Zack Snyder has been busy. Busier than most, even in Hollywood. After all, not many directors are tasked with launching *one* multi-project shared cinematic universes, let alone two.
While it’s only been eight years since the release of Man of Steel, Snyder has lived what feels like a handful of lifetimes since then.
There was the dawn of the DCEU with Man of Steel and the introduction of a new Batman in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. There was the cursed production of Justice League and the tragic passing of his daughter Autumn. And there was, of course, The Snyder Cut.
And yet, for a guy who’s been through both the professional and personal ringer for the better part of a decade, Snyder remains almost child-like in his enthusiasm for his work, particularly when it comes to his latest film, Army of the Dead. That film, as both Snyder and Netflix hope, will be a springboard into a larger Army of the Dead universe: the prequel, Army of Thieves, wrapped production before the trailer for Army of the Dead was even released, while an anime spinoff series Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas is also set to arrive later this year. We told you: Snyder’s been busy.
Ahead of the release of Army of the Dead this Friday, BroBible was given the chance to exclusively speak with the beloved yet equally divisive director, using the opportunity to chat all things filmmaking, Army of the Dead, an imaginary Man of Steel sequel, the psychology of Batman, and more. We’ll also be releasing the interview in podcast form on Friday, so make sure to check that out.
The casting, filming, and making of Army of the Dead
BroBible: All right, folks, today we are joined by a very awesome guest. I honestly think we’ve said this man’s name more than any other name in our podcast. It helps that his name was in the title of his last film. You know him as the director of films such as 300, Man of Steel, and Army of the Dead — ladies and gentlemen, it’s Zack Snyder. How are you today, sir?
Zack Snyder: I’m doing great. Thanks for having me.
BB: I am so stoked to talk to you. Congrats on your new film Army of the Dead. I had such a blast, and I think that’s the point of movies these days, especially with the year that we just went through. It also felt like the logical next step in zombie films, in terms of both what the zombies can do, and the world-building outside of it. I loved the idea of society carrying on while there’s a zombie outbreak. So, let’s start with the cast. Wide-ranging cast. Did you build the characters on actors you wanted to work with or vice versa? And how did you go about crafting this sprawling cast?
ZS: It was a bit of a vice versa, I would say. But each of them sort of got customized a little bit based on who we then got. You know, I always imagined the Scott character, David Bautista’s character, as being a little bit older than Dave, but Dave totally works as the dad in this movie because you don’t bat an eye, but I think originally he was named Scott after Scott Glenn.
BB: Scott Glenn! Great call.
ZS: Yeah, this story has been around for a while, and Scott’s a good friend and a great inspiration, but I’ve been talking to Dave, we’ve been trying to look for a project, and this came along and I was like, “Wait a minute, Dave is perfect for this.” Also because there’s a little bit of– he’s this big, physically capable, like a soldier/warrior, whatever, but also really vulnerable, and having to really open himself up to us. And that was a thing that I thought that Dave will do a great job at.
BB: Well, that’s, what’s great about Dave is I think that he obviously could do the drama as well as the set pieces. So I want to talk about the set pieces. What are the different challenges, and or rewards of filming a zombie set-piece, versus filming a superhero set piece?
ZS: I think with what we were able to accomplish with, we call it “Casino Battle”: there’s a scene where the zombies make it onto the casino floor, and there’s a big fight, there’s just trying to make it to the elevator across the… You get to really see, as opposed to doing the superhero version of that, where Superman’s got to fight his way through whatever it is to get to another place, it would be pretty much pieced together through visual effects, and slowly evolve over the course of whatever the year of post-production, but in the case of this, you really get to see the zombies, the fighting is happening right there, and it’s really rewarding and fun to really shoot them, physically in the space, physically fighting. I do love that, you know, to do the actual fights right on camera. And so it’s a slightly different process, but the same basic outcome. The hope is, anyway, for the drama and the action to all kind of come together in the set-piece sequences.
BB: Army of the Dead is this big-budget, ambitious original movie for Netflix. I’m wondering, is streaming the only viable home for these types of original home run swings that aren’t part of preexisting franchises and known IP these days?
