Sucker Punch - Zack Snyder interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
ZACK Snyder talks about making Sucker Punch and playing around with genre expectation.
He also discusses the challenges of not making an R-rated (or 18 certificate) film for the first time and why he has now exorcised certain demons in doing so – which means stylistic changes are in store for his Superman: Man of Steel movie.
Q. There’s the classic quote about Hitchcock that says the movie was designed before the first day he went to shoot it. To what extent is that true for you?
Zack Snyder: It’s pretty true for me…. because I draw everything really carefully the design of the movie is really important to me. With a movie like Sucker Punch, which is both ironic and serious at the same time, I really try and track all that stuff really carefully. The movie goes between being satire and telling the story… you’ve got to tell the story and make real scenes and invest people and do all of that stuff. But at the same time you have to keep your eye on the ball of how tricky are you being? How obvious are you being? How much does the audience need help to understand what you’re trying to say about genre or action or whatever?
For me, the movie is a meditation on genre, it’s all about the why of genre films. I mean I did Dawn of the Dead after making commercials for 15 years, and I was interested in genre films. I had [also] read a lot of comic books, but pretty casually. So, I made Dawn of the Dead and then 300 and then Watchmen, but at the end of Watchmen I found myself at this place where I was basically so deep in genre… it was like no one was deeper in genre than I was in a lot of ways. So, I think that’s where Sucker Punch came from. It came from me going: “What is f**king genre? Like, where am I? How did I get here?” I really wanted to make a movie that just kind of explored those ideas: the why and where genre fits into the motion picture vernacular and mine.
Someone asked me: “Do you feel like this is the most complete expression of your sort of action vocabulary?” And I was like: “Wow, that’s awesome! It’s a cool way of putting it.” But I also said: “And don’t forget that in some ways it is, but in other ways I’ve gone so far into these action sequences that they almost parody my own action and the way I shoot action.” We shot action scenes that are so self-aware that they really, for me, do border on parody because I wanted to test the genre.
Q. Was that why you used girls too?
Zack Snyder: The fact that it’s girls is also part of that thing, yeah. When I first thought of the idea I thought it should be a girl because of this whole mechanism I’d created for getting in and out of the fantasy. But I think that the movie asks certain questions. I mean, can you think of another movie with an all-girl action cast that’s just tearing up the universe with machine guns? Maybe there’s very a couple or a few. It sounds like a genre movie that you’ve seen. But then when you actually try and find that movie you can’t find it necessarily, right? And it’s the same with all the things [in the film].
It’s like: “Where’s that giant samurai sequence where the Samurai has the G mini gun and it starts shooting?” I mean it feels like that sequence has got to exist already, right? But then you realise that it doesn’t. And that’s the same with almost every single one of the sequences in this movie and from an action standpoint that was the thing I thought was fun and interesting and weird and kind of cool – that they were all kind of built on these clichés that you feel like you know but when you actually go and look for them you can’t find them.
Q. Given your obvious attention to detail and iconoclasm in taking ideas and shifting them around and turning them on their head sometimes, that’s OK when it’s your vision, but how will it be in the future if you go onto a well loved property of someone else’s [like Superman]?
Zack Snyder: Listen, Sucker Punch is, I think, a direct response to the movies I’ve done before and it kind of, for me, completes a circle as far as those movies are concerned. I think as I go forward… like Superman is a divinely different kind of concept, not just visually but everything about it. And it’s been that way since I pitched it. Once I’d talked to Chris [Nolan] about how I wanted to make the movie and then told him the way I wanted to approach it, it was a whole other thing in a lot of ways. For me, it was different because I’d sort of exorcised those demons in this movie.
Q. Are there things you simply couldn’t let your imagination run wild with on a property such as Superman?
Zack Snyder: Yeah, I mean there are things sexually probably and in terms of the way I visualise violence. But it’s just a different exercise. You sort of use your brain in a different way. Originally, I wrote Sucker Punch as an R-rated movie. It was written like… and by the way I know how to make an R-rated movie! That’s not a problem for me. But I liked the challenge of having to figure it out. I was afraid that if I just made this movie R-rated we wouldn’t be talking about anything else! Take, for instance, that scene at the end of the movie where Blue has got her in the room thee… when I wrote it the original version of the scene is that he cannot get an erection and so that’s how she beats him. He physically can’t. And I wrote it like, OK, he’s trying to and he can’t… and we see that. So, that’s a different thing. But it then becomes an awesome challenge for me to say: “OK, how do I do that scene now without showing any of that?”
