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Zack Snyder Breaks It Down

What better way to celebrate opening day than with an interview from the man himself — Zack Snyder. We got this interview a few weeks ago at the press junket in L.A.

So the movie is coming out on the 6th after all this time. Are you worried about how the movie will be perceived, not just by fans, but also by audiences in general?

Zack Snyder: When I made Dawn of the Dead and we were done with it, the biggest fear I had was if people would get it. I felt like I had tried to make a movie that was a cult movie at a studio and tried to make this self-reliant movie that serves to understand the genre, kind of like a love letter to George Romero.

I thought there is a good chance that people were going to watch this and think, “ah, this is just another zombie movie” and not care, or worst of all not even notice that we cared and say it’s just a B movie and write it off and say it sucks.

Then when we made 300 we were pretty sure we were making a boutique movie that some fan would always go to. That it would be a fun Frank Miller romp. I was surprised by the response, of course, to that movie.

When we set out to make Watchmen, we really looked at it the same way as we did the other movies, in the sense that I said, “This is what it is, this is the material, I love the material, I am not going to fuck it up to make it commercial, or cool, or what everyone might want or might like. I feel like that is what we did. As far as like whether mainstream audiences how they would feel about it, I have no idea. I was pretty sure that was how it was going to be with 300. That there was no way that mass audiences were going to go for this movie, with these half naked guys running around in these leather bikinis, giving me a history lesson is not going to work.

So, I kind of feel the same way about Watchmen, in the sense that the people get the irony of the movie, and what the movie is trying to do. In the sense of the deconstruction of the movie, it’s sort of a tearing down of super hero movies. Sort of reunderstanding it and understand how it flows in pop culture right now, and how the superhero movie is the movie. It can be satirized in an intelligent way, not like in the way of “Meet the Spartans” style. What does it mean? Why do we love the characters? It goes to the whole thing with the violence and the sexuality and everything going as far as it can go in both directions.

We could say that on one hand, we are used to violence without consequence, where everything is fine and everyone gets up and PG13’s it down the street. The script I was handed for Watchmen, the studio said this is PG13, it’s going to be updated to the war on terror where Dr. Manhattan is going to go to Iraq, Adrian gets killed in the end, the owl ship crushes him with some cool tag line. That was how it was, no [Dr.] Manhattan on Mars, no Comedian scandal, no Rorschach interview. It was just a superhero movie. It was a real franchisable super hero movie. In some ways, I fucked that up, that whole commercialized version of Watchmen.

But on the other hand, I think the movie has a better chance as it is, it might not create a revolution, but all these guys going to the movie are going to be “how is the fuck is this movie going to be, another super hero movie, come on”. There is no more super hero bad guy plots left. I mean there are, but it’s going to be harder and harder.

How much did the “Dark Knight” help out the atmosphere for this movie?

ZS: It helped out hugely, because it’s a serious counterpoint to the movie. It’s serious actors, serious characters, just a serious movie being taken seriously by pop culture. By critics and inteligencia discussing what does it mean, blah blah blah. In some ways it’s pinnacle of what can happen in a super hero movie, so it’s interesting that Watchmen is coming in on the heel of that, because I think Watchmen blows that up again. Now that you’ve taken it super seriously, it has really elevated it to a high arc, it’s time to really take it apart again and reexamine now without a joke, without a smile, without a wink, what the fuck this mythology is about. Why these are our movies. Why does this movie make a billion dollars all over the world and you accept it. Accept that Batman can walk around in the real world, and the bad guy can dress like the Joker.

As far as this cast goes, is everyone your first choice? Can you talk about the reasons why you cast these guys?

ZS: I cast them one by one, I think Patrick was the first guy that I cast. I cast Patrick because he was very “Dan” to me; everything about him, he’s Dan-ish to me in the movie. Also there is a stylized aspect to the movie and he was really able to get with that and not buck it. It’s a difficult thing to get everyone into a certain way or style, it’s going to be verite, you don’t just say the words exactly like you feel it, you get with the style of the movie and that was a difficult thing. I think the actors did an amazing job with everything I asked of them. Jackie actually sent me a DVD he had prepared of a little scene of the movie he had made. It was amazing. It was awesome. I want to put it on the DVD but he won’t let me.

