort of like geeked out with The Dark
Knight Returns.


Were there sequences you added to the script that weren’t in the book? Any new fight scenes?
 
Snyder:
I don’t know if there is anything that we added. I mean like for
instance, Dan and Laurie fight their way through the prison a little
bit, so there’s a little bit more fighting in the prison then there is
in the graphic novel. There’s a panel where they’re fighting, you
know?  I kinda blew it out a little bit.


We were wondering if there anyone sits around and just reads Beneath the Hood?

Snyder:
I’m not going to say that there’s that, but there are some interesting
things…we’re doing something interesting with that. Not necessarily for
the movie, but we can talk about that later but because a lot of the
material that’s in the sort of supplemental text that’s really
important to me and I wanted… we tried to layer it in as richly as we
could throughout the whole thing. We made a poster for Swingers from
Suburbia, and you know, other things like that. And it’s always, that’s
stuff’s always around because it’s so cool.


How has dealing with the studio changed for you based on the success of 300?

Snyder:
You know, I don’t know, I think that they were super cool with me with
300, I’ve gotta say. They didn’t like it at all as far as… it’s an
uncomfortable film to make. When you see the dailies for 300, it’s
uncomfortable. You’re paying for it, you go “What are we doing? This is
ridiculous! Those guys are naked, there’s no background. This is the
worst movie ever!” And so they let me just keep going. I guess they
kinda didn’t have a choice, but still I felt like they just said, “You
know what, we’re going to trust you to make it cool.” And I feel like
they think that it did turn out cool.


Debbie Snyder: I think without the success of 300 [we couldn’t have insisted that Watchmen be R].

Snyder:
It wouldn’t have been R, that’s for sure. There would be no way;
they’re like “An R rated super hero movie, who would go to it?”


With
300 you had the blue screen and that sort of gave you the freedom, and
with Dawn of the Dead you were shooting a mall setting. This, you’re
creating a whole world from scratch in a lot of ways.  How is that sort
of different for you as a filmmaker, to be coming in with this universe
that you are creating?


Snyder: It’s a challenge certainly. It’s
hard, but it’s really super fun. Alex [McDowell] has done an amazing
job with Al, the production designer. It’s awesome. We took this
prison, when you take a walk down there it’s crazy. And just every bit
of it, the Reactor Room and Manhattan’s Residence—that stuff is crazy
cool, and he did such a good job. And it’s just fun to film.  I don’t
see it as a liability, it’s almost a combination of the two ideas
because Alex has done anything we can think of.  I don’t feel limited
by it. But on the other hand, it’s not like a location shoot where you
can go “Okay, here it is: film it.”


Does having it be period make it more difficult?

Snyder:
What makes it more difficult, just, we always have to be conscious of
it. I mean now we’re deep in the 85 of it. I mean we’ve pretty much
embraced it. I mean there are going to be some airships and stuff like
that.  A little bit of airship action, you know a Gunga-Diner ship that
looks like a big frickin’ elephant.


Are we going to hear pop songs from the period?

Snyder: Oh yeah. Absolutely, I think there’s going to be, you know, some Boy George or whatever.

Will there be songs suggested by quotes in the book as well?

Snyder: Oh yes, absolutely, songs suggested in the book, tons of that. We did a lot of research development.

Are you shooting digitally or on film?

Snyder:
Shooting on film. There’s a lot of high speed, because it’s me still,
so there’s a little bit of…and I still think that’s the way to go, for
me anyway. 


Debbie Snyder: We do like digital projection.

Snyder:
We do like digital projection. We like shooting on film, finishing
digitally, and projection digitally. That’s what I like best. It’s
still a movie.  It’s not someone’s camcorder and it got projected.
That’s mean, I know.

Is this one of the films that will end up on an IMAX screen?

Snyder: Well, I know the IMAX guys want it, badly. So it will be interesting. Might be too long for IMAX, I don’t know


What is the length?

Snyder: We don’t even know yet, how long it is. Honestly I don’t know how long it is.

