Dave’s Tavern on Central Avenue in Plano, Illinois remains entirely unscathed after the disaster that has hit the rest of the town’s main drag.
As discussed in its own story, production on “Man of Steel” has turned Plano into Smallville, Kansas and, in turn, Smallville, Kansas has been turned into Ground Zero in a clash-of-the-titans-style conflict between Superman (Henry Cavill) and an assortment of rival Kryptonians and other mystery adversaries.
Outside, the air is thick with the smell of well-supervised pyrotechnics, to say nothing of the usual summer heat. Squib detonations, gunfire and swarming helicopters present their own cacophony.
From this, Dave’s Tavern is an oasis and serves as a home base for the small cadre of reporters on the “Man of Steel” set. We sit poised around a pool table as the proprietor looks at us nervously and periodically tells us to stop messing up the felt. His trepidation towards us is probably a micro version of Plano’s trepidation towards the massive Hollywood production, except that a group of online reporters probably won’t do much to goose the local economy, even if we keep mentioning “Plano” in our set reports. Heck, we sit in the tavern for a full day and collectively we don’t purchase a single beverage. We periodically exit the bar to watch a particular scene being shot before retreating and awaiting the arrival of a Henry Cavill or a David S. Goyer.
The sun ducking below the horizon means that director Zack Snyder is losing his light, which means it’s finally be time for the “300” helmer to duck in for a few minutes. While we’ve spent much of our time in relatively air-conditioned comfort, Snyder has been running up and down Central Avenue working on multiple set-ups. He’s been orchestrating aircrafts, actors and wirework, all while dealing with a set that, producers tell us, doesn’t have a second unit, meaning Snyder is in charge of everything you see.
As production halts for the day, Snyder slips into the bar and is immediately handed a beer. He barely gets to settle into a chair before being told that he’s on a tight clock, because he has to sign off on a car for the next day’s shot.
Snyder admits that after the soundstage-heavy focus of most of his recent films, working outside and on locations have presented unfamiliar challenges.
“I guess for me, in the TV commercial world I was known for shooting locations, beautiful landscapes and things like that,” Snyder notes. “So, it’s interesting. It’s challenging in that it’s been a while since I’ve been pressured by the sun and things of that nature. I try to stay away from those problems. But, on the other hand, you know, when the sun goes down you go home, so that’s good. I don’t know. It’s fun. It’s been exciting. It’s kinda cool. I miss being outside. But now I’m tired of being outside.”
Snyder is no stranger to tackling properties that come with an abundance of pre-release expectation. With “Watchmen,” he stared down perhaps the most revered graphic novel ever, while “Dawn of the Dead” remade perhaps the most revered piece of zombie fiction. And even if “300” didn’t come with the same level of mainstream cache, Frank Miller texts come with their own weight of anticipation.
Perhaps that’s why Snyder doesn’t indicate he’s feeling extra pressure for “Man of Steel,” even with the long and storied history for Superman in all media. In fact, that long and storied history may make things easier, Snyder suggests.
“He’s so mainstream that most genre guys don’t defend him,” Snyder says. “Right? Like they don’t stick up for him because he’s too mainstream. So they’re just like, “Yeah, Superman. The public can have him. He can be on People Magazine. F*** him.” Where like, “Watchmen’s” like, “That’s my thing. You can’t make a movie out of my thing. That’s my personal thing. I own that. That changed my life.”
We’ll see how possessive fans feel towards Superman when “Man of Steel” opens on June 14.
Follow through to Page 2 for highlights of Snyder’s chat with the press in Dave’s Tavern, including his thoughts on Superman, his decision to post-convert the film into 3-D and the impact of stars including Cavill, Kevin Costner and Michael Shannon.
Q: What does Superman mean for you, for all of us, coming back today?
