Deborah Snyder & Charles Roven interview: Man Of Steel

Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven talk to us about Superman, Batman, DC, Uncharted and Warcraft...

On the eve of the release of Man Of Steel, we – along with Jon from HeyUGuys – got the chance to sit down with producers Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven to talk about the production. After a brief but important chat on what happened to coffee-flavoured Revels, here’s what happened.Do note our continued efforts to get Nathan Fillion cast in the Uncharted movie (which Charles Roven is producing)…

You’ve done something that many before you have tried and brought Superman back to the big screen. Can you tell us how you came into this and why now was the right time for this particular take on such an iconic character?

Deborah Snyder: We got a call from the Nolans, and we had never met even though we were a husband and wife team at the same studio, and they said ‘do you mind if we talk to you about Superman?’. And Zack got off the phone and we thought ‘I don’t know…’ and it was for two separate reasons. For Zack had loved the character for so long and he was nervous about being able to do this character justice. I was nervous because it was really difficult to make [the character] relatable to a modern audience. So we sat with them and they pitched the idea that Chris [Nolan] and David Goyer had for the script and it really made him relatable and put him in the modern world. We read the script and they had found a way to get at him like no-one else has in movie theater. It was a big, daunting thing to take on but it was now really exciting.

Charles Roven: Around the same time I was waiting for Chris to deliver his script on The Dark Knight Rises and Inception was about to come out. We met for lunch…

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What do the Nolans give you for lunch, out of interest?!

CR: Sushi!

DS: Yep, they gave us sushi too!

CR: And we talked about a script David Goyer had written for Superman called Man Of Steel. And the studio had read it and it was accelerating and the shooting was going to overlap with The Dark Knight Rises. I heard that Zack and Debbie were looking at it. I’d been a Superman fan since the time I was a little kid. We had great respect for the Donner movie, and Superman II with Terence Stamp as Zod but I felt it was time to bring the character into the 21st century. But I hadn’t really thought about it until the Nolans gave me that script. There were things to be done with the script but I thought they had come up with something interesting and fun.

This is a very different take on the Superman movie, not just in terms of the visual style but also in terms of the emotional component. Was the fact that you could meld the action and emotion together what attracted you to the script?

DS: Yeah, because there is an expectation with a superhero movie that there is spectacle and action but there also has to be heart. Striking that balance is really important. But for me personally it was hard to relate to him personally because he was too perfect. We want Superman to be good but in this movie we see that it’s hard to do good. He still has to make choices and there are repercussions. It’s hard to be different and to have these powers. You think that it must be great to be Superman but it’s also hard to be Superman, especially when growing up.

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As a character, in comics alone, he has no shortage of reboots or origin stories. What makes this interpretation right for movie theater as it stands now?

CR: We live in a much more complicated time than when Superman was created 75 years ago. Or even when Superman The Movie was created in the 70s. There are great advances but with those come a great many complications. We live longer but we’re running out of money – it’s not as  black and white as it used to be. At least you used to know ‘there’s the villain, there’s the good guy’, but today there are more shades of grey. We felt that the character needed to grow up in that kind of environment and had to face those kinds of colossal choices that were not going to be easy. It’s difficult to figure out the right path. And even if you do good there are causalities to your choices. We thought it would be compelling.

It’s interesting that you made the threat an external one. Like Kal-El, whose story this is, it’s alien in origin. Was the alien aspect one of the most important drivers for the character?

CR: The story of Kal-El is actually a great story about adoption. He is an alien who has embraced his human side. As much as he loves and honours his heritage, and he needed to know where he came from and discover who he was, he has to decide who he is going to be.

DS: There’s a great line in the movie about how Jor-El allowed him to have a choice but his father, Jonathan Kent, gave him the tools to actually make that choice. It’s a journey of becoming Superman. He’s finding himself – not just as Superman and his powers but he’s realising the enormity of the responsibilities.

