Zack Snyder’s new epic action fantasy, “Sucker Punch,” takes us into the vivid imagination of a young girl whose dream world provides the ultimate escape from her darker reality. Unrestrained by the boundaries of time and place, she is free to go where her mind takes her, and her incredible adventures blur the lines between what’s real and what is imaginary. The film’s cast includes Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Oscar Isaac, Carla Gugino and Jon Hamm.
MoviesOnline sat down with filmmakers Zack Snyder and Deborah Snyder to talk about their new movie. They told us what inspired the concept for the film and their collaboration with screenwriter Steve Shibuya, how they set about assembling such a terrific cast, and why it was liberating to create something where there were no preconceived expectations. Zack also updated us on the upcoming “Superman” and what it’s like to take on the most iconographic of superheroes. Here’s what they had to tell us:
Q: Zack, this is your first original work. Can you tell us how you came up with this concept and what was your inspiration?
ZS: I guess the way I came up with it was, the concept started, I’d written a script a long time ago before I’d made any movies, and in it there’s a sequence where this girl is forced to dance by these bad guys and she doesn’t want to do it but they’re going to kill her if she doesn’t do it, and so she has this fantasy that she’s somewhere else while it’s happening – like on an adventure in her mind. So I thought that’s cool, that’s cool. I read the script. Eight or tens years ago or however long it was, I re-read it and I thought this is a bunch of crap, but I like this one bit that’s interesting where the girl goes on this little thing. And so my buddy Steve Shibuya who went to Art Center with me, we met for coffee and were talking and I said ‘Hey, what do you think of this?” We started talking about it and the next thing I knew we had come up with an idea for a story. But then, we didn’t really write it down right away. We talked about it a lot but never wrote it down. And then, after “Watchmen” ended, right when we finished shooting, we started writing it. We wrote it pretty quickly because we’d talked about it so much. Considering how complicated it is, it went down pretty quick. And then, here we are.
Q: Can you talk about working with editor Bill Hoy and director of photography Larry Fong who have collaborated with you on three movies?
ZS: Well Larry, of course, I’ve been working with forever. Larry and I went to school together. My Basics of Film class [was] my first film class in college. I’d made Super 8 movies my whole life but the Basics of Film class was like everyone was filming basically their cats. We had to make a film a week. And they’d come in and go “Oh look, I filmed my cat.” I made a World War I film in that class and in that I’d rented a back hoe and dug all these trenches and Larry shot it. Actually just the other day I was looking through this album and there’s a picture of Larry and I. I was in [the film] too because I didn’t have that many actors. And we made it rain. I got these little rain towers. So it’s Larry and I and we have our little Super 8 camera and we’ve made little weather cover for them and we have our smoke machines and stuff like that and the guys with their guns. So it was from then that we really [started] and I’ve been working with it ever since. So it’s a hugely awesome collaboration and I love working with him. It’s really effortless and fun. And then, on the other hand, I have Bill. He worked on “Dawn of the Dead,” and I’ve been working with him ever since. It’s great to have an editor who understands the way I [work]. I do shoot these semi-complicated sequences and they are kind of tough to put together, so it’s nice to have someone who’s in the vibe and gets what [I’m doing] and also gets the shots I like.
Q: Do they usually listen to you?
ZS: They fight me and listen to me. I hope they do both because you want them to do both.
Q: Will you continue to work with them on “Superman”?
ZS: They’re not working on “Superman” but I’ll probably work with them in the future.
Q: Why not?
ZS: It’s complicated. When we started working on “Superman,” putting the thing together with “Superman,” Bill was still busy with finishing “Sucker Punch” and we were like “Okay, what are we going to do? I’ve got to get to work now.” We were doing all these different tests and I was trying to get an editor for that. It worked out that it’s easier to just get someone else but I would work with him again in a second.
Q: The film looks great.
ZS: Yeah, it’s awesome.
Q: You worked with Steve Shibuya and you can see lots of Asian iconography even in the casting. Was that a conscious decision resulting from your collaboration?
ZS: I would say that I probably put more of that into the movie than Steve did even though Steve’s really Japanese. Although I just feel like it’s probably and maybe because I’m not Japanese, the influence of that stuff is stronger on me, being American and just having an interest in that direction. Whereas, I think for him, he’s just like “Whatever, that’s just how it is.” Or I’m like “Oh, this is crazy and exotic and cool.” When we would talk about it, he would just be like “Oh yeah, that’s cool – a giant Samurai, of course. Why not?”
Q: What about casting Jamie Chung and Vanessa Hudgens who’s half Asian? Was that again a conscious decision?
ZS: Yeah, I guess. It was weird. Jamie came in and she was just reading. Right? And she just did an amazing little read and we were like “Oh, Jamie’s in the movie.” It sounds like Amber is Asian. That’s cool.