What scene was it?

ZS: It’s a partly him being interrogated and then being arrested and he did it in the living room of his house. So, it’s got a super low-tech quality to it but it’s super cool. After that I just couldn’t look at anyone else it was just really cool.

His body style too; he seems to have the body style of Rorschach. He is Rorschach really. I can’t even think of anyone else.

ZS: I know it’s hard. I’m not going to tell you who wanted to do it, because a lot of people wanted the part. Just super tall guys like 6’3” [Laughs]. I looked at that and thought really? You’re going to be taller than Ozy that doesn’t make any sense? Jackie’s perfect. The thing with Jeffery was the Comedian had to be man's man. That was a difficult role. He’s got to be a teeny bit charming, sadly and scarily when we do our little independent polls, people liked the Comedian the best, or I like Rorschach the best. I thought, “what is wrong with you? The Comedian is a bad man. Don’t like him.”

They’re juicy though.

ZS: They are juicy. Yes, he’s Denny and he’s sweet and he’s haunting Katherine Heigel. To this day he’s haunting her [Laughing].Billy is an amazing actor; I tricked him into being in the movie [Laughing]. That was well done by me. Only after he was hired did he realize that he was going to have to wear pajamas with lights all over them.

Can you talk about your history with the graphic novel and the debate with the studio about adhearing so close to it?

ZS: My history with the novel was I read it back when it was first novelized probably back in ’88, when they first put it all together and bundled it. I heard about it when it first came out, I missed the first three issues and got lazy and thought how am I going to search for that. When I came out as a novel I said, “alright I’ll read it.” I guess it goes back to this idea that I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t expect it. I expected it to be a comic book. I thought, “Alan Moore is cool; he’s got some more super heroes.”

When I read it, the impression I got about half way through I was thinking, “what the fuck is going on here? These super heroes are crazy.” The feeling I got when I read it the first time was that was what sort of stuck with me and that was the tone I wanted the movie to have. That’s why you have “The Times They Are A-Changin” the title sequence; you know pretty quickly that you’re into something else. What movie has Bob Dylan on the title sequence? It should be Rancid or anything, Cold Play, something, not that. That was what I had in my brain.

Like I said, when they sent the script to me, they said to me, “we think it is based on a graphic novel.” [laughing] I said, “Okay, I’ll check it out.” Like I said Adrian dies, it was like a “movie.” It was like a franchisable movie. The next movie for that would be the “Search for Manhattan”

[laughing]

Have you used the DVD to create an ongoing project of Watchmen? “The Black Freighter” is coming out, and the extended cut…

ZS: I think that goes with answering that question. The studio has been awesome with me, as far as letting me make this kind of movie. There is no two ways about it. I think they realized half way through the process that there is not a version of Watchmen I could have made that was going to be a movie they could franchise and be fun, kind and a good romp. That was just not going to happen. I honestly didn’t know how to do that. You’ve probably picked the wrong guy then, if you didn’t want it to be Watchmen. When they realized that they said, “Okay then, go all the way.”

I think they just like the idea of additional DVD’s they can sell.

ZS: I think it was that, and I think it was sort of the 300 ideas that it’s a unique thing that is surrounded by the same old thing and does that have value. A unique product on this scale is difficult to think of. You can’t go to the boardroom and say, “Okay, we’re going to come up with a different kind of movie, it’s going to be weird, and sexy, and violent, people are going to love it.” I think that’s not possible. That happens by accident. It happens because all this weird stuff all lines up, this director with 300 and the actors who read the book who said, “It has to be like this.” That stuff is impossible to design. In the market place, it doesn’t have the “stink” on it of, like, a preconceived pop culture phenomenon that they have designed to be that.

