The wait is finally over. We are proud to present the first part of our exclusive Q&A for Watchmen director Zack Snyder. In early December we solicited fans on this site to submit questions about the upcoming Watchmen movie. We received over 200 submissions and picked the best entries to “Ask Zack.”
I’d like to thank Zack Snyder and everyone over at WB who made this possible, as well as all the fans that submitted such great questions.
We’ve listed the names of each of the fans who before each of their submitted questions. Also, make sure to check out part II. Now, on to the Q&A…
JDsgirlBev: Watchmen has been in “development hell” for quite some time. What factors came together to made it happen this time?
Zack Snyder: People have been trying to make Watchmen for eighteen years — and it’s a difficult project. I think there are several things that have helped to finally get Watchmen into production this time.
I think for one, as we get further away from 1985, the concept of making a movie set in 1985 becomes more viable — because it’s more of a period piece. Before, it might have just been too close to 1985. Funny enough, as time passed and the project was still in development, most other versions, actually all, planned on updating the story to a modern, or at the time, present day setting. Thankfully, we were able to abandon that approach and set the film back in 1985.
I guess a few other factors came together as well — the success of 300, my appreciation for comic book and graphic stories, and a willing studio that had faith. I don’t know if they didn’t exist elsewhere, but I just know that within the context of what I wanted to do, those three strong elements came together to get Watchmen green-lit.
Beyond that, from my own perspective, I feel like I’ve come to a place where Watchmen is in my personal aesthetic; it poses both challenges and excitement to me. It has a million mysteries, and it has a million awesome images, and it has a cool story and a cool message. I think as much as it’s hard for a studio to say yes to a project like this, it’s just as hard for a filmmaker to put himself out there and to try and make a movie like this.
I think that it was all of those disparate elements coming together and my need to stretch that helped make it all happen.
hank_chinaski: This is your third film that is an adaptation of another work. Watchmen being the second one based on a comic book. Where and how do you find the points of the story where you have to make sacrifices of stuff from the original source material, to make it better suit and transition well for a new medium?
Zack Snyder: It’s always different. There’s no formula for figuring out what works and what doesn’t work in a movie. It’s really about trusting your instincts, and knowing what you like about the story — and in the end it's about intent and respect.
You spend time thinking about what the original artist intended for their story and then work on figuring out how to take that overall concept and make it your own. You find the gems and the things that speak to you.
As soon as you decide take on a project, it then becomes your responsibility. So, you better understand the source material and have a perspective, a clear vision and a concept regarding how best to tell that story cinematically while always being respectful.
John P.: Throughout the graphic novel, special attention is made to the subtle changes to society and technology after the introduction of Dr. Manhattan to the world. Cars are strange-looking and fully electric; people smoke tobacco from oddly shaped pipettes, etc. My question is how much will the city in the movie reflect this alternate advancement in technology?
Zack Snyder: I didn’t focus too much on the technological changes Dr. Manhattan had had on the world in the earliest sections of the story. What I tried to do is save some of those changes for later in the movie. Part of the reason is because I wanted the movie to be immediately accessible to the audience. It was important to me that the viewer begins to understand the world they are in. It is a world somewhat familiar, albeit slightly changed, effected by the presence of masked vigilantes, a super being and the looming nuclear threat of the cold war.
It seemed most important to tell the story of the advent of the Minutemen and later Dr. Manhattan. We were a little concerned that if we pushed the crazy ’85 too far right out of the gates, it would be neither ’85 nor the future. That being said, as the story progresses we do introduce many of those elements. Including showing Dr. Manhattan’s technology and what he's working on as far as world universal energy.
ManOWar: The graphic novel contains quite a bit of symmetry, not only in the artwork, but also in the narration and the dialogue. Scenes happening between characters inadvertently comment on an alternating scene in the next frame. This convention is used quite a bit throughout Watchmen. Are you emulating this technique at all in filming/editing, or do you have another approach?
Zack Snyder: That’s absolutely right; there is a lot of symmetry in the graphic novel. When designing the shots, I have made an effort to make the images balanced compositionally to reflect some of the illustrated symmetry of the graphic novel. In addition to the visual symmetry, we do overlap the dialogue — that convention of having one scene comment on the next. That happens quite a bit in the graphic novel and I tried to keep that in the film wherever I could.
Keith Ellis: I read the original 12-issue series back in 1989, when the cold war was still raging. The nuclear disaster paranoia was something fresh and relevant in my 20-year-old mind back then, so the current events of those days really helped me to suspend disbelief and become engrossed in the world of the comic book.
Do you agree that one of the biggest challenges you face in making a compelling film out of this comic is “re-raising” the stakes — in other words, recreating the paranoia of that late 1980's America and making audiences of today (who are much more concerned with global warming, terrorism and the current ground war in Iraq) feel the same urgency and sense of dread that permeated the comic book?
I ask this because I recently re-read the series, and I found that I really had to shift my mind back to those cold-war memories in order to fully “adjust” to the atmosphere or “tone” of the book.
Zack Snyder: I do believe the cold war stakes are pivotal to the film’s success because in order to believe Adrian’s storyline, you have to believe that he believes that the threat of nuclear war is not only real, but also imminent. We’ve put a lot of effort into trying to infuse the story with that notion — using every appropriate opportunity to reinforce the Soviet presence and the looming threat of a nuclear war on a global scale.
On the other hand, I also believe that the book is the book and I don’t want to overstate how it was written. The audience needs to believe the threat, but it has to be conveyed in a way that is proportionally correct with the rest of the story. That’s the balancing act.
Remember to check out part II of the Zack Snyder Q&A where Zack answers questions about the costumes, the soundtrack, his plans for the “Black Freighter” story and much more! Meanwhile, discuss these questions in this forum thread.
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