Q. I would imagine that Oscar Isaac was relieved!
Zack Snyder: Oscar’s pretty… I’m sure he would have done it if I had asked him!
Q. How do you decide on what music you’re going to use? Do you listen to material at home and then slowly select it?
Zack Snyder: It kind of runs like that a little bit. I listen to music in the car all the time. I always make a CD of music that I give to everybody even before the movie starts… even the crew members. I’m like: “OK, here’s a CD of songs you need to listen to while we’re working on the movie… even when you’re driving home.” I feel like it’s a mood or tone. You know when you listen to a whole album and then at the end you’re like: “OK, now I’m in a weird head space because this music has taken me somewhere crazy.” So, that’s what I tried to do with this. A lot of those songs from that original CD are in the movie.
Q. Have you listened to John Williams’ Superman score a lot recently? Will you use it?
Zack Snyder: Oh nice [laughs]! I don’t know for sure but…
Q. What do you like about using the IMAX format?
Zack Snyder: I don’t know… movies are fun and big anyway but if you can put a movie on steroids there’s nothing wrong with that, right? It’s just bigger and crazier and the sound is insane. It’s a way of [making] hyper cinema, especially in this day and age where everyone has a big plasma screen at home and you have surround sound. In a lot of ways, I like things that make the cinematic experience transcendent because it’s so different than what you can experience at home. It’s funny, we have these cinemas in Pasadena where I live and they’re 40 seats per theatre and the chairs super recline, you get a pillow and blanket and you can put your shoes in this little thing and they bring you champagne and food while you’re watching the movie, and you have a little call button in case you want some help. So, you can get a little drunk and feel like: “Wow, that was the best movie ever!” In some ways, it’s just like your recliner at home but it’s not because it’s a very formalised experience and it makes the movie feel really important. I recently saw I Am Number Four there and thought: “Wow, this is cool!” And then I thought: “Well, wait a minute…”
Q. Do you think cinema has to change?
Zack Snyder: No, I don’t think 100%; I just think people just need to be aware of the fact that it’s special and they need to treat it that way. I think the problem is that if they don’t do that they let it move closer to the experience of a private home and then it’s like: “Why leave your house?” We always say that when we make a movie; we always say: “What images can we create that would make people want to leave their house and go to the cinema?” But I honestly don’t think there’s a substitute for going to a packed theatre with a bunch of people.
Q. What do you think of 3D?
Zack Snyder: 3D has got its place. 3D has energised the market a little bit and that’s cool. It’s difficult because fan-boys and cine-files will say: “Oh, it’s being forced on directors and you’re making them wear clothes that don’t fit them.” And that is true and that is dangerous. The problem also is that technicians right now are sort of telling the filmmakers how to make a movie and that’s not good. I mean, I know a lot about 3D. I’ve made a 3D movie. I took all their classes and I talked to everybody and I’ve kind of made it my business to understand 3D. But if I ever make a 3D movie from scratch that’s live action, I’m not going to do that.
So, you go to these seminars and they say things like…. there’s some guy, you don’t know who he is but you’re in the room with a bunch of people. I mean, it’s a weird class because it’s me and then like this guy who is the head of marketing from some Malaysian company where they’re going to create software that might be influential in some of the things that people are doing with 3D. So, he’s in the class too. And then there are some VPs and other people but there are not a lot of directors that’s for sure. I was the only one. So, the guy’s telling the story of 3D to us and I’m sort of listening and I wouldn’t be sure about some of his points. But one of the things he would say is: “Say, we’re doing a scene like this… In a normal movie, we’d do like an over the shoulder so you can know that the relationship’s between the actors. And the guy would say that on a 3D film, that’s not necessary to have the over the shoulder because 3D is so immersive they perceive that it’s their own eyes. So, now you can move the camera closer. Now, it’s almost as if the perspective of the viewer is their own perspective.”
But I would be like: “That’s a bunch of bullshit! It’s not a hologram! It’s not like I’m suddenly in the scene or I’m the actor! Also, not only is that bullshit, the concept of cinema is that you are a passive rider on the ride. If you want to play a video game, yeah I get that’s my eyes and I’m shooting the gun – I get that! But this experience of being in the movie, you want to be over the shoulder; you don’t want to be this guy!” He was like: “What are you talking about?” I accept 3D as an enhanced visual and photographic experience, right? I accept that idea and that’s cool… just like colour, or sound, or cinemascope – that makes sense to me. But when you start to try and say: “No, it’s another way of telling a story…” I’m not sure I’m into that.
Q. So, Superman won’t be in 3D?
Zack Snyder: No, I didn’t say that.
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