ZS: It’s an interesting way to think about it. This is the first movie I’ve done with Netflix, I haven’t analyzed the marketplace in a super deep dive, other than to say that in regard to ‘Army’ that, yeah, this is original IP. It’s a big budget, but not *huge* budget. It’s not a superhero tent-pole budget, but the world-building and the specific entering of another world are akin to that kind of summer blockbuster creation. I purposely tried to give it that [a blockbuster feel], even though the photography was very intimate and really organic-feeling because I knew we were going to be dealing with these huge elements, and I thought if the movie was doubly slick, that you can lose one. You know, the audience has to keep buying all these different zombie tropes, and different cinematic tropes that I kind of purposely keep swinging in. And I wanted to make sure that the photography kept you hooked — that the actual camera and the way we were using a camera was almost… you’re a third person, you’re part of the journey. And I felt like I could keep stacking on the tropes because I had you along — like you couldn’t get away — you were like one of the members of the team. And yeah, so that was kind of the why of it.
But, to get back to this whole notion of, but I did want to create this sort of feeling of a summer blockbuster kind of tentpole.
BB: Well, job done!
ZS: Thanks. It’s cool for me and my partnership with Netflix. I just feel like this is a cool thing to start doing in the Netflix format, where Netflix is a place to go for these kinds of blockbuster movies. That’s what I kind of want to… That language is really cool and a fun thing. But even now, and even Netflix in response to the movie has said like, “Okay, well, let’s put it in theaters as well.” You know, that’s cool, like I never-
BB: Congrats on that! The news just came out, I think today, or was that last night, or?
ZS: Yesterday. Yeah, yesterday.
BB: Time all blends at this point.
ZS: Yeah, so it’s a really cool development, and I just thought that it was this full circle kind of affair, which I think is cool.
The catharsis of returning to the zombie genre
BB: You bring up a great point about it being a full circle, which leads me to what I want to ask next, Zack. Was there a sense of catharsis in returning to the genre that started at all for you? And did you make that choice on purpose?
ZS: Yeah, I mean, not 100%, I didn’t think about it in this sort of global way or with perspective on my career, or my emotional place.
BB: It’s been a busy few years, that’s why I asked.
ZS: No, it totally makes sense. I mean, I guess it just felt like a thing that I was interested in, and I had a lot of enthusiasm for, so in talking to Netflix and them saying, “Hey, we think this is a cool idea.” I was like, “It is a cool idea. Sure, let’s do it, when you want to do it?” They’re like, “Right now.” And I was like, ‘Right now. Okay, fine.” And then Shay and I just wrote the script really quick, we rewrote it from zero. We had a script, but I didn’t even look at it, I just restarted again from page one and just rewrote the whole thing. And I just really got energized by the process. And then that also led to sort of, my desire to shoot the movie myself and operate, and just really kind of connect sort of with cinema again, I guess if you will. Even making Justice League, your distance from the camera is pretty great, like the way when you make a giant, blockbuster superhero movie, the cast is somewhere over there, you know? So for me, it was really nice to be like, right, to make this sort of organic.
BB: So even for you, despite the fact that it’s Netflix, and zombies, and Vegas, and this big affair for you, it felt small scale?
ZS: Yeah, it felt really small and intimate and real organic, if you will, experience. And that was fun because, even though it does feel like a giant world, and actually, we made it where I was like, “Okay, well, we know we have this huge element of zombies. We have this huge element of destroyed Vegas,” which is these two worlds don’t exist, you can’t just go film those things, right? So, we knew we were going to have to manufacture all of that, which is the thing I’m comfortable with, it’s not weird, but it does take resources to do that, you know? And so, I just wanted to make sure the crew, and the way we shot it — we kept control over that, kept it small and intimate.
Man of Steel 2 villains and keeping Superman interesting
BB: Gotcha. So, I want to now swing over to Man of Steel, which is a film that I love. It’s one of my favorite films of all time. I think I love it more than most, to be honest. I would put it in my top 20, even though I’m a Batman guy, I love this movie. And I actually have this theory, feel free to confirm or deny, that you were originally hired to do what Nolan did for Batman, for Superman. But what I want to ask is, if you kept going with the Superman-focused film series, what villain would you have liked to do next? And rather, what about the challenges that they posed to Supes did you find appealing?
