Video Interviews

Zack Snyder Talks Centering Cyborg, the Power of Fandom, and Bringing Joker and Batman Together (At Last)

Plus, the director of the long-anticipated Zack Snyder's Justice League reveals the most moving moment of the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut campaign... and whether he'll be checking the movie's Tomatometer score.

by | March 17, 2021 | Comments

Zack Snyder confesses that he’d still be working on Zack Snyder’s Justice League if HBO Max’s release date didn’t put a hard deadline on the project – he’s a perfectionist! – but when he did finally put “pens down” on the film and characters that have been with him for so many years, it was a moment of catharsis. (And a time to open a few bottles of wine.)

In an extended interview with Rotten Tomatoes Editor-in-Chief Joel Meares, Snyder went deep on his journey to Zack Snyder’s Justice League, recalling the most moving moments of the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut campaign, why it was so important to put Ray Fisher’s Cyborg at the center of his story, the joy writing and directing Jared Leto and Ben Affleck for a new Joker/Batman scene, and what he wants the world to know about the passionate DC and Snyder fans who made the #SnyderCut a reality.

Watch the interview above and read it below.

(Photo by HBO Max)

Joel Meares for Rotten Tomatoes: You’ve been with this project for so long, in so many different ways, and with these characters for even longer than that. And I’m wondering, with that in mind, what was the “pens down” moment where you were like, “Okay, this is it. This is the finished product.” And how did you feel in that moment?

Zack Snyder: We all had a glass of wine and toasted each other, the whole group – Debbie and I, and my visual effects team and my editorial team. I called a bunch of my friends who have worked on it, and we all just kind of had this cathartic moment where we said, “Okay, it’s done.” It was funny because it was kind of a schedule [thing] – the schedule made it happen, thank God. If the pandemic… or if this movie was due to release in another month or two, we’d still be working on it, I’m sure. Thank God because they put us up against the clock; it was cool, it was a nice way to stop.

Rotten Tomatoes: So you were tempted to keep going and tinkering?

Snyder: Oh my god. I don’t think we ever would’ve stopped if we [didn’t have that deadline].

(Photo by HBO Max)

Rotten Tomatoes: I want to take you back to another moment – when you got the call from Toby Emmerich and the studio said, “It’s a go. We’re going to do this.” Can you talk a little bit about that call and what the feeling was to know that it was finally going to happen?

Snyder: There was an initial call that said, “Do you want to release the movie right off of your laptop, just as it is?” I was like, “Yeah, I don’t think I want to do that. That doesn’t really seem like it’s going to be good for anybody.” And then I said, “Hey, let me just come into the studio and tell you what I would do.” I went in and I just told them about the scope and scale and what I thought I could achieve. And then they all came over to the house and watched the movie that I had, down in my theater. And they were like, “Okay, let’s do it.”

First of all, it was a huge undertaking – it was a moment of dread and a moment of adulation. We had definitely reached a kind of cathartic tipping point where we felt like healing could start for all of us.

(Photo by HBO Max)

Rotten Tomatoes:Scope and scale” – it’s huge. What was it like to paint on this size of canvas and with this length to give the room to tell these stories as fully as you wanted to, and have – I don’t know about complete artistic freedom – but to really stretch that muscle?

Snyder: I mean, not to say we didn’t have any oversight – we had the budget, we had these other things, constraints of COVID, there’s a lot of things that did kind of keep us in the box, thank God. But as far as just me doing what I thought was cool, it’s a hundred percent that. This is the cut that I completed in January of 2017 – give or take a little bit of squishing, but essentially that’s it. So, to come back to it and sort of re-experience it was also quite a sort of reunion, if you will. And to see how it was going to – with all the visual facts and the design and everything – really be realized.

(Photo by HBO Max)

Rotten Tomatoes: You’ve said that Cyborg is really the heart of the movie, and you do absolutely get that sense watching it – to the extent that the title lands on this beautiful shot of Ray. And you get so much of this story about this man. Why was it important for you to really center Ray’s character, Victor, in your story?

Snyder: Chris Terrio and I, we had long conversations about it when we were getting ready to write the script for Justice League. When we were banging out the story, we felt like Cyborg as a character was really the one we wanted to focus on. We felt like he’s an incredible character in the DC universe, he’s an important character in the DC universe, and he just really needed his story told in a way that – in context of these other Gods – that established him in that pantheon. And that was really a thing we just, we really focused on from the beginning, and then it’s really fun to see it realized because Ray does an incredible job.

Rotten Tomatoes: Have you spoken to Ray and the others? I assume some of them have seen the film in its complete form – what’s the reaction been like to seeing this vision?

Snyder: Ray hasn’t seen it yet, he’s seeing it hopefully the next couple of days. But yeah, they’ve been really supportive and incredibly enthusiastic about the film and about me being able to get it finished.

(Photo by HBO Max)

Rotten Tomatoes: So, we wouldn’t be here without the fans and the huge campaign that brought us to this point. There are so many amazing stories of what happened during that campaign, and I’m wondering, is there a moment, an interaction – I don’t know if it’s the retweets or it’s the billboard or what it is – that really stands out to you as the thing that you’ll take with you from this #ReleaseTheSnyderCut campaign?

