Zack Snyder has had to really earn his respect. The guy came out the gate with a remake of Dawn of the Dead, for the love of God – that’s a big obstacle to face. And he pulled it off, somehow – the movie, while nothing near the original, works on its own as a zombie film that happens to be in a mall. Then it turned out that Snyder’s a real geek, a dyed in the wool fanboy himself, so his nerd cred went up.
This Friday it’ll go through the roof. His adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300 is unrelentingly gorgeous. And he didn’t just make a hack and slash picture – Snyder’s film is a real movie, with a plot and characters and everything. I know, that sounds like it’s faint praise, but I really expected a lot of wacky camera and CGI action and not much else. The guy surprised me twice now.
Can he surprise me a third time? The next project for Snyder is the long-delayed, potentially cursed adaptation of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. I’m a strict Paul Greengrass partisan when it comes to this film – I think the approach he had before Paramount shut the project down and it went back to Warner Bros is the best way to handle the film. But Snyder talks a good game, and even if I find some of his ideas for the film suspect, he has the passion and the belief to pull it off. Hell, I’ve underestimated him twice already.
I visited you guys on set in December 2005, and I saw what you were working with – the blue screens, a little bit of dirt and a bunch of half-naked guys. Watching the movie it’s easy to forget that they’re not actually anywhere but a soundstage – how did you get the actors into that headspace?
It’s funny, because they know the scene and we’ve talked about what’s supposed to happen, but the thing I think the actors is capable of and what you hope they do is that when they’re in a scene together the reality comes from the other actors in the scene. The other actors are basically going, ‘Listen, if I can be emotionally true in this scene and I can be emotionally true, we can get each other through it.’ It’s when they were alone that they had a hard time.
A hard time filling in the blanks?
Yeah. I would be like ‘OK, that pipe is the Persian army! Those lights over there, that’s your guys!’
Why did you want to stick so close to Frank Miller’s book? So many people approach adaptations with the interest of putting their own spin on the material, but you were very, very faithful.
Listen, the truth is I personally think that Frank has such a strong voice that I don’t personally lose anything. As a director, the movie’s going to go through you – there’s nothing anybody can do about that. I think the idea that you would change Frank’s book, to me, it’s a mistake because what’s missing in movies, especially in Hollywood films, is a true perspective or point of view. And frank has such a strong point of view, such a particular way of telling a story, that for me it’s just an awesome opportunity to do something that never gets done or seen. As a filmmaker I can’t stress how important that is to me, to get at themes and pictures that are unique.
Frank’s point of view is very unique, and he also has a very pointed politicial and worldview. Do you find that Frank’s point of view in 300 mirrors your own beliefs?
I would say that it is more extreme, probably, than my own beliefs [laughs]. But I didn’t want to water it down because of my own personal take. I thought it was important for the audience to have Frank’s experience, and if you’re going to get his pictures but not his heart in it, then it’s me being the censor between the audience and Frank, and I didn’t want to do that.
As faithful as you are, some of my favorite bits in 300 the movie are not in 300 the book, like the rhino attack. Where did that stuff come from?
They came from a variety of places. The rhino I got from a story from my friend. He had been in Africa with an African guide, and he told him a story about having shot a Cape Buffalo and it sliding right to his feet. I thought it would be cool to put it in the movie. It’s not in the script either, by the way. It’s just a little storyboard sequence I had drawn, and I just shuffled it in with the rest of the storyboards. When we came to shooting, everyone was looking at the boards and said, ‘Wait a minute, where was this in the script?’ and I was like, ‘It’s not in the script!’ Slightly unorthodox, but it works.
That sort of answers a question I was going to ask – when you’re working on the blue screen stages, you can be freer and make things up on the day.
That’s not necessarily true. You can certainly make things up on the day, but sequences like that I had drawn three or four weeks before, when we were planning. It just happens that there’s a lag time between the storyboard and the script itself. You write the sequence and then you have to visualize it, so you sit down and draw it frame by frame to see what the shots will be. That’s where it gets inventive.
Now, on the set I will say that with a little bit of green screen, what you can do is, you can play with geography in a cool way. If we were out in the field, you can’t do that really.
