I had the opportunity to interview Zack Snyder about how women are portrayed in his filmography. Not only did I get extensive answers to my questions, I was also able to have a conversation with him about his upcoming projects, his influences, and his creativity throughout the years.
The idea for this interview formed during my first year of graduate school. In Zia Jaffrey’s workshop, I shared several essays—which later ended up in my thesis—discussing the themes of feminism within Dawn of the Dead, Sucker Punch and Snyder’s Superman films. During feedback, the topic of sharing work on social media came up and I meekly stated that Snyder himself had seen my essay about Dawn of the Dead, and an additional one I wrote about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. He thanked me for writing the latter. “How did he see your work?” Zia asked me in surprise.
Snyder and I follow each other on a social media app called Vero, think the love child of Instagram and Twitter. As a result, he could view and like my posts, even comment on them, if he wanted to. I didn’t think anything of it then, other than how lucky I was that my favorite filmmaker knew I existed.
Cut to a year later. I had to start brainstorming about my MFA thesis. I knew I wanted to focus on Snyder’s films, so Zia suggested that I ask him if I could interview him. “Oh no.” I had said. “Why not?” she asked. “Do you think he’ll say no?” I told her no, I didn’t think that. I was just nervous at the prospect of doing it. I sent him a long rambling message, explaining my thesis and impending article. He responded a few hours later with a simple, “Sounds good.” Well. That went better than expected.
With my MFA thesis published on ComicBook Debate, and knowing Zack Snyder is familiar with the site, the Farooqi brothers ownership, and many of our writers, I felt ComicBook Debate would be the best home for the interview as well.
Snyder called me on February 20th. He was in his office, and had about an hour before another meeting. Despite that, he was very relaxed, instantly conversational and he pronounced my first name correctly, which has become a rarity.
My first question centered on what initially drove me to write about his films: his fascination with the trope of women fighting back against authority figures, often male, and often, their abusers.
Zack Snyder: “It is interesting,” he began.“Cinema is subconscious. Some of it is wish fulfillment, and revenge is an easy thing to feel. But pulling it back to another layer is another thing.”
Zack Snyder: “In general, there is a physical challenge about the challenges between sexes. And that’s always motivated and fascinated me. I’ve wanted to level that playing ground. Maybe my mother gave it to me, but I have a deep respect for it. There’s a value in different points of views and a lack of freedom without them.”
I remembered watching a few interviews where Snyder referenced his mother as an influence for him, and that influence can be seen in his Superman films with Martha Kent. When I asked further about his influences growing up, he told me: that he “grew up with really strong women”
Zack Snyder: “It feels natural that they [women] are, without effort, heroic. That’s inherently more interesting—the female perspective. My mom was an artist, she was an eccentric character who gave me the courage to pursue the life of being an artist.” And his father? Snyder laughed. “My father was like, ‘When are you gonna get a real job?’ But my mom always gave me the option that I could pursue filmmaking.”
Unlike his mother, his father wanted him to pursue a more grounded career path. He told me that his dad secretly hoped he would get accepted into the prestigious Williams College but Snyder shrugged off the idea, saying that he’s “super dyslexic” and while his father’s insistence for him to be an architect was nice, he didn’t think he could do it. I asked him, was there another path that you considered before filmmaking? “Pottery, maybe. Or a skilled laborer, like a carpenter.” He told me that he most likely would’ve worked in an advertising agency; he’s always been good at selling. But in his words, that path would’ve been the “evil version” of his life.
Sucker Punch was the first film that Snyder made that wasn’t based on an existing property. It was a female-led blockbuster based on an original story he wrote. Because of studio interference from Warner Bros., the film was edited down for general audiences, and even the extended version released on DVD wasn’t Snyder’s intended cut. The general consensus from critics claimed the film was sexist, but Snyder felt they misinterpreted it.
Zack Snyder: “I’m always shocked that it was so badly misunderstood. I always said that it was a commentary on sexism and geek culture. Someone would ask me, “Why did you film the girls this way?” And I’d say, “Well you did!” Sucker Punch is a fuck you to a lot of people who will watch it.” When I asked him if he considered Sucker Punch to be a timely film, in particular with the #MeToo movement and the themes of the film paralleling the experiences of assault survivors, Snyder told me it was liable to happen.
He added that he hopes, one day, the true director’s cut of the film would be released. Warner Bros. heavily altered Snyder’s original idea for Sucker Punch to make it more audience-friendly.
Zack Snyder: “To make them think they’ve had a great show, the movie got changed by the studio for the audience. The voiceover [in the beginning of the film] doesn’t address the actual injustices, but addresses the way the studio would want you to feel, and they don’t want to offend anybody.”
