While visiting the set of Man of Steel back in January of 2011, fellow online press and myself had a chance to talk with director Zack Snyder, meeting him in the town of Plano, Illinois that doubles for Smallville, Kansas in the film. While the outside street was a scene of a titanic battle between Kal-El and General Zod’s forces, we chatted with the director inside of Dave’s Tavern. Outside of the pub was a prominent banner that said, “We are the Proud Sponsors of the Smallville Crows.”
Having directed 300 and Watchmen, Snyder is no stranger to comic book movies. But now taking on Superman, he’s tackling the most prominent of comic superheroes. And while his previous comic films had fantasy settings, Man of Steel called for a more reality-based approach.
Q: You’ve been shooting this in a more real world style than your previous films. What kind of challenges does that bring to you?
Snyder: I guess for me, in the TV commercial world I was known for shooting locations, beautiful landscapes and things like that. So, it’s interesting. It’s challenging in that it’s been a while since I’ve been pressured by the sun and things of that nature. I try to stay away from those problems. But, on the other hand, you know, when the sun goes down you go home, so that’s good. I don’t know. It’s fun. It’s been exciting. It’s kinda cool. I miss being outside. (Laughs) But now I’m tired of being outside.
Q: (Looking at an American flag painted on a nearby building) We’ve got an image of Faded Glory on that building over there in a way I guess could be looked at as a metaphor for Superman at this particular time.
Snyder: You mean in our culture?
Q: In our culture.
Snyder: Culturally faded glory.
Q: What does Superman mean for you, for all of us, coming back today?
Snyder: You know, I think Superman, for me, I’ve been a big fan of the character and honestly I wasn’t sure about this project before I talked to Chris (Nolan) about what he and David (Goyer) had come up with. So, I don’t know. I think that I like the fact that Superman’s American, you know? I think that that’s cool. I know that in the past or in recent years, his Americanism, his Americanness has been a liability for him. But I think that there is an amazing amount of naïveté and an amazing amount of, sort of – Superman could not be of any other nationality other than American because he’s so naïve. (Laughs) But at the same time, he has this weird morality that actually makes him ideal superhero material. I don’t know that he couldn’t – you can’t have a Superman that is reasoning. You can’t have a Superman that is battling cultural morality. You need a Superman that has built in sort of values. I think that that’s, you know, him growing up in Kansas and that whole part of him is very – I always remember everyone saying like, “You’re not going to show him growing up in Kansas, are you?” I’m like, “Why make Superman? Why jump the most – to understand him, you have to understand the why of him.” By the way, I’ll say the first scene that Chris pitched me was a scene that was about his childhood. It had nothing to do with like, smashing s**t or anything like that, which is cool. But, it was very much a character childhood character moment that made me say, “Okay, that’s different.” It’s a different point of view of Superman that made me go, “Yeah, that grown up version of that guy is interesting to me.”
Q: Everyone’s had a hard time sort of discussing Clark and how he’s different than other versions of Clark. Is there anything you can tell us about how different he might be?
Snyder: I’ll only say that I think in a lot of – well, definitely in the movies, he always jumps straight from childhood to Clark. Like, he jumps from sort of his teenage version of himself to the adult version of himself. Frankly, “The Daily Planet” Clark, that happens pretty quick. I just think that our Clark, he’s not fully realized and I think, by the way, that’s huge information. But I think that’s the big difference. That’s why there’s this talk about who Clark is. In a lot of ways, that’s the movie sort of really is about the why of Clark, not to say that this kind of bumbling—I don’t want to call him bumbling—his mocky, nerdy Clark is—but that’s not the Clark that we went after or are going after. We’re going after sort of a different, there’s a different take on Clark, how Clark is.
Q: How long did you spend searching for the right pair of glasses that he may or may not wear?
Snyder: The ones that he may or may not wear could’ve taken or may not have taken some time to find. (Laughs) That’s awesome.
Q: How did you begin working with Christopher Nolan? When were you brought on board?
Snyder: Chris called me for lunch – oh, I guess it was… September of last year, yeah. He said, “Hey, do you want to have lunch?” I was like, “Yeah.” He goes, “If I talk about ‘Superman,’ is that cool?” I was like, “Sure, it’s cool.” It was a great meeting.
Q: I know that you can’t talk about the origin of the suit. That’s something that we’re probably going to have to wait until the film comes out for. But, can you talk a little bit about the utility of the suit, what makes it different?
Snyder: We just had a very sort of – it’s a very difficult suit, trust me.
Q: I believe it.