I guess word on the street is that you’re going to bring this kind of fidelity to Watchmen and sticking close to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s original work. Is that true?
Yeah. I feel like where we are with the script right now is, in some ways, the closest that it’s been in any iteration to the graphic novel, in the sense that we’re trying to keep as much of the things that make the graphic novel awesome. That goes to everything: 1985, R-rating, everything. Which, by the way, it was never going to be before.
It was a PG-13 previously.
Is Warner Bros happy with an R?
No. They’re mad at that. T hey don’t want an R-rated movie, but they’re cool with me. They’re like, ‘OK, if that’s what you think, Snyder. But it’s a bummer.’ [laughs] They have to leave a lot of money on the table.
Right. You can’t have the 15 year olds in there.
Exactly. But on the other hand, Watchmen is Watchmen, and I said, ‘Guys, the reason this movie works is that it’s counter. It’s anti.’ I believe audiences are ready for what’s the next step of the genre. It’s an exhausted genre right now, at least that’s what I believe.
That’s interesting, because while Watchmen has been under development for decades, but the book is a critique of the superhero genre, and you couldn’t have done that on film until now, when audiences are very used to the conventions of the genre.
Absolutely. That’s the cool part about it, for me anyway. Your movie audience is basically where your comic book audience was when the graphic novel was written – you’re basically in a place where you can make a satirical comment about a superhero and the audience will get it, because they have the frame of reference.
I’ve heard some interesting rumors about Watchmen, that the cast isn’t going to be like 300, which is a bunch of actors who aren’t marquee names, but rather that you’re talking to some very big names.
You know, we are and we aren’t. I gotta say I think we are when it’s appropriate, but it’s not driving the movie. There were some people who I was considering who are big names, but it’s exactly that at this point – we’re just talking about it. When you’re in the early stages of talking about a movie what happens is that everybody goes, ‘Tom Cruise! Brad Pitt!’ That’s the first conversation, and then you end up with the actual people that are going to be in the movie.
I heard rumors that Tom Cruise was actually interested.
He was interested. I did talk to him for quite a while. To be honest.
Ozymandias, would that be the role?
That was the role.
You’ve got the Watchmen adaptation coming up, 300 is an adaptation, you have the remake behind you – is there an original Zack Snyder movie coming?
There is [and it just got announced. Click here to read about it]. I have a concept and I’ve been working on it for a little while. Hopefully it’s a culmination of everything in some ways. I like it, anyway.
What’s the dream project for you?
The dream project for me would be to make an R-rated Star Wars movie! That’s the dream project. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but it would be awesome. And I know there are a lot of people out there who would be into that.
I think you would be able to get people to come to that movie.
That’s all I’m saying. George, if you’re listening…
Have you talked to George about the Star Wars TV show?
No… what’s that?
They’re working on a live action Star Wars TV show.
Is it going to be on the networks? What’s the deal with it?
He’s going to license it out, like what he did with the Prequel Trilogy. He’s going to own it and let somebody air it. Would you do TV?
I don’t know. Right now, probably not. We briefly talked about making a zombie TV show, but it never came together. I like TV, I watch it a lot!
A lot of people have said that Watchmen should be a mini-series or whatever, but my feeling is that you want production value with Watchmen. The fans want to see it awesome and they want a lot of it. It’s hard, and it’s a trade-off, if you want it to be as good as it can be.
You’re really going to shoot the Tales from the Black Freighter, huh?
That’s my hope. My hope is to shoot the Tales from the Black Freighter as a supplement for the DVD, for the ‘real’ Watchmen.
Anybody else approaching this material, that would be the first thing they’d cut. It’s interesting to see how you’re approaching this – keeping that in really shows how you’re thinking.
For me it goes back to the why of Watchmen. The why of it is almost like what I was saying about Frank’s point of view. It’s funny, because Watchmen, politically – I don’t think Alan Moore could be any more opposite of Frank Miller. I think it gives you a little bit of an idea of how I approach it; the fact that I go from Frank to Alan shows that to me it’s about the work, what they work is, what they’ve done with the work and what it represents. They’ve both, in their own way, innovated, and they’re both geniuses in this convention we call graphic novels or comic books.