ShoWest 2010 Exclusive: Catching Up with Zack Snyder

Finishing our coverage of ShoWest 2010, we had a chance this year to talk to one our favorite directors, Zack Snyder, who we first met long before the 2007 blockbuster 300 solidified his reputation as the respected visionary he’s considered today.

Snyder was at ShoWest last year to accept his award as ShoWest Director of the Year, and this year, he was there to talk up one of his upcoming movies, the 3D animated adventure Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, based on the books by Kathryn Lasky. Arriving in theaters in late September, it’s an action-adventure about an owl named Soren trying to find the legendary winged warriors, the Guardians of Ga’Hoole, to help save his people from the evil Pure Ones, whom the Guardians defeated once before. Working with Australia’s Animal Logic (Happy Feet) on the animation, Snyder has pulled together an amazing voice cast for his first animated movie including Emilie de Ravin, Ryan Kwanten, Jim Sturgess, Helen Mirren, Geoffrey Rush, Hugo Weaving, Sam Neill and Richard Roxburgh. It will be his first movie produced and projected in 3D.

What’s interesting is that Snyder started his film career with three high-profile adaptations/remakes, tackling the likes of George Romero, Frank Miller and Alan Moore, and he’s now going in a different direction, first by adapting a lesser-known series of kids’ novels. At the same time, he’s been making Sucker Punch, his first movie based on one of his own original ideas. That one stars Emily Browning (Lemony Snicket) as a girl confined to a mental institution by her stepfather who plots her escape, and it co-stars what may be the hottest group of women who’ve ever shared a screen together, namely Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish, Jamie Chung, Jena Malone and Carla Gugino. We actually know quite a bit more about that movie than just its synopsis, but we want people to be surprised when Snyder debuts footage of that at this year’s Comic-Con. (Oh, and we’re also under embargo.) Recently, it was announced that Snyder would be converting Sucker Punch into 3D as well, which makes it that much more appropriate to discuss at ShoWest, which seems to be more and more about 3D with every passing year.

Regardless, we were looking forward to talking to Snyder, since it’s been a while, and we even got in a few questions about Xerxes, the planned prequel to 300 which may be the next thing he directs after finishing up the two movies currently on his plate.

ComingSoon.net: “Legends of the Guardians” is your fourth adaptation but it’s been a little more under the radar than your previous movies.
Zack Snyder: I’ll say that the animation process has been really interesting for me in that I’m used to this process where you shoot the actors and that’s the moment, you got them. And in this animation process, the movie is never done. You can tinker with it and mess with it deep into the process. It’s liberating on one hand, but it’s also a really different experience on the other, because you constantly are refining a moment over and over and over rather than a simple… I guess the point is that when you think about it as an adaptation–not to say that it’s far away from the books–I feel like it does take on a life of its own. It’s about the first three books is what we’re doing.

CS: With “300,” you did have a lot of CG to deal with in post-production but for this one, you’re actually making another movie while they’re doing the animation so you’re not able to be there physically all the time. How have you managed that?
Snyder: I have an HD video conference I do with the guys every day, that’s kind of my way I do it. My set-up looks like the Enterprise basically. I have an HD video monitor, I have a color correct monitor over, and I have a Wacom tablet that has the actual scenes we’re working on where I can draw on the actual shots, and then I have two other computers that have the shots that we’re going to talk about during the day.

CS: Since they’re on Australian time, you’re basically doing that when you’re done shooting or working on “Sucker Punch”?
Snyder: Yeah, I do it at the end of my day, so it’s kind of crazy.

CS: I know you wanted to do something that your kids could see, but why this particular project bringing these books to the screen?
Snyder: Grant Freckleton is the guy who works at Animal Logic and was the visual effects art director on “300″ and really, it was that relationship, because he’s the production designer on this movie. We had done a lot of fun stuff together on “300″ and he really helped define the visual FX look of “300″ with me. He and I got talking about the potential of this, and I saw some early paintings that they had done, and I said, “Man, this is cool. This could be great.” Literally, it was that that seduced me more than anything, the potential of these… I was really into this idea that the movie took place at nights, but their moon is our sun, and those are the kinds of images. I’m easy to get excited when you start talking about pictures like that. “Oh, okay, that can be awesome!” and the next thing I knew, we were deep in it and Soren was on his journey to find the Guardians.