Snyder: I have seen every possible version of that suit, versions with underwear, versions without underwear, but, I’ll say that we had versions without the red, without red, without a cape, with a cape, everything you can imagine. Just to look, to see it. It’s funny because the suit, it’s really all about, for me, it’s all about like, sort of the squint test kinda concept. I don’t know. Like, it’s gotta be Superman instantly, but it also can’t – when we tested Henry, we didn’t have a costume, so we put him in the Christopher Reeve costume, right, just because Warner Brothers owns it. So I was like, “Oh, just put him in that. It’s fine. We’ll know whether he can – whether it’ll work, right?” Of course, then Warner Brothers said, “You’re not allowed to use our costume because it’s collectors. It’s worth millions of dollars.” I was like, “It’s okay. Fair enough.” So we made one based on it. So we ended up doing R&D.
Q: You should’ve put him in a Snuggie.
Snyder: Basically. We shoulda just got it from what’s it called? Yeah, what’s that place that makes our costumes all the time? Rubies. I shoulda got the Rubies Superman. Anyway, so he put it on and the point is is that it’s iconographic. Nobody laughed even though it was ridiculously goofy when you actually looked at it, the costume itself just in a sense that it’s so (Laughs) – the Christopher Reeve costume, like, the shoes are made out of tape. It’s like, a disaster, right? So, ours was okay. It was the whole thing and it’s spandex and it’s really not cool.
Q: It resembles the Fleischer costume in some respects.
Snyder: This or the—?
Q: This one. Your final version.
Snyder: Well, what we kind of went with, I think in the end is because we tried to like, explain a lot of the why of it from a sort of logic standpoint, which is really difficult to do, you have to create like, a whole culture.
Q: Why do you need a cape?
Snyder: Why do you need a cape? Why do you need a suit at all?
Q: He’s indestructible.
Snyder: If you’re awesome. Yeah, exactly. (Laughs) So, it was a lot of fun. I mean, that’s fun just like anything.
Q: Something about your films is you have the iconic slow motion shots and you’re shooting this handheld. Are we going to get the Zack Snyder slow motion Superman punching someone moment?
Snyder: You probably won’t. You will get Superman punching someone, but probably not in slow motion, unfortunately.
Q: What was the common ground that you and Chris Nolan had found with this? You guys have had up until now very different approaches. His approach is a kind of gritty, realistic, and you’ve been very stylized with your films. So, what made you be able to bond on this material?
Snyder: I don’t know. Chris doesn’t really—he’s not really about—he’s just about story. He’s not really a style – I mean, he has his own style, but he would never presume that style on anyone else because he’s just – he’s like, I’m sure he would just say, “Well, that’s the way I see it.” He probably wouldn’t want you to, if he was hiring you, he wouldn’t say like, “Do it like I do it.” By the way, that’s the last thing he’d want you to do. So I think that yeah, I just kinda was like, “Ah, it’d be cool to do Superman this way because Superman is so” – I guess I said the other day that this is probably the most realistic movie I’ve made, and it’s “Superman.” That’s funny. I mean, it’s not funny, but it’s ironic. I like irony, right, and irony is hard. It’s the hardest thing. So, I don’t know. That’s like, the only thing ironic about the film is that it’s all ironic.
Q: What are your thoughts about the music? Are you going to use the John Williams theme or are you going to go in a completely different direction?
Snyder: I don’t know.
Q: It’s still too early?
Q: Now you’ve never sort of…
Snyder: I want Hans (Zimmer) to do it. I want Hans to do it.
Q: You’ve never shied away from sort of projects that come with a certain weight of expectation obviously. How does the weight of this compare to “Watchmen”?
Snyder: You know, it’s different. “Watchmen,” for instance, “Watchmen” it’s almost like “Superman” – because “Superman” is such a pop culture icon that he is sort of transcends genre. He’s so mainstream that most genre guys don’t defend him. (Laughs) Right, like they don’t stick up for him because he’s too mainstream. So they’re just like, “Yeah, Superman. The public can have him. He can be on ‘People Magazine.’ F**k him.” Where like, “Watchmen’s” like, “That’s my thing. You can’t make a movie out of my thing. That’s my personal thing. I own that. That changed my life.” “Superman” didn’t change anyone’s life—maybe a couple of people.
Q: The people standing outside waiting…
Snyder: But that’s a different thing. So, I think that the pressure’s different. I think the pressure is more joyful.
Q: It’s like to make “Superman” cool again.
Snyder: Yeah, people in a lot of ways are just more joyful about “Superman” than say, they are about my other things that I’ve done where people are just really angry people. (Laughs) You know, in general. So like…
Q: You have kids out there waiting to see it rather than fan boys.