“It’s self-empowering, but doesn’t challenge you the way it was supposed to.” While he thought the voiceover was a “contrived post-production mechanism,” he agreed with the message, even if it was conventional.
We spoke about Wonder Woman. Her first live action introduction in film happened in Batman v Superman, and since then, the DC Extended Universe has shifted to putting female characters in leading roles. Wonder Woman was the first female-led superhero film to be released by a franchise and its success has opened endless doors. To think that Warner Bros. was initially hesitant to include her in Batman v Superman is absurd, but they were. Snyder pushed for it to happen. “Everyone thought it was too soon but I felt like it was time and it was inevitable.”
I asked him in the simplest way, if he thought Wonder Woman would’ve been made without him.
Zack Snyder: “I don’t know!” He told me, laughing. “Maybe, maybe not… I just know that Wonder Woman was a unique and amazing opportunity. I’m happy and proud of the work behind the film. I’m happy that it worked out the way that it did.”
While Wonder Woman is considered the standout of Batman v Superman, I had questions about Lois Lane. A hero without superhuman strength who serves a crucial purpose in both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, Snyder doesn’t think that a Superman film could work without her.
Zack Snyder: “She [Lois] doesn’t need Superman or Clark, the fact that Clark likes her makes him smarter, cooler, better! The more badass Lois is, the better Clark gets. They are an amazing duo who needs each other, but Clark needs her more. You need Lois for a better story.”
He always knew he wanted Amy Adams to play Lois Lane.
Zack Snyder: “Amy actually inspired that opening scene in Batman v Superman. She mentioned journalists who have been in war zones and we went along with it. At a time, it was between her and Zoe Saldana.” He starts laughing when I question that decision. “They’re totally different, but their presence is super strong.”
We talked about Deborah Snyder, his wife and producer for all of his films since 2006 with 300. “Being a producer is very difficult,” Snyder said of her job.
Zack Snyder: “I’m like, “Guys, this is the one that’s awesome!” She’s always talking about work, even when we’re at dinner. I enjoy it, and I don’t mess with her opinions or her way of things and vice versa. We’re naturally supportive, always giving each other their voice.”
Knowing the kind of commentary that Snyder has focused on in his filmography, I wondered how he planned to move forward. Does he feel an added sense of pressure when it comes to his upcoming work? More specifically, with Army of the Dead, his next project?
Zack Snyder: “With Army [of the Dead], it’s difficult not to do to a social statement because the movie is about building a wall for refugees and veterans but it’s also fun to do a zombie heist in Vegas. It makes it richer and better. I can’t help myself. I’ve always worked in a self-reflective way. Cinema is a reflective art form.”
Snyder has multiple projects he wants to work on even while he films Army of the Dead in the summer of 2019. For years, he’s wanted to adapt Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. For a while, it was thought that that would be his next project. Although it’s on hold for now, Snyder still has a script in development, not for a feature length film, but for a television series.
Zack Snyder: “The Fountainhead… It’s still important to me, but it’s a really touchy subject right now. People will think it’s hardcore right wing propaganda, but I don’t view it like that. I just think the story is super fun and crazy and melodramatic about architecture and sex.” He added, “It’s about time we get a different president so we don’t take shit so seriously!”
He told me about a conversation he had had with a woman who wrote a book about Rand, and how the woman told him that during conservative regimes, Rand became very unpopular but during liberal regimes, she became popular again. “Not because they’re looking for it, or afraid of it, it’s because of the seriousness with which Rand is viewed varies in regime and power.”
Zack Snyder: “I think she’s incredible and insane and she’s always said story first, not regarding her politics. But it was easy for her to fall victim to her own popularity, and she drank her own Kool-Aid.” Snyder starts laughing. “She didn’t give a fuck. If she was alive right now she would’ve fucking murdered Donald Trump. She didn’t even like Reagan! She thought he was a nationalist. But I’m rambling now, sorry!”
In addition to The Fountainhead, Snyder has also finished the script for The Last Photograph, a war movie about a correspondent who survives an attack in Afghanistan and ends up teaming with a special ops soldier. There’s even a script written by his screenwriter friend for a Napoleon movie “in the form of Scarface” being considered. “I think it’s fucking awesome.”
Right before we ended the conversation, he told me about the then secret fundraiser he was planning with his alma mater, Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. A three-day event where he screened the director’s cuts of his films—Dawn of the Dead, Watchmen and Batman v Superman—with a Q&A afterwards. The proceeds from the event would go towards renovations of the college’s theater room. “It’ll be a really cool event.”
As I said thank you for the millionth time and hung up, I let out a breath of relief, thinking back to two years before, when the idea of interviewing him seemed like an impossible fantasy, a top ten on my bucket list. Now it’s been made into a reality.
Photograph Featured Image by: Kurt Iswarienko