DS: And also, Vanessa came in and we knew her because of the kids from “High School Musical.” And we were like okay, Vanessa is coming in. I don’t think we expected what we got from her. And when she came in, it was an emotional scene that she was reading and she was amazing and we were like wow, this is a different side, and we loved the idea that we were going to get to show a side of her that no one had seen yet. And she gave it 100%
Q: What about Emily Browning? How did you discover her?
ZS: I had been a fan of Emily’s from “Lemony Snickets” and I just thought she was cool and we weren’t sure…
DS: We were working in Australia on “Guardians of Ga’Hoole” and she came and met with us.
ZS: She flew over and met with us and she did an amazing read. I think when we brought her in, we brought her in to read Rocket, and then when we got home, I was like, you know, Emily’s got this thing that is impossible to describe. I was like I wonder if she can sing. And so I called them up and said, “Can Emily sing by any chance?” and so she did a version of “Killing Me Softly” and it was awesome.
DS: It was haunting.
ZS: She just did it on…just no production. It was cool and we were like “Okay, she’s awesome.”
DS: It was originally one song that we wanted her to sing and then when Marius (de Vries) and Tyler (Bates) got a hold of her and we started picking other songs, they kept saying “Well what if Emily did this song? We think Emily…” or they’d do “Hey, we just did…while we were in the studio working on this song, we wanted to show you…”
ZS: We just did “Where’s My Mind?”
DS: And she ended up doing three songs and it was not something we’d planned. We planned only for one song.
ZS: Crazy. It’s a musical anyway, the movie, so it makes sense.
Q: Can you talk about the design of the robots and the dragon? Was that inspired by Japanese anime?
ZS: Well yeah, the Mecca especially. You know, we didn’t base it specifically on but I mean he’s inspired by, of course, things like Appleseed and…
DS: Yeah, very much anime. And also the little charms on her gun.
Q: How are you choosing what you pursue these days? When do you know what direction you want to go?
ZS: I guess it’s difficult in some ways. I guess the thing for me is that we were talking about a few different things and then “Superman” came along and Chris called us up and said “Hey, you want to have lunch and talk about ‘Superman’?” and we were like “Oh, sounds cool.” For me, it was like “Superman” seemed to make a lot of sense because after doing “Watchmen,” you know that whole thing of you have to know the rules before you break them. There’s something about that. Making “Watchmen” gives you the opportunity to really understand superheroes in a way that I don’t know that a lot of the modern superhero movies are being made. “Superman” demands a level of sophistication in order for him to be relevant and cool and modern. So I think that made sense to us as far as the next thing for us to start to work on.
DS: It came out of nowhere really in a way. It wasn’t like we planned it.
Q: As an artist, what does “Superman” give you to explore that the other comic books don’t? “Watchmen,” in particular, was such a superhero deconstruction. Where does that take you in the process?
ZS: Well I guess for me, because I love superhero movies and the genre, and when you make “Watchmen,” it’s really not a love affair movie, which is fine. I have no problem with that. When you think about it, when you intellectualize it, it makes sense. But it does give you a chance to re-fall in love with the world and I guess, for me, that’s a thing that I’m into.
DS: He’s also transcendent of just a comic book hero. I mean, it’s funny because right after we had signed on, we were in Europe doing some press for Guardians and just walking around the streets and seeing T-shirts in different [places], whether we were in Italy or London, you were like wow, that big S shield is everywhere, and it’s hit pop culture in a way that’s larger than just being like a comic book hero. I think it’s all over the place.
ZS: Didn’t they say about the Superman logo that it’s the most recognizable symbol in the world? That’s crazy. So anyway, make a movie about that.
Q: You said recently in the L.A. Times that when you’re looking at your vision of “Superman” you don’t want to look back and now you’re also talking about getting past the preconceived notions. What’s your vision for taking that character to the next level?
ZS: Let’s just say I can’t talk specifically about it, of course, because it’s super secret. It’s beyond secret. You can’t even imagine how secret it is. That we’re talking about it right now is crazy. But I will say that I think the challenge is that you have a character that is the most iconographic character. It’d be like if we were making…no, I’m not going to say that. I was about to say something that you guys would take the wrong way. It’d be like if we were making a movie about the Greek gods, all of them, and that everyone had made movies about all the other gods but Zeus. No one had made a Zeus movie because they were like “I don’t know what to do with him. He’s too awesome.” I kind of feel like we’re at this point where all these minor gods have movies that are in franchises and stuff like that, and it just seems to me that it’s time that the reason why all these things exist be made relevant, that it’s time to understand why all these things exist. By the way, I’m a fan of the “Iron Man” movies, but really, Iron Man? Like a whole franchise and tons of movies? “Iron Man 4”? Fair enough. But the fact that we don’t have a Superman movie in the midst of this is crazy.
“Sucker Punch” opens in theaters on March 25th.