Snyder: Yeah, exactly.
Q: You still have fan boys though.
Snyder: Yeah, no, by the way, look, it’s a prerequisite to go see “Superman” if you like comic books at all. It’s not like you’re going to pass on it. It’s like, “Ah, I’m not going to see that.” Frankly, a good fan boy will go see any superhero movie. They should. I mean, what are you going to do, pass on like, “Captain America” or pass on – “Well, I don’t want to see that. That looks stupid.” Really? Really? It’s two hours. Go f**king see it. And then you can tell me.
Q: Plus there’s only one “Watchmen” whereas there’s been so many different ways to do “Superman” that you really have a lot of freedom in it.
Snyder: Yeah, and that’s the thing I think that’s interesting to me is that I’ve never–and I’ve been in the past—against the sort of what I would call—people that say, “Oh, ‘Superman’s’ a comic book movie.” But it’s not really. It’s mythology at this point because there’s been so many iterations of “Superman” that you can not choose any one story anymore, any one storyline. Sure, Krypto’s cool, but that’s his own movie, I think.
Q: I agree. Your dad (visited the set). He knows “Superman.”
Snyder: He knows “Superman.” You know, by the way, “Superman” has generational reach, which is cool.
Q: So it’s a chance to piss off a whole new demographic potentially.
Snyder: Exactly, my dad. I haven’t gone after them.
Q: What does Henry (Cavill) bring to this?
Snyder: Henry is like, Superman-ish, you know, in his feel. He’s really kind. He’s incredibly humble in real life. He can project a naïveté, which is nice, without seeming naïve, (Laughs) which is really a difficult quality. I don’t feel like you can take advantage of him, but he’d still help you change your tire if you had a flat tire on the side of the road. There’s a fine line there.
Q: The alien aspect of him, can you say anything about that?
Snyder: He’s an alien?
Q: Well, David (Goyer) talked about a feudal, Japanese feudal influence and biblical influences.
Q: He also said that Krypton’s going to be more of an alien planet than we’ve seen it look before.
Snyder: Yeah, we really dug deep into sci-fi freak show with Krypton. There’s no like, crystal pillars. His place is awesome and crazy, Krypton I mean.
Q: The little pod thing (infant Superman’s spacecraft) is fascinating in the barn.
Snyder: Oh, the pod, yeah. Yeah, that’s kind of the sort of architecture of Krypton, sort of its biotech weirdness.
Q: I have a question that you can probably answer very quickly. I saw that you set Smallville in Kansas like the first movie did. Where is Metropolis going to be set in a specific state? Will it be New York?
Snyder: What we did is, I created this thing called the District of Metropolis, which is a mythical sort of – the problem was is that it happened because legal wanted a state. Legal was like, “What state is Metropolis in?” Legal called me and said it. I was like, “I don’t know. I don’t want to say.” They were like, “You have to say because there’s a Metropolis, Illinois and you could be sued and blah, blah, blah.” I was like, “Okay.” So we created this thing called the District of Metropolis and Metropolis is inside of it. We’re kind of setting it near – it’s sort of an east coast city, but it’s like, right there in Chesapeake Bay, you know? It’s kind of those islands. You could imagine if one of those had been a city had been built on one of those. That’s kinda where we put it.
Q: Can you talk about some of the other cast members? We haven’t met anybody else. Could you just throw out sketches of Russell (Crowe)?
Snyder: Kevin Costner. (joking) He was in a movie called – no.
Q: As far as what they bring?
Snyder: Kevin playing Jonathan, he’s just done an amazing job. We’ve shot all his scenes except for one already. He’s just awesome because he’s an amazing actor, amazing instincts, wants to make the work better. He’s always looking at every scene like, “You know what would be cool if—what if I—would it be more emotional if I did this?” He’s really awesome that way. Diane is kind of the same way. She’s cool. You get one ‘f**k’ in a PG-13 movie, but we haven’t used it yet, but I wanted Diane to say it. (laughter) We couldn’t figure out a way for her to say it.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the 3D and the fact that you guys are post converting? Your thoughts on the 3D process, all that stuff?
Snyder: I don’t know. We’re kind of in a – look, I’ll be frank about 3D. I think it’s cool. We spent quite a while talking about shooting the movie in 3D and we tested a bunch of rigs. I said, “Look, the movie’s handheld. If you guys can give me a handheld grade that I think is viable, I’m happy to talk about it.” No one could find me a rig. I think I did 20 set-ups today, 21 set-ups. I think that I would’ve done four, honestly, and especially handheld. John (Clothier) would be at the chiropractor right now. So, I guess my feeling is that I wasn’t going to change the style of the movie for 3D. I wasn’t going to be like, “Oh, it’s 3D, so it’s not handheld anymore.” So I guess that was one of the big things that made us just go like, “Well, we’ll post convert and that’s cool. We’ll spend time and we’ll make it as awesome as we can. We’ll collect all the data we need and we’ll just do as good a job as we can.”
