Watchmen: Zack and Deborah Snyder interview
Published between 1986 and 1987 and made up of lots of minutely detailed parts - just like a watch - Watchmen was the graphic novel that proved comic books could be as sophisticated as any great piece of art. However, this complexity is also the reason that the comic was deemed "unfilmable". Now, 22 years later, the dauntless Zack Snyder has succeeded where directors such as Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky and Paul Greengrass failed. In the first of our special three-part Watchmen interview, we spoke to Zack and his lovely producer wife Deborah and asked them how they went about it.
LOVEFiLM: It’s a very faithful adaptation of a novel that people have been trying to film for a very long time. How did you approach adapting it and how did you make sure you got the freedom to make it?
Zack Snyder: I wasn’t sure I would have the ability to make it the way I thought it should be made. I just didn’t know what that would take. When I got the project, what the studio had in mind was a PG 13, two hour movie.
LF: That wouldn’t please the fans…
ZS: Right, exactly! And by the way, then they’re like, “It’s sequel-able and it’s like the Fantastic Four franchise, but with Watchmen.” So that was really the dilemma. That was really the thing that struck me as difficult in the sense that I knew it was going to be a hard and slow process – or not work at all – to turn it around.
You know, this 18-rated, two and a half hour, morally ambiguous philosophical experiment. That’s a big difference from what they were expecting. But to their credit, I’ve got to say, they did kind of let us…
Deborah Synder: I also think it was because of the success of 300. They saw 300 and they were like, “OK, this is based on a graphic novel, it’s rated R and it’s violent, and it did really well, and there’s no big stars in it.” So I feel like because of that, even though they weren’t understanding necessarily what Watchmen was, it gave them a little bit of confidence.
ZS: They took a leap. They did take a leap.
LF: How did you choose which parts not to include?
ZS: I knew the movie wasn’t going to be able to be four hours. I did have to make some choices, but the big things for me were to make sure that The Comedian’s funeral was intact, Dr Manhattan on Mars and Rorschach’s interrogation. Those three areas. It’s all, “What information do I need to get to make those things make sense?” That’s kind of how I laid it out.
LF: Will we see more in the director’s cut?
ZS: In July they’re going to do a small theatrical run in New York and LA, and that’s like three hours and 10 minutes.
DS: There’s more character, there’s a little more story and everything is just a little bit thicker, you know?
ZS: Like, it’s kind of spread out all over the movie. It’s like five minutes here, two minutes there, one minute here…And then there’s just a little bit more naked Manhattan [Laughs].
DS: The one thing we knew was never going to make it into the theatrical release was The Black Freighter and Under the Hood. But once we started working on the film, Zack was like, “OK, we’ve got to find the money, we’ve got to figure out how to do this.” So we did. And two weeks after the release there’s a DVD that’s coming out and it has the pirate story of The Black Freighter, which Gerard Butler did the Sea Captain voice for..
LF: Were you conscious during the filmmaking process that you had to please not only the comic book audience, but also another audience who weren’t aware of Watchmen?
ZS: I always say that in someways that audience is the most correct audience for the movie. The person who goes into Watchmen thinking it’s a superhero movie is the right guy to see the movie. He’s going to have the intended viewing experience in the sense that he’s me when I read the graphic novel, because I thought it was going to be a comic book about superheroes. And I thought, “Oh well, that’s cool”, then I’m like “What the f***!”
LF: Did you seek advice from any of the filmmakers who were involved in the project before, like Darren Aronofsky or Terry Gilliam?
ZS: You know, I didn’t. Debbie read all the scripts – the previous scripts. I only read the one they said, “OK, this is our draft.” But I do have a lot of respect for those guys. Even just in the title sequence, you know that’s like the beginning of Brasil. I just wanted to say, you know, “Yeah, I know Terry Gilliam was involved in this”. But I didn’t call him really, because I felt like I need to work it out, you know? There was going to be no life raft on that one.
LF: You have six children. How do you marshal that through a film set?
ZS: Yeah, it’s hard. But, like, my son’s in the movie. So I try and keep them close. My son’s the baby Rorschach.
DS: He was also baby Leonidas too, in 300.
ZS: The rest of them aren’t interested. He’s like the only one who would do that kind of thing. I don’t know if he wants to be an actor or anything. He’s just like, “Yeah, I’ll do that.” And I’m like, “OK, well you have to grab this guy and bite his face off” and the guy that he fights is Matty, one of our stuntmen who we use all the time. So I’m like, “You gotta jump on Matty and then punch him and then bite him.” And he’s like, “Alright, that’s fine.”
LF: Was it deliberate not casting big name actors?
DS: It definitely was. I mean, it was the same way we approached 300. We didn’t want anyone to stick out and be like “Ah, this is Brad Pitt playing…” Especially for this, because you really had to buy into the performances.
ZS: And the world. You know, watching an actor you know for the first ten minutes you’re like “Wow, his wig looks weird or that top looks strange on him.” It’s just difficult, because it’s like your friend in a movie. It takes a while to get past it.
LF: With remaking Dawn of the Dead, then 300 and then taking on Watchmen, you’re not making it easy for yourself…
ZS: No! You know, it’s a bit of a problem. [Laughs]
DS: Zack’s next film is something he wrote.
LF: What do you hope people take away from Watchmen?
ZS: At every turn there’s some sort of moral lesson, or some sort of self-reflexive pulp fiction reference, or allegory, or there’s some kind of moral ambiguity, or whatever it is. But in the end, look, superheroes are a mythology, there’s no two ways about it.
LF: And will there be a sequel?
ZS: Yeah, there’s no sequel. I don’t know how you would do that, without missing the point. [Laughs]
Click here to read the second part of our interview: Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Jackie Earle Haley.
Click here to read the third part of our interview: Billy Crudup and Matthew Goode.
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