CS: Did you feel that this was more low-key where you don’t have a lot of fans watching what you’re doing under the microscope?
Snyder: Yeah, 100%, and that way, I don’t want to say it’s more fun, but it’s interesting to not have this huge pressure on the movie from a fan’s standpoint. I think in a lot of ways, it makes the movie more enjoyable for fans in a general sense, because they’re not having to scrutinize the movie, they allow the movie just to be whatever it is. I think that’s interesting, and I’ve never had an experience like that.

CS: It will also be interesting to see if the older guys who like “Watchmen” or “300″ bring their kids to introduce them to your films.
Snyder: Yeah, ’cause that’s the whole thing. The movie is definitely my movie. It’s definitely a kid-friendly PG movie and it’s all about this super-archetypal journey of this young hero who finds… it’s got a lot of an Arthurian vibe to it because you can think about the Guardians as the Knights of the Round Table, and he’s like a young knight and he’s going to find Camelot, only if you can imagine that in his world, he’s not sure if Camelot is real.

CS: Were you able to do the voicework for the movie in L.A. or Vancouver?
Snyder: Oh, we did it all over the place. Some in L.A., I’ve been in Australia–I go to Australia like once a month–then I did a lot wherever the actors were. I’d Skype them, and we’d do it.

CS: How has it been doing the post on “Sucker Punch” pretty much at the same time? Are you working on finishing “Guardians” first?
Snyder: No, I’m doing it all at the same time and “Sucker Punch” is coming along really well. I’m really excited about it… it’s crazy and awesome and it’s everything I can hope for right now.

CS: I really had no idea what to expect until I visited the set, and I’m looking forward to seeing how everyone flips out at Comic-Con when they see what you have planned.
Snyder: Yeah, and it’s really come together in a cool way, I think even better than I could have hoped. I think it will rock them pretty hard actually.

CS: How’s the 3D conversion coming along? I know that was something decided fairly recently, right?
Snyder: The 3D thing, yeah, we had the meeting. We talked about it even during production, there being like a 3D element, and when I showed some of the footage around, now everyone’s like, “It’s gotta be 3D, it’s gotta be 3D!” so I was like, “Okay.” I had a bunch of meetings and basically, what convinced me was that they actually did a conversion of “300″…

CS: Ah, okay, I was going to ask about that, because it seemed logical that 300 would eventually be re-released in 3D.
Snyder: Not the whole thing. I haven’t seen the whole movie but they’re talking about doing the whole movie. I saw maybe like a ten-minute section that they’d just done. By the way, they did an amazing job. The way we shot it actually, it’s almost like a 3D movie anyway, so it really lends itself to that. There is a difference. If you look at the trailer for “Guardians,” it’s clearly a true 3D movie, it’s just whistle clean, all of the layers, all of the elements are tack sharp, it’s crazy. So there is a difference, but I feel like the cool thing about “Sucker Punch” – it’s exactly like Alan (Horn) said, “If you want a 3D experience with that movie, it will be there and it will be awesome. If you want to see it in 2D, it will be there as well.”

CS: Some of the things like the train battle you were doing would probably be amazing in 3D.
Snyder: Oh, yeah, and I don’t want to sound weird, but I try to shoot things like that anyway. My actual style lends itself to 3D because I do the depth of the frame and stuff we’re always trying to take advantage of, so I think it’s going to be good fun.

CS: Do you think you might be doing a 3D presentation at Comic-Con like they did last year?
Snyder: I don’t know… for “Guardians” for sure, and for “Sucker Punch” I’m not sure because it’s a trade-off ’cause the conversion takes a while, so we’re trying to decide whether we want to just show some awesome shots, because we’ll have more time to do the visual FX, or if we want it to be in 3D.

