Director Zack Snyder hasn’t chosen the easiest route when it comes to following up his 2013 film, Man Of Steel. Rather than follow Superman on the next stage of his path as the defender of truth, justice and the American way, Snyder’s brought us Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice – an explosive collision of two comic book titans and the launchpad for at least six DC movies still to come. Assisting Snyder along the way are producers Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven. Snyder’s been Zack’s producer partner since 300 in 2007, while Roven’s been involved with Warner’s DC movie adaptations since Batman Begins back in 2005.
On the eve of Batman V Superman‘s release, we sat down with Snyder and Roven to talk about the process of making Batman V Superman, the half hour of deleted scenes which will be put back in for the Ultimate Edition home release, building the DC movie universe, and lots more.
Can you talk a bit about the point where Man Of Steel 2 became Batman V Superman?
Deborah Synder: I think when we were still working on Man Of Steel, we were thinking about what we were going to do next. And Zack was like, “You know, I think what people really want to see is Batman and Superman together. Like, what if they were to fight?” He’s a big fan of Frank Miller and he loves his graphic novel [The Dark Knight Returns] so I think that was inspiring to him. Although our story’s a very different story, that takes place two years after Man Of Steel left off. We all thought it was interesting: why do they fight? Who will win? It poses a lot of questions.
CR: A lot of it had to do with the fact that in Man Of Steel, we had a really great villain. There was some conversation about some other great villains, and Zack also knew, in addition to the graphic novel, about the previous attempt at a Batman vs Superman movie at Warner Bros [written by Akiva Goldsman].
DS: It’s funny. Someone asked us about that. We never read that script.
CR: Everybody knew that it almost got made. So it was out there in the zeitgeist.
Well, it’s in I Am Legend, isn’t it? The Batman vs Superman logo on the poster.
CR: Exactly, exactly. The guy who was just in here said the same thing! [Laughs] That’s what I meant about it being out there in the zeitgeist.
So can you talk about your specific roles as producers? How do you divide the work up between you?
DS: We wear many different hats. Chuck and I work as a team, especially as we have a lot of movies going on right now. Which is really helpful because we can manage different prod- projects and we can’t be in two places at the same time.
CR: We talk all the time.
DS: I see my job as being to get the director’s vision to the screen. I think that also means doing it in a responsible way – doing it to a schedule and a budget. Being a liaison with the studio. I’ve said sometimes we’re therapists. Sometimes we have to crack the whip a little bit. But I let him [Charles Roven] do that! [Laughs]
CR: Really, the title’s a little difficult to define because there are so many aspects to the job.
DS: And there are different kinds of producers.
CR: We’re pretty much holistic producers. So we’re involved from the creation of the project to the prep, physical production, set-up, marketing, the casting, the post-production, the distribution, all the way to home video and what’s on the home video. The merchandising. I have to say, we really cover every aspect of the films.
What’s it like being a producer in 2016? Because the whole shared movie universe is a relatively new idea. What’s it like as a producer not just to think about one film but several films? Planting seeds, things like that.
CR: That was pretty interesting. I was together with Emma [Thomas] and Chris [Nolan] working on the Dark Knight movies, and we started with Batman Begins. We didn’t even talk about what the next movie would be like. We knew we’d probably have the Joker, because the movie was going to end with the Joker card. But we didn’t talk about plot or anything, you know? And now, we’re not just talking about what the movies are that we’re going to be intimately involved in and Zack’s going to be intimately involved in. We’re talking about how the world is going to be connected with these individual movies like Aquaman and The Flash and Cyborg, etc.
DS: It’s so many movies. It’s this balance you have to achieve, because you need to know where the story’s going in order to do it because you don’t want them to contradict each other. But at the same time, you don’t want all the movies to feel the same – you don’t want to dictate that much, because you want to get really great talent interested to write it, to direct it, so you want the movies to have their own unique view because all the characters are different. We also don’t want all the movies to feel the same. I think that would get really boring. So David Ayer’s Suicide Squad has a whole totally different look and feel than Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman film – than even BvS. I think that’s really great and interesting.
CR: So basically we’re saying, “Okay, we’ve got these signposts, but anything in between those signposts…”
DS: “Go for it!”
This film not only does it hints at things in the future – the signposts, as you say – there are also nuggets of information about what’s happened in the past, especially with Batman. Is that something we might see in the future – a film that takes places before the events of this one?
CR: I think what’s great about the universe and what’s great about these characters is that we can do so much with it. We can tell the stories going forward, we can look at a point in time and refresh memories of points that have happened in the past. These characters have been around with these comics for 75-plus years.
DS: That’s a lot of material.
But you haven’t specifically sat down and had a story meeting about a prequel. Because Ben Affleck could play a younger Batman if you took the little streak of silver out of his hair.
CR: We don’t want to give away what we’re thinking! [Laughs]
DS: We can’t talk about that!
Well, you can’t blame me for trying.
CR: All I can say is, many of your wishes will be fulfilled. How about that? Many of these questions will be answered.
DS: Just not today!
