Q&A: Zack Snyder

2009 ShoWest Director of the Year

ShoWest named Zack Snyder its 2009 Director of the Year well in advance of the $55.7 million opening weekend of his Warner Bros. film "Watchmen." The award is as much recognition of the commercial veteran's successes with his first two features -- 2004's "Dawn of the Dead" ($100 million worldwide) and 2007's "300" ($450 million worldwide) -- as it is a vote of confidence in his future. With his Cruel and Unusual Films producing partner and wife Deborah Snyder by his side, the 43-year-old helmer plans to follow his cult comic adaptation with the animated fantasy "Guardians of Ga'Hoole" and the all-girl fantasy actioner "Sucker Punch," which he co-wrote with Steve Shibuya, both due in 2010. Snyder recently spoke with Gregg Goldstein for The Hollywood Reporter about the impact geeks have on Hollywood, being a "visionary" and the battle with Fox that "Watchmen" almost didn't survive.

The Hollywood Reporter: The "Watchmen" ads tout you as "the visionary director of 'Dawn of the Dead' and '300.' " How did you feel about that?

Zack Snyder: It's embarrassing for me, but it's marketing. I asked them, "Do we really need to say 'visionary' on every ad?" And they were like, "Look, if you want us to keep our jobs, it's 'visionary.' " I don't want to say I'm divorced from the process because I'm involved pretty heavily. But in those kinds of decisions -- where it becomes about the sensitivity to your everyday Joe Blow driving home from work and looking up at the poster -- they have an idea about what impression (a term like that) leaves in people's minds, and I trusted that they knew what they were doing.

THR: At what point in the process of making "300" did you land the "Watchmen" gig?

Snyder: They started talking to me about it in postproduction -- and it wasn't that deep into post either. (The deal closed) not that long after that, but it was a little back and forth because I was sort of hemming and hawing about it. I was painfully aware of the pedigree of "Watchmen." There were a lot of things that needed to be done to the script to make it "Watchmen," and I knew whoever they went to might not be a fan or even care about the book. I felt I had a responsibility to at least make it as "Watchmen-y" as I could, and as close to the experience I had when I read it. I did some drawings and pitched them the beginning of the movie and they went for it. They had this knee-jerk reaction that I understood comic book culture and translation, whatever that means. Whether that's true or not, I don't know, but that's how they felt.

THR: Do you think geek culture has gained too much of an influence in Hollywood?

Snyder: A little bit, but I'm not afraid of geek culture, maybe because I'm a little bit a part of it. Now all the big movies, you could say, exist within the realm of geekdom. It's a bad thing to underestimate -- that's been done a lot. If you're not in touch with it, it can be a daunting and scary thing. (Geeks) do wield a disproportionate amount of power for their numbers because they know how to create chatter within the realm of the Internet. What becomes more viable? Are you going to go to a mainstream publication that talks about the industry, or are you going to go to Ain't It Cool News? There's a slight paradigm shift in where Hollywood bigwigs get their news. That's a weird thing to think about, that people are going to CHUD or JoBlo instead of the Wall Street Journal.

THR: Fox claimed they had "Watchmen" distribution rights before production began. At what point did you sense it would be a problem?

Snyder: I didn't think there was anything to worry about. Everyone told me, "Don't worry about it. Everything's fine from a legal standpoint." Only at Christmas, really, did I feel like things might get out of hand. There was a slight, briefest of concepts that the film might not get shown -- (that it might be) put on the shelf somewhere, which I thought could be cool in some ways. Never seen by anyone. That lasted about two weeks.

THR: What happened during that time?

Snyder: I don't know. I was kinda out of it. No one ever called me to testify or talk or anything. I would get updates where they'd go "Oh, it's looking good," and they were very optimistic when they called, but they sounded scared.

THR: You have a certain amount of leverage because people want to work with you. Did you do anything to influence it at all?

Snyder: No, they knew. I'm not in the business of pressuring anybody. I just said, "I know you guys are working, and let me know when it's all done."

THR: Did the fight affect marketing efforts?

Snyder: It didn't. The cool thing is that Warner Bros. said, "Now that we've branded this date (March 6, 2009), we'll do whatever it takes." And they did. They protected the film before themselves, which was pretty awesome.

THR: What impact do you think this fight will have on the industry?

Snyder: Everyone's going to be more skittish and really chase down every detail. It's going to make movies harder to get made for a while. Thank God the next movie I'm making ("Sucker Punch") is a script I wrote myself.

THR: I've read that the "Watchmen" budget was $130 million.

Snyder: We spent way less than that. There was already $10 million spent before we got the movie on (development). What we actually got to work with is a different thing.