Is Warner Bros. saying to you “Please keep it under…?”

Snyder:
Oh, yes, of course, please make it a movie that’s showable in theaters.
But honestly I don’t know, but it feels long right now. The script’s
long, and I shoot it long, and I add things, so it’s…


What is the page count? We’re talking numbers, 120-plus?

Snyder: Yeah, it’s around there.

Have
you sensed any hesitation on Warner Bros. part? Because it’s, like, an
R rated, period, superhero movie, how are we going to sell this thing
to the general public?


Snyder: I assure them that for whatever
it’s worth, Watchmen is a movie that, for whatever reason, though it
comments on pop culture, there are very few movies that are
pop-culture-self-aware, and this is one of them, and so I think that
it’s – I hope anyway – that there is a coolness to that I hope is
transcended. It’s not just for people who like superhero movies,
certainly, although if you took everybody who likes superhero movies
and put them in a room, the room would be pretty frickin’ huge. So
that’s not a big problem. But because it’s sort of intellectualizes it
a little bit, they get scared of that more then anything, “Oh great,
everybody is going to be snoozing the whole time! While everyone is
like, ‘Sad! My mother hates me!'” So I think that’s what they’re most
nervous of: is it going to be a movie for nobody?  Is it going to be
emotional so action geeks don’t like it or is it going to be to actiony
so people who like character don’t…I feel like it’s a super delicate…


But there have been some films that paved the way for that, Batman Begins kinda paved the way for that, Superman Returns.

Snyder: Batman Begins is barely an action movie!

At
Comic-Con you were talking about a fan who had made, like, a flash
version of the entire story. Having seen that what did it teach you
about what you have to keep in and take out?



Snyder:
What I had seen was basically this guy had prepared this, it
was like the first ten pages, and what I learned from it was it was
super-interesting to watch, first of all, to watch it takes five hours;
it clocked out to five and a half hours if you do the whole book that
way. But it was super-riveting to me, anyway, I was just floored by how
cool it was, it totally works. So what I learned I guess is, the movie
is not going to be that long, but you can shoot it that way. And it
works.


Well how tough is it to condense this? There’s so much – origin stories, backgrounds – it’s so dense.

Snyder:
Origin stories are really important to me. I just like that sort of
stuff and I feel like it makes a lot of sense to the guys, who they
are. If you don’t have that stuff, it’s kind of a one dimensional
version of it.


What has Warner Bros’ reactions been to the
ending? Because I know some of the original times they’ve tried to do
this movie, they’ve had happy endings, I assume you’re keeping the
ending as-is.



Snyder:
Yeah, I have an ending, you mean as far as Adrian goes and all that?

Yeah.

Snyder:
I won’t say exactly what it is, because it’s still a movie and I think
it should be a little bit of a secret, even though there’s a graphic
novel. Yeah it’s difficult because that’s one of those things that you
imagine, I’ve read every draft, and in every draft, I don’t even know
if it’s a happy ending, [but there’s] like “this is what happened to
the bad guy” sort of thing.


Yeah, like the bad-guy-gets-it sort of thing.

Snyder:
And not in a sequel way, you’ll keep him alive for that reason, which
is a fine line. I look at the end of Superman and you’re like “Oh, Lex
Luthor’s on an island.  This is ridiculous.” I would have liked him to
die, that would have been cool.


It’s funny because when we
actually got down to actually talking about what was their issue I
think we all kind of agreed that you don’t gain anything by changing
that part of it in some ways.  I mean it’s a movie you should leave
going, “Let’s talk about this. I think Adrian’s right.”  And someone
going, “No wait, are you crazy?” That’s the kinda movie is, hopefully.
And not a “Oh, that was awesome! Let’s go get dinner.”


You haven’t reverted back to the Sam Hamm draft, were they save the world and then get transported into the real world?

Snyder: And then Rorschach has the dogs as his sidekicks? We have dead dogs in a box somewhere.

