A few years ago, Universal decided to remake George Romero's 1977 horror classic "Dawn of the Dead" using an unknown commercial director named Zack Snyder, something that did not go over well with horror fans. That is, until they saw the movie, a gory spectacle every bit as entertaining as the original.
Currently in post-production, Snyder's second movie is an adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel 300, a Greek war epic based on the battle of Thermopylae where 300 Spartans held off a Persian army of thousands. Aware of the high standing Miller holds among comic fans, Snyder decided that he was going to make the movie EXACTLY like the graphic novel, using Miller's writing as the script, and taking it apart panel by panel.
Even before 300 was near completion, Snyder's name was thrown into the ring as the next filmmaker to take a crack at what will likely be the biggest challenge of his career, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen. Many great directors like Terry Gilliam and Paul Greengrass have tried and failed to bring the difficult superhero thesis to the big screen, but the enthusiastic and confident director must feel that he's up to the task of taking on a project that would turn him into a minor deity if successful.
Superhero Hype! had a chance to sit down with Snyder for a few minutes at the San Diego Comic-Con to talk to him about 300, but instead, we ended up mostly talking about what Snyder hopes to get out of doing Watchmen.
Superhero Hype!: "300" is not Frank Miller's best known work, and it will probably only really be known to his fansâ€¦
Zack Snyder:: No, it's absolutely obscure. The thing that's cool about "300" to me is that though it's a Frank Miller work, as an event in history, it's one of the seminal events. Everyone knows about it. I mean, any historian will tell you about Thermopylae, a famous crossroads in history. And so for that matter, it is a worthwhile story to tell, and I think that Frank, like myself, is inspired by that same story. I think and my hope is that in some ways it has accessibility in a broader world than "Sin City." Though I'm a huge fan of "Sin City," I feel like my father can go see "300" and go like, "That's awesome!" and see a fight for democracy, and I can go see it and go "Oh yeah, there's girls kissing!"
SHH!: Obviously, Frank Miller's art is very stylish and you're try to recreate that in the movie. Is it going to be hard for people that aren't used to that kind of artwork to get used to it?
Snyder: I don't think so, because to me it's like anything. When you see something that's compelling, you notice the style for like five minutes and then it's like that's the world, and if it hooks you, it hooks you.
SHH!: As far as "Watchmen," there's probably not much more you can say about it until they give you a script.
Snyder: Yeah, working on the script and if it's awesome, I'll do it.
SHH!: You're taking up a project like this after remaking a beloved horror classic like "Dawn of the Dead" then making a movie based on a Frank Miller comic, but with "Watchmen," so many directors have tried making this movie and failed, so why would you put yourself through that?
Snyder: It is challenging, and I have to say that if I can crack "Watchmen" it would be awesome for everybody. I just don't think that Hollywood, in general, has any idea what "Watchmen" is. They think it's a superhero movie. They think it's "Fantastic Four," and guys, it really isn't. Basically, they thought they were making "The Champ" and they got frickin' "Fight Club," you know what I mean? That's the difference. That's how hard it is. The problem is that if everyone thinks they're getting a superhero movie, what they're going to get is like something that really makes them examine the entire genre. I always say that if we nail "Watchmen," if it's awesome, everyone [making superhero movies] is going to be like, "Man, you've made it hard for the rest of us." Which is what you want, I mean, that's how it should be.
SHH!: Kind of like what happened when the graphic novel came out. "Watchmen" was a very specific story wrapped-up in 12 issues, so have you thought about how you're going to get as much as possible into the movie or even separating it into two movies?
Snyder: You know, I haven't. What I've been doing is really trying to measure the work on what's being presented to me right now, and whether that has to be expanded or made into two movies. That's a question that I'm going to have to answer as they get closer to them saying, "Okay, what's the movie?" Because right now, I'm finishing "300," and I haven't really [thought about it], other than going, "Yeah, Watchmen could be awesome!" Other than that, truly, I haven't had a ton of time, other than I know the book and leave it by my bed. My [copy of] "Watchmen" is like freaking highlighted and drawn-on and dog-eared and f*cked up. Other than that, I sort of know in my heart what it should be. I know it in an abstract way, I guess I'm saying. I haven't really gone to the place of saying, "What's the practical on this, and how many days are we shooting? How many scenes?" That I have not done, because I just don't have the time right now. Hopefully, in the next couple of weeks, I'm going to be finished with a lot of my responsibilities on "300" and I'm going to really then be able to go, "Okay, let's look at this. Let's be practical and real about what it is." I think from then, we'll really be able to get a sense of it. I mean, I'd love to do it soon.
SHH!: I know you're a big action fan also, but unlike "300," Moore's book doesn't really lend itself to doing a lot of action.
Snyder: No, it's not a big action thing. That's the problem with it, in the sense of that's what happens to a screenplay, is that when you distill it down, you end up with only the action scenes. That's why you have to be careful, because you don't want it to become that, because then it becomes like a movie. I always say that "300," it's not a movie, it's something else. And that's how "Watchmen" is to me. It's not a movie. If you don't understand that "Watchmen" is an experience, then you don't understand "Watchmen."
SHH!: How much time have you spent working on "300" from beginning to end?
Snyder: From the day I got back from "Dawn of the Dead," from the day it was released, that's how long I've been working on it.