Q: Any technological breakthroughs, do you think, on the movie?
Snyder: I mean, I think that we’re doing a lot of crazy s**t on this movie. I can’t say exactly what technological breakthroughs, but we’re definitely doing some crazy s**t. Like you know I always say, like, we wanted to make it really sort of realistically based, but don’t forget, “Superman” can’t do anything that’s not a visual effect. He’s not like other superheroes. He literally can’t – when he’s Clark or when he’s talking to you, that’s fine. He could just be himself in his suit and be kinda normal. But as soon as he touches it—you can’t put anything—you can’t put like, a steel beam on it like, and make something out of lead. Those days are over. You can’t fly him on a wire and have him fly around. It’s really complicated and really difficult in scale in order to make this movie, “Superman” scale, that’s also been a pretty massive undertaking.
Q: Can you talk about the action set pieces? Do you have three huge ones? Do you have five minor ones? I mean, I’m just curious. The thing that was missing in the last “Superman” movie and a lot of us have talked about it is it just wasn’t enough action. You didn’t get to see Superman kicking some ass.
Snyder: No action in that movie. Yeah, I know. I’m not going to say the number of action set pieces, though I appreciate your— Publicist: Attempt. Snyder: –attempt to set some kind of a—suffice it to say, that is choc-a-block of action because I feel like it’s kinda crazy to have the most powerful superhero, basically, and have him just standing around feeling angsty. I get it.
Q: Or being a stalker.
Snyder: Or stalking. So we have – look, the movie is very emotional, this movie that we’re making. It’s based in – it’s got a lotta heart, but it’s not shy with its use of Superman as an ass kicking device.
Q: Going back to the cast, I think with David (Goyer) who said that Michael Shannon’s Zod is sort of like Heath Ledger’s Joker in sort of re-envisioning in sort of a psychological way. Could you talk a bit about how your viewings are and how Shannon is bringing that?
Snyder: Yeah, we’re just trying to make his point of view – he’s not maniacal or f**ked up. He’s got a point of view that is not crazy. I think Shannon also is just, he’s a force of nature and I think that that is really fun and helpful. Whatever the stakes are, you have to figure that Shannon will raise them just by being Shannon. Then, I think that’s fun because I think that you’ve gotta have a real threat. That’s a lot of reasons the Zod of it all comes from that, right? We didn’t want to start this adventure with a Superman that didn’t have an enemy that showed why he needs to be Superman. Zod is Kryptonian as well.
Q: I gotta ask, if I had to work with my wife every day she’d kill me, yet you’re doing it here. You’re making it work. How does that work? Publicist: She’s going to kill him if he doesn’t make this movie.
Snyder: No, I mean, it’s awesome. I couldn’t not work with my wife. I wouldn’t know how to do it. I would be – what do you call it? Lost or somehow – look, you know, in this business, you need a partner that you trust and that’s what it’s all about.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the Easter eggs in the movie? We noticed outside the Easter egg, Ezra’s Mail Depot as in Ezra Small in Smallville.
Q: Are there any other Easter eggs?
Snyder: There’s probably a few. The guys, the art department guys have really tapped deep into the mythology of…
Q: Mort Weisinger, something or other.
Snyder: Yes, there’s a lot of – and I think that even the character names that we’ve chosen, you’ll see, they resonate with different iterations of “Supermans”. We kinda wanted to not – it’s all nonspecific, right? I changed the Smallville high school mascot to the Spartans just because I thought that was cool. I think they’re like, in the comic book they’re something ridiculous.
Q: It says The Crows outside.
Snyder: Yeah. What’s that?
Q: It says The Crows on the banner?
Snyder: The Crows is the – what’s it called? Isn’t The Crows the…? That’s their – what’s it called? That’s their boosters for the motorcycle gang that raises money for like, the what’s it called? The MIAs and sort of anyone, yeah, Veterans of Foreign – yeah, the VFW.
Q: If you were doing the sequel, who would you cast as Lex Luthor?
Snyder: Awesome, you guys are great. Thank you so much.
Q: You must appreciate our efforts.
Snyder: Yes. You guys are great. I’ll see you soon.
On the NEXT PAGE, you can read another full interview with screenwriter David Goyer.