CS: I want to ask about the release date of “Guardians.” That’s going to be your fourth movie and then your fifth movie comes out next year, but you have not had a single summer movie yet. On top of that, “Guardians” is being released in September, which is a completely new thing.
Snyder: Fall crowd… yeah, it is odd. I’ve never released a movie outside of March. (laughs) And “Sucker Punch” comes out in March, so yeah, it’s an odd thing but part of the reason why is that this movie was conceived in 3D and we have this great date where we have a big lock on the 3D theaters for 6 weeks or something crazy. It was hard for us because that was perfect. I’m not sure yet, you’ll have to check this, but I think we’re just early enough to allow the DVD for Christmas.

CS: There was a bit of an issue with that last year with the timing of “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” and then again with “Alice” I thought.
Snyder: We actually haven’t challenged it like they tried with “Alice.” We’re right like within a two-day window, so we didn’t want to create… like those guys didn’t care, they were like (says something indiscernible in a loud gruff voice akin to what a tank might say rolling over anything in its way.) The great thing about “Guardians” was that (the trailer) was on the front of “Alice.”

CS: I didn’t realize that. Today was the first time I had a chance to see it. Do you have any idea what’s going to happen after you finish “Sucker Punch”? Do you have any idea which of the things you’ve been developing you might get to?
Snyder: After “Sucker Punch,” I’m waiting on Frank (Miller) for the sequel to “300,” and there’s a really good chance that will be the thing we do. He’s been working hard, yup, he absolutely has so he’s supposed to show me something really soon, actually in the next few months, he’s going to show me something. That would be the next thing and then I’m working on a sci-fi thing that Kurt and I are writing together, an original thing.

CS: Was “Xerxes” Frank’s idea or was that your idea?
Snyder: That’s all Frank. There was a big discussion about what we would do for the sequel to “300″ and I said, “I didn’t tell Frank what to write the first time, and I’m not telling him what to write this time.” I’ll take it and I’ll adapt it and make it into a movie and I’ll write a screenplay, but I want him to do whatever he thinks.

CS: Are you definitely committed to making the movie, and directing it, regardless of what he does?
Snyder: I feel like at this point I’m still waiting to see it, but I’m confident that it’s going to be awesome. I’m not going to say I’m 100%, like that’s it, but on the other hand, I’m pretty confident it’s going to be awesome.

CS: I’m curious to see how it works with him creating something after the movie rather than it being a completed story that’s then adapted, which was the same with “Watchmen.” But you’re not involved at all in terms of where it might go?
Snyder: I don’t want to hear anything about it. They keep wanting to show it to me, and I’m like, “I don’t want to hear about it!” I just want to let Frank do his thing. (laughs) Why do you guys want to mess with him? It’s like crazy… it’s like if you hired an awesome painter (to paint something), you wouldn’t sit over his shoulder and go, “You know, a little more red would be good there. It’s cool if this landscape had more flowers.”

CS: I was asking because with “Kick-Ass”… I don’t know if you’ve seen it yet…
Snyder: I haven’t seen it yet.

CS: But they’ve been doing a second volume of the comic book and Matthew Vaughn is somewhat involved only because he and Mark Millar are talking all the time, so I wondered how the movies will feed Frank’s graphic novel.
Snyder: Yeah, look the truth is that Frank and I have a pretty awesome relationship now, and I feel like the movie in some ways will influence what he does, in some ways – I just don’t think he can avoid it. On the other hand, there is something uniquely Frank… Anyone who is a fan of Frank’s work would say that you just can’t… it’s just his personality and the way he interprets things, and that’s just the thing I didn’t want to mess with. And I feel like when Kurt and I go to write the screenplay, like we changed “300″ a little bit. Not a ton but a little bit, “Oh, it would be nice if this happened” and that’s really the job of writing the screenplay is knowing how to not ruin it, not get in the way of it. That’s why I’m glad that’s a recognized field of adaptation, because it’s really difficult. Or everyone’s like “When you made ’300,’ you just shot the graphic novel, that’s easy, anyone can do that.” I’m like, “Okay…”

Hopefully we’ll have another chance to talk to Zack at Comic-Con or when his next two movies come out, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole on September 24, and Sucker Punch six months later on March 25, 2011.

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