So the end is that I end up with a crazy movie, but I did try to work with my partners at the movie studio to create a theatrical version of the movie that was not three hours long, which the director’s cut is three hours and ten minutes long. [With] “The Black Freighter” is three and a half hours long. I think the cool thing is I was able to use the DVD format and they said, “We’ll finish all the shots for you, we’re not going to chince you out on the director’s cut” That kind of relationship let’s you say let me see if I can get a cut that works, that fits on IMAX.

Is Zack Snyder’s Watchmen really the Director’s cut more than what is hitting the theaters?

ZS: I’ve got to say I’m proud of the cut that is in theatres. I could cut out Hollis’ death and that’s a big deal to me. There’s other stuff that I left off that’s on the Director’s cut. I feel it works in the movie but Hollis’ death was a big deal to me.

Would you talk about the music? You mentioned the music in the opening sequence. I loved all the music in the film.

ZS: As far as the music goes, I love tone in a movie, tone is more important than story to me. It’s the way a movie smells, you know? The way a movie is. It’s the thing you actually remember about a movie when the movie is over. When you leave a movie it’s “what was the movie about? You know there’s a bank robbery, and they found out there was a nuclear weapon”. That part of the movie becomes abstract. You really remember scenes and characters, and what the feeling of the movie was. When I was putting music together, when I was drawing this I had my music, like Zack’s play list, and that’s kind of the music that’s in the movie.

Did you have to wait for Dylan’s approval before you actually shot?

ZS: No. We really didn’t have a back up but we were hoping it would work out. I knew there would be a title sequence with a song on it. I had drawn it with “The Times They Are A-Changin” in mind. We had to remix the song. It was too short. That’s a six-minute song in the movie and the original is like three minutes and thirty-six seconds. So we had to get the stems from Dylan and get all the original tracks separated and then we rebuilt the song ourselves. We had to hire a super awesome harmonica player and he had to fill in a little bit. Then we had to give it back to him and see if he thought it was ok.

What about “Sounds of Silence”? I heard that Simon and Garfunkel allowed the use of their song.

ZS: they only allowed it in one other movie, The Graduate. They saw the scene and thought it was cool and they let us have it. That’s the kind of song I think is interesting, because “Sounds of Silence” is the kind of song you think you’ve heard in a million movies right? Then you realize it’s only actually been in one other movie. They have turned down thousands of movies that wanted to use it. I think that kind of the experience of Watchmen, it seems like a thing you think you’re familiar with but on the other hand it’s kind of foreign and difficult.

How about the Leonard Cohen?

ZS: There is a Leonard Cohen on the end titles as well. “Hallelujah,” that love scene, I originally had “Hallelujah,” but I had an Alison Crowe version of the song. A version of the song I’ve always loved. But in the end was just too romantic. Everyone thought that I meant it. They thought that the love scene was serious, not that it’s not serious, but her version was too sexy. So I had to go back to Leonard Cohen. To me it is incredibly ironic, even that version it’s incredibly ironic, I didn’t care what version of “Hallelujah” was on that scene, it was ridiculous but in a great way. Now with Leonard Cohen, you can’t miss it now can you? I’m sure some people will but that’s fine.

What is the highlight, great essence of Watchmen?

ZS: I guess for me, I try over and over, and it goes back to telling a little bit. It’s just that sort of self-awareness that the graphic novel has, in the sense that it’s very familiar with its iconology, so it’s constantly reminding you of the things that you like about super hero movies. Whether it’s the romance, or the violence, or the costumes. It’s constantly asking you why you like those things. It’s asking, “Do you really like these things? Because if you do let me explain to you what the reality of those things are.” Let’s just review for a second that you find it okay that there is a guy running around dressed like an owl, going around solving crimes, flying around in that big owl ship, and that’s not outrageous or impossible, or if that was really true, what it would do to humanity, or religion, or pop culture in general. Those are the things that the book does and that I want to get as much of into the movie.

3.6.09 Source: WatchmenComicMovie.

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