Are
you at all concerned about the ending? As far as it’s relevant? As far
as post-9/11, we are sort of seeing that a catastrophic disaster brings
people together but it doesn’t necessarily pull them together.


Snyder:
I think that’s part of the awesome thing that you have in the book,
because the book says, “Yeah, catastrophic events bring everyone
together.” And then you have, like, the very, very end of the book says
that’s just frickin’ teetering on a razor’s edge and it’s easy to come
apart. I think that’s super relevant.


Dr. Manhattan says as much, “Nothing ever ends.”

Snyder:
Yeah, nothing ever ends. I think Alan Moore couldn’t have known [about
what would happen to the world’s feelings about America post-9/11], so
I think he was assuming that was the nature of man, and it turns out
he’s right. I think that that’s kind of the fun of it. It’s funny
because one of the things we…you only kind of see, the post, the
reconstructed-New York, it’s kind of a short section, you know, in the
movie, but it was important to me to have a lot of Veidt stuff around
in the post construction-New York. Like he’s sort of as prosperous as
ever, you know, in that world.


He’s saved the world and is making a dime off it.

Snyder: Yeah, and honestly I don’t think he wants to.  I honestly think he’s helping.

Is the film going to follow the structure of the comic?

Snyder:
It follows the structure very closely. When we flip through it and
trying to find out where we are it’s pretty easy to do. It’s super
close I think. I’m not going to say exactly what the changes are, but
there are some changes we had to do just to make it into a movie. But
we try as hard as we can to make it. If we do that, what’s the “why” of
it?


I was going to say, we asked about adding stuff, was there fat that needed to be trimmed?

Snyder:
It’s not even that, it’s not fat. It’s just, like I say, if we filmed
everything, it’s a five-hour movie. I’m not saying that’s wrong, there
is nothing wrong with a five-hour movie, it’s just not practical. And
like I say, the movie’s job is not to replace the book, and that’s the
most important thing. I would hope that people see the movie and go,
“Gosh, I gotta go get a ‘Watchmen’ book, it’s awesome, I gotta go buy
that.” It’s really just more of that. If someone hard seen the movie
and not read the graphic novel, I still want them to be able to read
the graphic novel and still be like, “Wow! It’s thicker then that even!
It’s deeper and denser then the movie.”


Structurally, with the
graphic novel, Alan Moore uses juxtaposition in every page,
dialogue juxtaposed over different scenes. Do you do that kinda thing
to? Every scene transition is juxtaposition.


Snyder: Yeah, where the dialogue runs over to the next scene, yeah.

And it’s sort of commenting on the next scene, you’re doing that too?

Snyder: Yeah.  As much as we can.

Are you shooting scenes knowing that they’ll never make the movie but can be in the DVD?


Snyder: It’s fat as hell. So there will definitely be stuff in the DVD, whether it’s good or not, I dunno.

So you expect to have an extended edition of the movie.

Snyder:
It’s for sure, there’s no way that’s not going to happen. And it will
probably have like Black Freighter, and some extended, ridiculous
version of the movie.


And a cool package.

Snyder: Yeah, you crack open Manhattan’s chest.

One of the things that the novel comments on is the ridiculousness inherent in the superhero genre.

Snyder:
Yeah that’s kinda what I was getting at before when I was saying that
when you forget that… It’s like the Laurie/Manhattan love scene with
the two Manhattans. You forget when you read it in the graphic novel
you’re like oh, that’s just real… heart attack-serious. And we shot it
that way, too. But when you actually watch it, it’s a movie, it’s a
different feeling. Not that it’s funny or anything, you’re just like
“Wow, it’s very stylized.” It’s a stylized world, no matter how hard we
really try to make it.  You have Manhattan walking around, it’s become
something else. It’s different with Dark Knight, I think, and with the
Batman because they…it’s my feeling in those movies that they almost
drank their own Kool-aid a little bit. I’m a huge fan of the movies,
but as far as, like, “We’re fucking serious doing it like that, cause
you know, it’s The Batman!”