ZS: We talked about a Brainiac movie. But, I do think that the Kryptonians that are in the Phantom Zone are probably still around, and there was always a possibility for their return. Faora [General Zod’s right-hand-woman] and whoever’s left. That always was the thing that was out there that we talked about as a possible sequel, follow-up. And I just always think that it’s best to give Superman these kinds of extraterrestrial challenges because I think that you got to be careful with his… I mean, other than Lex, and of course, you’d have to continue with Lex because Lex is the real nemesis, but I think you really have to look outside of the Earth for challenges for him because of how powerful he is.
BB: Just to build off that quickly, J.J. Abrams is producing a new film, a CW show [Superman & Lois] is running. It seems to be very hard to get a ton of audiences to agree on what Superman should be in a modern context. I’m just curious, in future sequels, what would you have done to kind of exemplify the ways in which Superman would work in this contemporary landscape? What directions would you have taken him beyond just these otherworldly forces?
ZS: I don’t know that I would’ve taken him in a different direction than the direction I was taking him. I think Henry is a great Superman. I have a great time working with Henry. We endeavored to make him in ‘Man of Steel’ a modern Superman in that, in his relationship to society and/or the modern world: we did that now, and what would happen if… And it’s kind of what the movie is about, frankly. ‘Man of Steel’ is about: what if we really had a Superman? What would it mean?
The “Holy shit, I’m directing a Superman movie” moment
BB: It comes across. I think time is going to be very kind to that film Zack. I think that the human parts are the best parts about it, which is an achievement unto itself. But for you as a film fan, as a comic book fan, was there ever a moment, a specific moment that you think of where you said to yourself, “Holy shit, I’m directing a Superman film,” and if so, what was that moment?
ZS: Probably Smallville battle, which we shot pretty early in the schedule. And Henry was just standing out on the streets of Smallville in a Superman outfit, kind of walking down the street, and I was just-
BB: There’s that iconic shot of him in front of the flag.
ZS: Yeah. And I was just like, “Geez, okay. All right.”
BB: I don’t blame you dude, oh my God.
ZS: “This is cool.” Yeah. But it was cool. And those moments are short-lived because Henry would walk up to me and be like, “It’s 100 degrees out here,” and he’s pulling the sleeve and sweat would roll out of his suit, like pour out. And I was like, “Oh, geez, that’s crazy.”
The most misunderstood aspect of Batman
BB: His sacrifice doesn’t go unnoticed though, especially the Smallville scene. I love that film, so thank you for that. I want to now switch to sort of the reason why I’m in this space to begin with, and that is Batman. I’ve got a tiny little Batman tattoo.
ZS: Oh yeah, that’s pretty cool.
BB: As you can see, yeah, this is Gotham and whatnot. So I want to ask you, because this is where I really nerd out, man, what is the most misunderstood aspect of Batman to you? And how did you try to explore that?
ZS: I guess for me, there’s a couple of sort of philosophical approaches you could take to Batman, and monk warrior was not the way I went.
BB: That’s the light way of putting it, yeah.
ZS: You know? And I just think that, I always liked the Batman that fucks to forget, and that is, I don’t know, I like him when Bruce Wayne is broken and obviously I liked that. He uses sex and drugs, not drugs, maybe painkillers, and alcohol too.
BB: Those are definitely drugs.
ZS: Yeah, to numb himself. The only time he’s really happy or not happy, but at ease, is in the Batsuit, being Batman is the only way to dull the pain of what happened to him as a child. And then frankly, what happened to him, with pretty much a lot of his loved ones, apparently anyone who Batman loves, he loses. And I think it’s a big problem for him. And I think, Justice League, really for me, it was always about Batman getting a family again, like sort of re-finding himself among these people that, in a lot of ways, he was not as afraid to lose because they’re gods, it’s like a different… He could relate to them. He’s not afraid to love them, you know? And so, yeah.
The growing acceptance of Batman’s inherent violence
BB: So, you bring up a good point about sort of the inherent violence of Batman, and I’m sure you’ve seen the trailer for The Batman, and you could ask my co-host here, I think of your warehouse Batman fight scene — that’s my favorite Batman on film fight scene of all time, so thank you for that.