CR:  We also felt that in our paranoid world today an alien with super powers, even if he looked like us, might not be universally acclaimed because he’s uncontrollable. So he might be rejected, he might be an outcast. That’s a really viable concept which you might not have thought about 30, or 40 or 75 years ago.

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DS: What I also like is that if a being like this was to exist what does that say about religion, what does that say about our whole belief system?

Further to that the scene in the Church was a really interesting take on the Christ analogies which have been made many times. How important was that scene?

CR: It was totally critical to the evolution of the character, even going back to the tornado scene…

DS: …the sound in that scene gets me. It’s so loud and then it gets so quiet and it’s this quiet moment [we’ve removed the detail here for spoiler reasons!]

CR: We talked about one of the moments in the trailer where Clark has just saved the kids on the bus and he says to his father if he should have let them die and Jonathan replies ‘Maybe’. That’s the thing about choices – what’s the greater good? You might not think about those things in a movie about an alien with super powers.

How have your roles changed over the years? As the scale of movies has escalated, is the role of the producer more about protection than ever before?

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DS: For me, I came from advertising. Zack and I both did. For me it’s about protecting the director’s vision. That’s always the goal. There’s keeping things on budget and on time and dealing with selling the movie so that to me is a focus. But also it’s about serving the script. We are genre filmmakers, those are the films we love to make, so my perspective is a little different.

CR: Even in our business, as is the world, we are in the age of specialisation. You see a lot of names of producers on a movie. If you have the idea, if you oversee the development, if you oversee the production, if you help package the movie, you sell the movie – you can be a producer. There’s not a lot of us who do the whole gamut. Debbie and Emma [Thomas], though they each predominantly produce for one director they do the whole thing. It’s rare that I’m working on a movie and that’s the case. My goal is the same, ultimately at a certain point you give it to the director and their vision. You’re there to support that vision.

There’s a lot of pressure in that there’s a lot of expectation riding on this movie. Not just that there’s potentially, like Batman Begins and so on, there might be a three act structure, but also the wider DC world.

CR: There wasn’t a three-act structure on Batman. Chris wouldn’t talk about what might happen with the franchise when it was filming. He flipped the Joker at the end, but there was no Joker plot. If there was he kept it to himself. I think he used the mail-production on The Prestige to focus on The Dark Knight

Given that we’re heard the sequel to Man of Steel has been greenlit it must have been in Warner Bros.’ mind, though.

CR: This was different. Even though going into it there was no story the world and the universe specifically precluded to expand upon what the environment might be. Chris’s universe on The Dark Knight was very Bruce Wayne/Batman centric. There was no universe outside of that. Here we left Easter Eggs to let you know that we weren’t necessarily saying that…

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DS: But I wouldn’t say there’s a sequel greenlit. There’s been a lot of speculation and we want to service this movie…

But with the success of The Avengers and the films in that series you must have been thinking about what’s next…

DS: I think that Superman is the pinnacle of the DC Universe. Our feeling always was that you need to get Superman right. That was also our goal. We didn’t want to ignore that this universe exists.

Can you give us a quick update on your forthcoming projects that you’re each working on then? Particularly The Last Photograph and Warcraft?

DS: We have the 300 sequel coming out [300: Rise Of An Empire], so that’s been really exciting. The Last Photograph was something Zack wrote and it’s quiet different, it’s probably the only non-genre thing we’ve been talking about. It’s a nice story about these two guys walking through war-torn Afghanistan.

CR: So, I’m working on the Warcraft movie, and we were thrilled that Duncan Jones signed on to direct. We’re working towards a first quarter 2014 start and I’m really enjoying the collaboration with him. Duncan is re-writing the script. He’s making it his own, he’s using a script that Charles Leavitt did a first draft on. It’s a daunting task to bring a legendary online game – you want to get that right!

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Are you still working on Uncharted?

CR: I am.

Have you cast Nathan Fillion yet?

CR: No [smiles].

It’s the only sensible thing to do. Charles Roven and Deborah Snyder, thank you very much!

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