Snyder: Yeah. So many memories really, to be honest. I remember when there was the Comic-Con bus stops, that kind of started it. And then there was that big, gigantic billboard in Times Square. I think that made me really start to go, “Wow, I don’t know what these guys are up to, but this is legitimate caring.” And whether it be the airplanes flying around Warner Bros. towing banners, or the million fruit baskets delivered to Ann Sarnoff when she became president of Warner – I think it was a combination of all those things really.

But I really think in the end, it’s just how supportive they’ve been of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and mental health awareness. Really that is the jewel in the crown of what they’ve accomplished. For me, it’s better than any movie – the persistent campaign that these guys have mounted in regard to suicide prevention and mental health awareness. That’s really it. I mean, they’ve saved lives with their campaign and that’s the bottom line. It’s fun to make a movie, but that’s really cool stuff.

(Photo by HBO Max)

Rotten Tomatoes: Yeah. And that probably bleeds into what I assume you might say about the next question. But a lot of the discourse around fandom does, recently at least, tend to focus on “toxic” or negative fandom. And I’m talking to you from Rotten Tomatoes, and we are part of the story in some ways – some fans don’t like the scores on some of the films, etc. But for those who only focus on the negative side of fandom, what do you want people to know about fans of DC and fans of yours and what they’ve been doing?

Snyder: Listen, I think the fans… and, of course, you can’t throw a blanket over the entire thing because this is a bunch of individuals. These people aren’t professionals — they’re not paid to do anything — they’re just fans of the movies and, in my case, they just want the movie out there that I had designed and created originally. Then, along the way, they got involved in my cause for whatever reason; they had some sort of empathy or they had an experience themselves. And it’s a combination of those things that I think has made the fans, this community that I interact with, what they are.

Are there occasions of fandom where it gets out of control? Absolutely. We all know that. But the reality is that these fans used their voices to change the course of a giant corporation and to basically get a movie released that [might never have been released]. Someone would say, “Oh, are you ever going to make a sequel?” I’m like, “Well, there’s no plan and Warner Bros. really has no interest in making a sequel with me.” But is it more likely that a sequel to this movie would have been made than what happened? And the answer to that is yes. It just speaks to their actual power and I’m proud to be associated with them.

(Photo by HBO Max)

Rotten Tomatoes: One of the scenes that’s going to really impress fans, I think, is one at the end, towards the end… but I don’t know… are we allowed to talk about this in context at this point, or…

Snyder: I don’t know. You tell me.

Rotten Tomatoes: Okay, so you bring together two iconic characters. You’ve obviously dropped the hints of what’s happening. As a fan and as somebody who’s worked on this for a long time, what was it like to put them together and write that script and shoot something new for this film?

Snyder: The scene was important to me because I felt like, if this is the last gasp of Zack Snyder’s DC universe, which is fine –

Rotten Tomatoes: It’s more than a gasp. It’s a booming shout!

Snyder: The last “booming shout,” then, fair enough. I really wanted to say, “I have a little bit of unfinished business and that is to bring these two characters together.” And also I’m a fan of, and very excited by, the Knightmare post-Darkseid world and love it. I have always loved the concept and was working my way here as best I could with these movies. It’s always fun to sort of dabble in that world – really fun to get to write and do a little scene setting.

(Photo by HBO Max)

Rotten Tomatoes: I want to talk to you about director’s cuts in general and how important you feel it is for directors in your position to be able to get their vision out into the world. You’ve had a few instances where you’ve been able to give us alternative cuts and things, and there are rumors of other cuts of DC movies and other movies flying around. For you, who has a fandom that’s really interested in your vision, why is it important they get to see get to see a film as intended?

I’ve made director’s cuts of almost every movie I’ve ever made, except for, I think, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole and Man of Steel. And I would argue that the Sucker Punch director’s cut isn’t really the full movie – that’s the one movie I would say, “Oh yeah, there’s a cut of that movie that no one’s ever seen.” But otherwise… Watchmen director’s cut, I prefer the BvS “Ultimate Edition,” which is the director’s cut; I prefer it because I just feel like it’s less encumbered by the studio and by the notes and just by the constraints of what they think a movie has to be and its length. “Nobody wants to see a three-hour movie” – I don’t agree with that a hundred percent.

As far as other filmmakers go and their experience with director’s cuts, I can’t say exactly. It’s personal to me, the way I’ve dealt with it, it’s a way I kind of justified making changes to the movies that I worked on – it’s knowing that I can always just release a director’s cut and at least these feel like, “Okay, well, there‘s the real movie.”

(Photo by HBO Max)

And I understand the balance between art and commerce – that you do have to strike a balance sometimes. The theatrical cut of Watchmen is based entirely on the maximum running length of film in IMAX. The film could be no longer than two hours and 20 minutes, or it would have fallen off the spool. That’s where you see the sort of two things coming together, and you have to accept that if you want the movie that way [in IMAX]. And I did, so I’m fine. My point is only that it is a business and so, “What will the market bear?” is a real question.

Is it my hope that this movement might generate a little bit more power for some directors that are in a situation where they’re not sure if they’re going to get their movie completed? That’d be great. But this is a very particular situation, I think, in that the breadcrumbs lead directly to a narrative that the fans were able to put together and turn into a rallying cry. It was a perfect storm of all those things. And the charities and their cause and the whole thing has a kind of blended reality that I think would be hard to duplicate. But would I hope that someone benefits from this? Absolutely, that would be great.

Rotten Tomatoes: Finally, will you be going to Rotten Tomatoes when the reviews are posted?

Snyder: I’m only human.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is available on HBO Max from Thursday, March 18, 2021.

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