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Watchmen - Zack and Deborah Snyder interview

Zack Snyder directs Watchmen

Interview by Rob Carnevale

HUSBAND and wife filmmaking team Zack and Deborah Snyder talk to us about some of the challenges of bringing Watchmen to the big screen and why they never make it easy for themselves.

In doing so, they reveal how original plans for the film involved creating a franchise and giving it a lighter tone, and why they deliberately sought out less well-known actors. Zack even gives us a little insight into the three hour-plus director’s cut!

Q. How did you go about adapting the graphic novel, and how did you ensure you had the creative freedom to remain faithful to it?
Zack Snyder: It’s a weird movie, there’s no two ways about it. I think in a good way. I wasn’t sure I had the ability to get it made the way I wanted it. I didn’t know what it would take. When I got the project, what the studio had in mind was a PG-13 two-hour movie where Dr Manhattan goes to Iraq…

Deborah Snyder: Adrian gets killed in the end…

Zack Snyder: Yeah, the owl ship smashes through and kills Adrian. And they also thought that what would be good is if Dan could stop Adrian from committing the war atrocity. I was like, okay. And they wanted it sequel-able, like you’ve then got a Fantastic Four franchise called Watchmen. They even said: “We think it’s based on a graphic novel.” I said: “Yeah, it’s based on a graphic novel. I have it right here.” So that was the thing that struck me as difficult. I knew the whole process was going to be hard, or not work at all – to turn it around into this 18 rated, two and half-hour, morally ambiguous philosophical experiment. That’s a big difference from what they were expecting.

Deborah Snyder: But I also think it was because of the success of 300. They saw 300 and said: “Okay, this is based on a graphic novel, it’s rated R, it’s really violent, there’s no stars in it and it did really well.” So even though they didn’t understand what Watchmen was, it gave them something to work with.

Zack Snyder: A little bit of confidence. And they took the leap.

Q. Was it deliberate not to cast big name actors?
Deborah Snyder: It definitely was. It was the same way we approached 300. We didn’t want anyone to stick out. We didn’t want people to say: “It’s Brad Pitt playing Nite Owl, for instance.” Especially for something like this, where you really have to buy into the performances.

Zack Snyder: And the world. It’s difficult because it’s like your friend in a movie. It takes a lot to get past that.

Q. How did you choose which parts not to include in the film?
Zack Snyder: I knew the movie wasn’t going to be able to be four hours long, so I did have to make some choices. But the big things for me were I wanted to make sure the Comedian’s funeral was intact, and Dr Manhattan on Mars, Rorshach’s interrogation – those three areas I laid those out. Then also the moral checkmate sequence and Rorshach’s death, those scenes were really important to me, and everything around them supports them.

Q. Will there be a director’s cut?
Zack Snyder: Yes, in July they’re going to do a small theatrical run of the director’s cut in New York and Los Angeles. It’s three hours and 10 minutes. It’s like Hollis’ death, there’s a bunch of stuff…But it’s spread out all over the movie – five minutes here, one minute there, two minutes here. One of my favourite lines in the movie – “we’re all puppets, Laurie. I’m just a puppet who can see the strings” – that Dr Manhattan says to Laurie on Mars, that happened to fall in the middle of this section we cut out. Which is them arguing about Laurie sleeping with Dan. So, we put all that back in. Then there’s more naked Dr Manhattan [laughs].

Deborah Snyder: We knew that what would never make it into the theatrical release was The Black Freighter and Under the Hood. But once we started working on the film, Zack said: “We gotta find the money, we gotta figure out how to do this…” So, we did. Two weeks after the film comes out there’s a DVD and it has the pirate story with Gerard Butler doing the sea captain voice for it and Under the Hood… Come the fall, there’s going to be the Ultimate Watchmen, where we thread everything through. That’s a three hour and 30 minutes version.

Q. Remaking Dawn of the Dead, then taking on 300 and now Watchmen, you’re not making it easy for yourself…
Zack Snyder: [Laughs] No, it’s a bit of a problem. It’s not that I don’t. I’m a huge fan. Those guys are geniuses in their own right. I didn’t plan it like that. It’s a mistake.

Deborah Snyder: Our next film is original, something that Zack wrote.

Q. How do you marshal all your children at the same time?
Zack Snyder: Well, my son’s in the movie, so I keep him close. My son’s the baby Rorshach.

Deborah Snyder: He was also baby Leonidas [in 300] too.

Zack Snyder: I don’t know if he wants to be an actor, but he was like: “Yeah, I’ll do that.” I was like: “Okay, so you have to grab this guy and bite his face off”. And he’s like: “Alright, that’s fine.”

Q. Did you seek advice from any of the filmmakers previously involved in the project?
Zack Snyder: Y’know, I didn’t. Debbie read all the previous scripts. I only read the last one, the one that they said: “Okay, this is our draft.” But I do have great respect for those guys. I give them credit in the title sequence where they through a Molotov cocktail and blow up the TVs, that’s like the beginning of Brazil. So, I tried to acknowledge them.

Q. You’ve made the film quite cinematic. Did you have fun making the film cinematic in it’s own right?
Zack Snyder: I did. It’s a movie. Alan [Moore]’s comic book was supposed to be quintessentially a comic book, and I thought the movie should at least know it’s a movie.

Q. Were you conscious of making a movie not just for a comic book audience, but another audience too?
Zack Snyder: Yeah. I would say that that audience is the most correct audience for the movie. The person who goes to see Watchmen thinking it’s a superhero is the right guy. 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. Then I started reading it and I thought: “What the f**k?

Deborah Snyder: That’s what also makes it not just a genre film. I was not aware of what Watchmen was until we got the project. I read it and thought: “Wow, there’s so many other things.” But that’s what makes it so interesting and different.

Q. What do you hope people take way from watching Watchmen?
Zack Snyder: A bunch of stuff. At every turn there’s a moral lesson or some self-reflexive pop culture allegory or moral ambiguity. But superheroes are a mythology, there’s no two ways about it. We have to accept that. Anytime you start to worship gods without reason, you have to break that down and look at what are the consequences of that. Look, I loved Iron Man, I thought it was a great movie. I walked out of Iron Man, turned to my friend and said: “What do you think? Downey’s awesome!” He agreed and then he said: “What do you want to do?” And I said: “Let’s go and get some mini-pizzas and a beer.” And we didn’t talk about the film again.

Deborah Snyder: If it makes people talk about it, whether they like it or don’t like it, or whether Adrian was right or wrong… If it gets people thinking, then we did our job.

Q. We have to ask… will there be sequels?
Zack Snyder: Yeah, there’s no sequel. That would be missing the point.

Read our review of Watchmen

Read our interview with Jeffrey Dean Morgan