SHH!: Are you worried that "Watchmen" is going to become your life, and that you'll end up spending five years trying to make sense of it?
Snyder: It's possible. I mean, I don't really think about it that way. If it's good it's good, however long it takes.
SHH!: I'm glad Warner Bros. is behind you and are liking what you're doing with "300" to have you do it.
Snyder: They're really behind me, and I think they want "Watchmen" to be awesome. It's like I was saying. They have Superman and Batman. How cool for them to do "Watchmen"? It's like they have these billion dollar franchises, and basically they are making a movie that goes, "What does that mean?"
As an added bonus, here's some more non-exclusive stuff from Zack on his take on Watchmen from a roundtable interview we did earlier that day:
SHH!: How different is it going to be taking the way you're working on "300," basing it so much on Frank Miller's art and writing, to how you might approach "Watchmen"?
Snyder: The thing with "Watchmen" is you can use a similar language, because you can say, "Okay, here is this frame"--and I would hope that it's going to be a slightly different process because every movie needs each own thingâ€”but for me anyway, I think it's certainly a thing that's worked and there's no need to break it now. So far with "300," I kind of have a system where I can find the frame, find the moments around it and the ideas around it and make the through-lines happen.
SHH!: But in that case, would "Watchmen" really need to look like Dave Gibbons' artwork, because it's supposed to be set more or less in the real world?
Snyder: "Watchmen" is different because it's a building and it's a modern world. I don't think that the intention of "Watchmen" is to renderâ€¦ For instance, like Richard Nixon, you can't film Richard Nixon because he doesn't exist, so would you put a guy in prosthetics and make him look like Richard Nixon? That's one way to do it and it's kind of cool. Would you do some sort of "Zelig"-y stolen footage thing? That's another way to do it. I tend to go towards the guy in prosthetics who looks like a crazy version of Richard Nixon, because it looks more like the drawings.
SHH!: But will you still be using David Hayter's script?
Snyder: A lot of it. Here's the thing with "Watchmen." Since I've been involved with it, [writer] Alex [Tse] came on, the Hayter script still exists, but I think honestly for me, Alex's take and Hayter's take, they're both versions of "Watchmen" but for me, they're not it. No one's cracked it. I mean there are elements that I really like, but one of my favorite lines in the book is where the scientist, in the text part of the bookâ€”and I need this in the movie. I'll write it in the movie if those guys can't figure it outâ€”where he says, "I never said that Superman was real and he was American. What I said was God was real and he's American." That to me is awesome, it's hilarious, and it's so true to the book. That's what the whole book is about, that kind of religious irony that makes you go "what the f*ck?" I feel that what happens in the script form is that everyone tries to figure out "how do I get this guy over here?" and "this guy over there?" They're just trying to get the mystery, the story, to work, where my concern is the other stuff, the philosophy of it. Honestly, what's going to probably end up happening, and I don't know, who knows--we'll see what these guys do--I'm really waiting to see something that's close enough that I can go, "Okay, I can do this. Let me glue some sh*t onto this and make it work."
SHH!: Is there any hesitation on taking on a project that has literally been going on for decades and possibly becoming the next guy in a line of people who didn't get it off the ground?
Snyder: Of course, if you don't think that then you're just "I'm scared of it!" Honestly though, for me, "Watchmen" is so cool that whenever I get bummed out about the script or about making it into a movie and what everyone thinks, I just go to the book and open it up, look at it and go, "Okay, this is going to be awesome. Don't freak yourself out." For all the guys who say, "Don't make it into a movie!" and I have to say that some days I wake up and I'm that guy. On the other hand, I still honestly believe that you're never going to get all of it into the book, but I would hope that if you can get it so that the experience of the movie is similar to the experience of the book, [people can] then go, "I want more. I'm going to go read that now. I'm going go to read the whole book and get every little ounce of it."
SHH!: Does it break your heart knowing that you won't have Alan Moore's support like you do with Frank Miller while making "300"?
Snyder: I know I won't. It's a completely different experience with Frank. I don't think anyone thought of making "300" into a movie, so for Frank, it was like, "Yeah, I guess. Someone's going to make 300 into a movie? That's crazy." I talked to [Frank] and told him what I wanted to do and he said he was busy with "Sin City," but as we started to have this relationship, he realized that I wasn't going to f*ck it up. After I screened him the movie, he was like, "You know what? That's the movie I wanted to see when I was 15 and I only had 'The 300 Spartans,' the one that made me want to do it." That's a cool thing to say, because the experience of the movie is the experience he didn't have in the world, so he had to sit down and draw it, so he could have it. With "Watchmen" and with Alan, it's a different thing. They've already pulled it and a million people have tried to do it. I don't think he thinks there's any way [it might work]. I did read that he said that the Hayter draft wasn't bad but he wouldn't see the movie. I guess that's positive. My feeling is that all I can do is love it and do the best I can, so if the off chance he was at home on some Saturday night and it happened to fall into his DVD player, he might think, "Oh, that doesn't suck." That's really what motivates me, and also, I don't want it to be crap, so there's that.
You may be waiting a long time for Watchmen, but you don't have to wait nearly as long to see Zack Snyder's take on Frank Miller's 300, which comes out March 16, 2007. We'll probably have a lot more with Zack between now and then, including Superhero Hype!'s visit to the Montreal set where the movie was made.
Source: Edward Douglas
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