ZS: That’s cool. I’m fine with that.
BB: So, what I want to ask you is, including your Batman and the sort of new version that we’re getting, what do you think explains, if at all the growing acceptance and/or embrace of Batman’s inherent violence? Is it a societal thing? Can you peg that at all?
ZS: I mean, look, the truth is that the rubber hits the road when you start to analyze the practicality of Batman, apprehending the bad guy and/or confronting what we would consider the villain, without a violent conflict inside of that mythological confrontation. I don’t think there’s a way to… Well, I mean, there is; the bad guy could just surrender, or Batman could decide not to get involved. Those are the two options for us not to have a violent resolution of that conflict. And those are fine ways to go. I don’t know that it’s an interesting movie, but it’s certainly a viable option for them to just negotiate their way through it. You know, if Batman says, “Listen, I would love it if you just surrender. Just don’t do that bad stuff anymore.” And then you surrender, and then that’s the end of the movie.
BB: I’m sure Deathstroke would be willing to get a beer and talk it over with him.
ZS: Yeah, Deathstroke just lays down his arms and they both agree that, “You’re right. It was a big misunderstanding.” Honestly, it’s often a big misunderstanding, but that’s mythological as well, but if they were just like, “Let’s agree to disagree, but no more violence.” And that’s fine. That would be amazing. And it’s not as long of a movie, but it’s certainly a possibility. But for me, and I do think of that in very mythological terms, the armed conflict, it really is not about the literal vigilante crime-solving — Batman, he’s a metaphor for the darkest parts of ourselves, that are endeavoring to be turned toward the light. And I think that when he goes up against The Joker, or against The Riddler, or Catwoman, these are also clearly metaphors. Are they actual criminals? I don’t know, but do they represent this dark psyche that is chaos, or evil, or whatever. And does he have to confront it directly? Yes.
And so that does often manifest itself in some sort of physical fight and whether or not that’s the thesis that is accepted by modern culture, that’s another debate and I’m happy to talk about it, but I just think that we end up with, at least from my point of view, this mythological battle is like a battle for our souls, you know? And Batman’s on one side, and evils on the other, and they’re going to come to blows.
Who does the world need more right now: Batman or Superman?
BB: Well, based on what all of you just said, I’m going to sort of tie this all in one nice bow. What do you think our real-world could use more of right now, Batman or Superman and why?
ZS: Well, I’m going to say probably Superman, only because Batman — I think on an individual psychological level, we probably need a little more Batman in the sense that the world’s a scary place and Batman is unafraid to go out into the world and confront that darkness. But I do think that from a purely confidence and a way-of-living in uncertain times, Batman represents a proactive approach to the world. But the reason I say Superman is because I believe that Superman, he does have — his moral code is very strong and he puts it first and he’s willing to sacrifice himself and/or his comfort for his loved ones. And I’m not saying Batman wouldn’t do that, but Batman is more of a loner, you know, in that way.
BB: Well, Zack, that’s going to do it for us. I thank you for your time, sir. I am an immense fan of yours, so this has been a huge thrill of mine. I am rooting for you deeply in everything you do going forward. Everybody make sure to go out and check out Army of the Dead in theaters on Friday, May 14th, and then Netflix on the 21st.
ZS: And the 21st on Netflix! So you can watch it both times, it’s fine. Go to a theater, and then you’ll want to check it out at home, because a lot of Easter eggs, we’re going to have to talk about this–
BB: Do you have one that you could give us right now to keep out our eyes?
ZS: I think the thing to look for, and it’s not really an Easter egg, as much as it’s a layer. And that is, you’ll notice that some of the zombies, there’s a particular something going on with some of the zombies. And if you look closely, it’s worth a deep dive, I think.
BB. All right, I’m going to need to re-watch.
ZS: Yeah, you need to rewatch, because there’s a — yeah.
Make sure to check out our full 30-minute interview with Zack Snyder on the Post-Credit Podcast when it releases on Friday, May 14 — the same day Army of the Dead hits theaters before it streams on Netflix beginning on May 21.