Zack Snyder: You know, I think Superman, for me, I’ve been a big fan of the character and honestly I wasn’t sure about this project before I talked to Chris [Nolan] about what he and David [Goyer] had come up with. So, I don’t know. I think that I like the fact that Superman’s American, you know? I think that that’s cool. I know that in the past or in recent years, his Americanism, his American-ness has been a liability for him. But I think that there is an amazing amount of naïveté and an amazing amount of, sort of… Superman could not be of any other nationality other than American because he’s so naïve. [He laughs.] But at the same time, he has this weird morality that actually makes him ideal superhero material… You can’t have a Superman that is battling cultural morality. You need a Superman that has built-in sort of values. I think that that’s, you know, him growing up in Kansas and that whole part of him is very… I always remember everyone saying like, “You’re not going to show him growing up in Kansas, are you?” I’m like, “Why make Superman? Why jump the most… to understand him, you have to understand the Why of him.” By the way, I’ll say the first scene that Chris pitched me was a scene that was about his childhood. It had nothing to do with like, smashing s*** or anything like that, which is cool. but, it was very much a childhood character moment that made me say, “Okay, that’s different.” It’s a different point of view of Superman that made me go, “Yeah, that grown-up version of that guy is interesting to me.”
Q: Everyone [we’ve talked to has] had a hard time sort of discussing Clark and how he’s different than other versions of Clark. Is there anything you can tell us about how different he might be?
Zack Snyder: I’ll only say that I think in a lot of… well, definitely in the movies, he always jumps straight from childhood to Clark. Like, he jumps from sort of his teenage version of himself to the adult version of himself. Frankly, The Daily Planet Clark, that happens pretty quick. I just think that our Clark, he’s not fully realized and I think, by the way, that’s huge information. But I think that’s the big difference. That’s why there’s this talk about who Clark is. In a lot of ways, that’s the movie sort of really is about the Why of Clark, not to say that this kind of bumbling — I don’t want to call him bumbling — his mocking, nerdy Clark is… that’s not the Clark that we went after or are going after. We’re going after sort of a different, there’s a different take on Clark, how Clark is.
Q: How did you begin working with Christopher Nolan? When were you brought on board?
Zack Snyder: Chris called me for lunch, I guess it was September of last year, yeah. He said, “Hey, do you want to have lunch?” I was like, “Yeah.” He goes, “If I talk about ‘Superman’, is that cool?” I was like, “Sure, it’s cool.” It was a great meeting.
Q: I know that you can’t talk about the origin of the suit. That’s something that we’re probably going to have to wait until the film comes out for. But, can you talk a little bit about the utility of the suit, what makes it different?
Zack Snyder: It’s a very difficult suit, trust me. I have seen every possible version of that suit — versions with underwear, versions without underwear, everything. But, I’ll say that we had versions without the red, without red, without a cape, with a cape, everything you can imagine. Just to look, to see it. It’s funny because the suit, it’s really all about, for me, it’s all about like, sort of the squint-test kinda concept. I don’t know. Like, it’s gotta be “Superman” instantly, but it also can’t… When we tested Henry, we didn’t have a costume, so we put him in the Christopher Reeve costume, right? Just because Warner Brothers owns it, so I was like, “Oh, just put him in that. It’s fine. We’ll know whether it’ll work, right?” Of course, then Warner Brothers said, “You’re not allowed to use our costume because it’s… collectors. It’s worth millions of dollars.” I was like, “It’s okay. Fair enough.” So we made one based on it. So we ended up doing R&D… Anyway, so he put it on and the point is is that it’s iconographic. Nobody laughed even though it was ridiculously goofy when you actually looked at it, the costume itself, just in a sense that it’s so… the Christopher Reeves costume, like, the shoes are made out of tape. It’s like, a disaster, right? So, ours was okay. It was the whole thing and it’s spandex and it’s really not cool. What we kind of went with, I think in the end is because we tried to like, explain a lot of the Why of it from a sort of logic standpoint, which is really difficult to do, you have to create like, a whole culture.
Q: Something about your films is you have the iconic slow motion shots and you’re shooting this handheld. Are we going to get the Zack Snyder slow motion Superman punching someone moment?
Zack Snyder: You probably won’t. You will get Superman punching someone, but probably not in slow motion, unfortunately.
Q: What was the common ground that you and Chris Nolan had found with this? You guys have had up until now very different approaches. His approach is a kind of gritty, realistic, and you’ve been very stylized with your films. So, what made you be able to bond on this material?