What’s it like making a film like this in the online age, where everyone has their opinion? At what point do you take suggestions on board or say, “No, we’re making the film we want to make”?
DS: It’s a double-edged sword, right, because you’re happy that everyone’s excited and talking about the movie. At the same time it’s difficult to get through the process because you’re worried about the script leaking, you’re worried about announcements of things that might not even be true leaking. Like, you might be in the middle of the casting process and you might meet with someone, and all of a sudden it’s online that they’re one of the people. It’s a lot of false information half the time. You have to be aware of it, I know while we’re filming on location we usually release a few things because we’d rather have the better photograph out there than the weird angle with the long lens and someone making a strange face. So you definitely have to think about it.
The thing that’s hardest is the piracy aspect of it. We try to do things for the fans. We tried to make an announcement to give to the fans at Comic Con and it gets spoiled. Or we tried to do a fan event with just the uber-fans who’d sign up at IMAX theatres, and somewhere in Brazil a trailer got leaked. It just a shame, because you want to give them something because of how loyal and how excited they are for the movie, and we didn’t get to do it because it went all over the internet. So that’s frustrating.
CR: Like Debbie said, we’re blessed that the fans are out there. But they only know a little bit. Like, an announcement of who’s playing this, or an announcement that we’re going to do Batman V Superman. And then their imaginations go. But we have a story to tell, and we want to tell it when it’s complete. So we have to be very focused and vigilant about following our story all the way through to the end.
So say hypothetically there was a controversy about the Batman suit. What was said online wouldn’t change the design because people said they didn’t like it.
CR: No, we wouldn’t.
I’m trying to imagine what it must be like as a filmmaker to tune that out. To say, “No, this is my vision” or whatever.
CR: You know, back when the internet first came out, there were a couple of films, not in this particular area, but some pretty great filmmakers I saw being influenced by the amount of talkback that happens after a research screening. And that’s very sad. That someone’s in the middle of their process, using a research screening to help define that process, and it ends up being skewed and destroying it. The film in my mind right now was a musical, and it ended up not being a musical anymore. So you really have to be careful about that. It’s so important to have the ability to finish the vision.
What’s the most difficult aspect of this production, because it’s obviously huge.
DS: Schedule was pretty grueling.
CR: We’re at least two and sometimes three times the length of a regular film. In shooting days, I’m talking about.
DS: It was 134 days. So that’s really just stamina.
CR: It’s a marathon.
DS: We were in Michigan in the snowiest winter on record, so for us from California, getting around in the snow was a little difficult too. But with the longevity, making sure you came in with your A-game every day when you get physically tied from the long hours and being outside a lot.
I’ve read about the longer cut…
CR: The Ultimate Edition.
DS: Yeah. Half-hour longer.
Right. So at what point do you realise you have that much material you have to take out?
DS: Listen, I think Zack tends to shoot more, and gets more character. He likes to have those options when he’s in edit to see how things are playing. He likes to see what he can leave in, and that we have the footage we need to do so. Usually our films start longer and then shrink down.
CR: The other thing is, in terms of the theatrical version… I don’t want to say you have length issues, but length is a factor. The amount of screenings you’re going to get in a day is of course a factor. But the other factor is, when the MPAA does their ratings, they don’t just give you a rating over a particular issue. Particularly when it comes to violence. They do the rating based on the intensity level of the whole film. And we thought it was very important for the theatrical experience to be broad. We wanted the film to be seen by as many people as it could, including young people. I don’t want to say adolescents – no. If somebody’s eight years old or beyond and want to see the movie, and not have it be an R-rated film… if we hadn’t adjusted it for the rating, we would have had an R-rated film. And a lot that one will see has to do with those sequences being more fully fleshed out, which raises the intensity level.
This film was originally going to come out in 2015, wasn’t it?
CR: We originally announced it when we were going to start shooting 10 weeks before, but we ultimately pushed it 10 weeks, the start of shooting, because we weren’t quite ready.
I wondered if that extra time gave you more room to lock down the final cut.
DS: It’s difficult when you’re working with visual effects. And also we like doing the 3D at the end of the process, because it’s much more… if you do the 3D while you’re filming you have to throw away a lot of shots. It’s kind of a waste of money and resources. So to do it after is great, but you really need the whole movie to do that.
CR: Yeah, yeah. Because we did do that, we had the 2D version of the film reasonably early, so we were able to do two things – we were able to do the 3D process Debbie’s talking about, and also Zack was able to work on the Ultimate Edition.
DS: We delivered that right before we came here as well.
Do you think the more conflicted, disillusioned versions of Batman and Superman in this film are more reflective of the world as it is today?
CR: The idea is that it’s not always one way. Our culture has a way of building heroes up and as soon as they’ve built them up, they start to tear them down. And it is confusing to the person who’s experiencing that, whether you’re a superhero or just an individual, regular old person.
DR: Also, having these superpowers isn’t really relatable. To see that he’s struggling and figuring out his place in the world, I think that’s something we can relate to. I know how that feels. You can relate to that a lot more.
Charles Roven and Deborah Snyder, thank you very much.
Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice is out in UK cinemas now.