We visited the Man of Steel set in Plano, Illinois in August, 2011, where fellow journalists and I interviewed director Zack Snyder in a darkened bar in downtown Smallville while he sipped a beer at the end of a day of shooting. We'll be posting more from the set leading up to the release of Man of Steel on June 14.
You’ve been shooting this in a more real-world style than your previous films. What kind of challenges does that bring to you?
Zack Snyder: I guess for me, in the TV commercial world I was known for shooting locations, beautiful landscapes and things like that. So, it’s interesting. It’s challenging in that it’s been a while since I’ve been pressured by the sun and things of that nature. I try to stay away from those problems. But, on the other hand, when the sun goes down you go home, so that’s good. I don’t know. It’s fun. It’s been exciting. It’s kinda cool. I miss being outside. [Laughs] But now I’m tired of being outside.
We’ve got an image of Faded Glory on that building over there in a way I guess could be looked at as a metaphor for Superman at this particular time.
Snyder: You mean in our culture?
In our culture.
Snyder: Culturally faded glory.
What does Superman mean for you, for all of us, coming back today?
Snyder: I’ve been a big fan of the character and honestly I wasn’t sure about this project before I talked to Chris (Nolan) about what he and David (Goyer) had come up with. I think that I like the fact that Superman’s American. I think that that’s cool. I know that in the past or in recent years, his Americanism has been a liability for him. But I think that there is an amazing amount of naïveté. Superman could not be of any other nationality other than American because he’s so naïve. [Laughs] But at the same time, he has this weird morality that actually makes him ideal superhero material.
You can’t have a Superman that is reasoning. You can’t have a Superman that is battling cultural morality. You need a Superman that has built-in sort of values. I always remember everyone saying, “You’re not going to show him growing up in Kansas, are you?” I’m like, “Why make Superman? To understand him, you have to understand the why of him.” By the way, I’ll say the first scene that Chris pitched me was a scene that was about his childhood. It had nothing to do with smashing s**t or anything like that, which is cool. But, it was very much a childhood character moment that made me say, “Okay, that’s different.” It’s a different point of view of Superman that made me go, “Yeah, that grown-up version of that guy is interesting to me.”
Everyone’s had a hard time sort of discussing Clark and how he’s different than other versions of Clark. Is there anything you can tell us about how different he might be?
Snyder: Well, definitely in the movies, he always jumps straight from childhood to Clark. Like, he jumps from sort of his teenage version of himself to the adult version of himself. Frankly, The Daily Planet Clark, that happens pretty quick. I just think that our Clark, he’s not fully realized and I think, by the way, that’s huge information. But I think that’s the big difference. That’s why there’s this talk about who Clark is. In a lot of ways, that’s what the movie is about: the why of Clark.
How did you begin working with Christopher Nolan? When were you brought on board?
Snyder: Chris called me for lunch—oh, I guess it was September of last year (2010). He said, “Hey, do you want to have lunch?” I was like, “Yeah.” He goes, “If I talk about Superman, is that cool?” I was like, “Sure, it’s cool.” It was a great meeting.
Something about your films is you have the iconic slow-motion shots and you’re shooting this handheld. Are we going to get the Zack Snyder slow-motion Superman punching someone moment?
Snyder: You probably won’t. You will get Superman punching someone, but probably not in slow motion, unfortunately.
What was the common ground that you and Chris Nolan had found with this? You guys have had up until now very different approaches. His approach is a kind of gritty, realistic, and you’ve been very stylized with your films. So, what made you be able to bond on this material?
Snyder: [Chris] is just about story. He has his own style, but he would never presume that style on anyone else because I’m sure he would just say, “Well, that’s the way I see it.” If he was hiring you, he wouldn’t say, “Do it like I do it.” By the way, that’s the last thing he’d want you to do. I guess I said the other day that this is probably the most realistic movie I’ve made, and it’s "Superman." That’s funny. I mean, it’s not funny, but it’s ironic. I like irony, and irony is the hardest thing. So, I don’t know. That’s like the only thing ironic about the film is that it’s all ironic.
You’ve never shied away from sort of projects that come with a certain weight of expectation obviously. How does the weight of this compare to Watchmen?
Snyder: You know, it’s different. Watchmen, for instance, is most like Superman—because Superman is such a pop-culture icon that he sort of transcends genre. He’s so mainstream that most genre guys don’t defend him. [Laughs] Right, like they don’t stick up for him because he’s too mainstream. So they’re just like, “Yeah, Superman. The public can have him. He can be on People magazine. F**k him.” Where Watchmen’s like, “That’s my thing. You can’t make a movie out of my thing. That’s my personal thing. I own that. That changed my life.” Superman didn’t change anyone’s life—maybe a couple of people.
Plus there’s only one Watchmen whereas there’s been so many different ways to do Superman that you really have a lot of freedom in it.
Snyder: Yeah, and that’s the thing I think that’s interesting to me is that I’ve never been against the people that would say, “Oh, Superman’s a comic book movie.” But it’s not really. It’s mythology at this point because there’s been so many iterations of Superman that you can not choose any one story anymore, any one storyline. Sure, Krypto’s cool, but that’s his own movie, I think.
I agree. Your dad was here. He knows Superman.
Snyder: He knows Superman. You know, by the way, Superman has generational reach, which is cool.
So it’s a chance to piss off a whole new demographic potentially.
Snyder: Exactly, my dad. I haven’t gone after them.
Can you talk about how your style on this, have you had to adjust? Your kind of normal style is very visual, very stylized. Are there a lot of adjustments you’ve had to make in that kind of handheld style?
Snyder: I don’t think so. I’ve shot a lot of commercials this way and it’s not like a language that I’m uncomfortable with. I feel like it’s kind of fun.
What does Henry bring to this?
Snyder: Henry is like, Superman-ish, you know, in his feel. He’s really kind. He’s incredibly humble in real life. He can project a naïveté, which is nice, without seeming naïve, which is really a difficult quality. I don’t feel like you can take advantage of him, but he’d still help you change your tire if you had a flat tire on the side of the road. There’s a fine line there.
We heard Krypton’s going to be more of an alien planet than we’ve seen it look before.
Snyder: Yeah, we really dug deep into sci-fi freak show with Krypton. There’s no crystal pillars. His place is awesome and crazy, Krypton I mean.
Can you talk about some of the other cast members?
Snyder: Kevin [Costner] playing Jonathan, he’s just done an amazing job. We’ve shot all his scenes except for one already. He’s just awesome because he’s an amazing actor, amazing instincts, wants to make the work better. He’s always looking at every scene like, “You know what would be cool if—what if I—would it be more emotional if I did this?” He’s really awesome that way. Diane [Lane] is kind of the same way. She’s cool. You get one f**k in a PG-13 movie, but we haven’t used it yet, but I wanted Diane to say it. [Laughter] We couldn’t figure out a way for her to say it.
Can you talk a little bit about the 3D and the fact that you guys are post-converting?
Snyder: I don’t know. Look, I’ll be frank about 3D. I think it’s cool. We spent quite a while talking about shooting the movie in 3D and we tested a bunch of rigs. I said, “Look, the movie’s handheld. If you guys can give me a handheld grade that I think is viable, I’m happy to talk about it.” No one could find me a rig. I think I did 20 setups today, 21 setups. I think that I would’ve done four, honestly, and especially handheld. John [Clothier] would be at the chiropractor right now. So, I guess my feeling is that I wasn’t going to change the style of the movie for 3D. I wasn’t going to be like, “Oh, it’s 3D, so it’s not handheld anymore.” So I guess that was one of the big things that made us just go like, “Well, we’ll post-convert and that’s cool. We’ll spend time and we’ll make it as awesome as we can. We’ll collect all the data we need and we’ll just do as good a job as we can.”
Any technological breakthroughs, do you think, on the movie?
Snyder: I mean, I think that we’re doing a lot of crazy s**t on this movie. I can’t say exactly what technological breakthroughs, but we’re definitely doing some crazy s**t. Like you know I always say, we wanted to make it really sort of realistically based, but don’t forget, Superman can’t do anything that’s not a visual effect. He’s not like other superheroes. When he’s Clark or when he’s talking to you, that’s fine. He could just be himself in his suit and be kinda normal. You can’t fly him on a wire and have him fly around. Those days are over. It’s really complicated and really difficult in scale in order to make this movie Superman scale. That’s also been a pretty massive undertaking.
David [Goyer] said that Michael Shannon’s Zod is sort of like Heath Ledger’s Joker. Could you talk a bit about this and what Shannon brings?
Snyder: Yeah, he’s not maniacal or f**ked up. He’s got a point of view that is not crazy. I think Shannon also is just a force of nature and that that is really fun and helpful. Whatever the stakes are, you have to figure that Shannon will raise them just by being Shannon. Then, I think that’s fun because I think that you’ve gotta have a real threat. That’s a lot of reasons the Zod of it all comes from that, right? We didn’t want to start this adventure with a Superman that didn’t have an enemy that showed why he needs to be Superman. Zod is Kryptonian as well.
Can you talk a little bit about the Easter eggs in the movie? We noticed outside the Easter egg, Ezra’s Mail Depot as in Ezra Small in Smallville.
Are there any other Easter eggs?
Snyder: There’s probably a few. The guys, the art department guys have really tapped deep into the mythology of—
Mort Weisinger, something or other. [Weisinger Elementary School]
Snyder: Yes, I think that even the character names that we’ve chosen, you’ll see, they resonate with different iterations of Supermans. It’s all nonspecific, right? I changed the Smallville high school mascot to the Spartans just because I thought that was cool. I think in the comic book they’re something ridiculous.
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