Zack Snyder: I don’t know. Chris… he’s just about story. He’s not really a style, I mean, he has his own style, but he would never presume that style on anyone else because I’m sure he would just say, “Well, that’s the way I see it.” He probably wouldn’t want you to, if he was hiring you, he wouldn’t say like, “Do it like I do it.” By the way, that’s the last thing he’d want you to do. So I think that, yeah, I just kinda was like, “Ah, it’d be cool to do Superman this way because Superman is so…” I guess I said the other day that this is probably the most realistic movie I’ve made, and it’s “Superman.” That’s funny. I mean, it’s not “funny,” but it’s ironic. I like irony, right and irony is hard. It’s the hardest thing. So, I don’t know. That’s like, the only thing ironic about the film is that it’s all ironic.
Q: You’ve never shied away from sort of projects that come with a certain weight of expectation obviously. How does the weight of this compare to “Watchmen”?
Zack Snyder: You know, it’s different. “Watchmen”, for instance, “Watchmen” it’s almost like “Superman,” because “Superman” is such a pop culture icon that he is sort of transcends genre. He’s so mainstream that most genre guys don’t defend him. Right, like they don’t stick up for him because he’s too mainstream. So they’re just like, “Yeah, Superman. The public can have him. He can be on People Magazine. F*** him.” Where like, “Watchmen’s” like, “That’s my thing. You can’t make a movie out of my thing. That’s my personal thing. I own that. That changed my life.” “Superman” didn’t change anyone’s life… maybe a couple of people.
Q: The people standing outside waiting….
Zack Snyder: But that’s a different thing. So, I think that the pressure’s different. I think the pressure is more joyful.
Q: It’s like to make “Superman” cool again.
Zack Snyder: Yeah, people in a lot of ways are just more joyful about “Superman” than say, they are about my other things that I’ve done where people are just really angry people. You know, in general. So like-
Q: You still have fanboys though.
Zack Snyder: Yeah, no, by the way, look, it’s a prerequisite to go see “Superman” if you like comic books at all. It’s not like you’re going to pass on it. It’s like, “Ah, I’m not going to see that.” Frankly, a good fanboy will go see any superhero movie. They should. I mean, what are you going to do, pass on like, “Captain America” or pass on… “Well, I don’t want to see that. That looks stupid.” Really? Really? It’s two hours. Go f***ing see it. And then you can tell me.
Q: Plus there’s only one “Watchmen” whereas there’s been so many different ways to do “Superman” that you really have a lot of freedom in it.
Zack Snyder: Yeah, and that’s the thing I think that’s interesting to me is that I’ve never… I’ve been in the past-against the sort of what I would call, people that say, “Oh, ‘Superman’s’ a comic book movie.” But it’s not really. It’s mythology at this point because there’s been so many iterations of “Superman” that you cannot choose any one story anymore, any one storyline. Sure, Krypto’s cool, but that’s his own movie, I think.
Q: I agree. Your dad was here. He knows “Superman.”
Zack Snyder: He knows “Superman.” You know, by the way, “Superman” has generational reach, which is cool.
Q: So it’s a chance to piss off a whole new demographic potentially.
Zack Snyder: Exactly, my dad. I haven’t gone after them.
Q: What does Henry [Cavill] bring to this?
Zack Snyder: Henry is like, Superman-ish, you know, in his feel. He’s really kind. He’s incredibly humble in real life. He can project a naïveté, which is nice, without seeming naïve, which is really a difficult quality. I don’t feel like you can take advantage of him, but he’d still help you change your tire if you had a flat tire on the side of the road. There’s a fine line there.
Q: A question that you can probably answer very quickly. I saw that you set Smallville in Kansas like the first movie did. Where is Metropolis going to be set in a specific state? Will it be New York?
Zack Snyder: What we did is, I created this thing called the District of Metropolis, which is a mythical sort of… the problem was is that it happened because legal wanted a state. Legal was like, “What state is Metropolis in?” Legal called me and said it. I was like, “I don’t know. I don’t want to say.” They were like, “You have to say because there’s a Metropolis, Illinois and you could be sued and blah, blah, blah.” I was like, “Okay.” So we created this thing called the District of Metropolis and Metropolis is inside of it. We’re kind of setting it near, it’s sort of an east coast city but south of… but it’s like, right there in Chesapeake Bay, you know? It’s kind of those islands? You could imagine if a city had been built on one of those. That’s kinda where we put it.
Q: Can you talk about some of the other cast members? We haven’t met anybody else. Can you talk about what they bring?
Zack Snyder: Kevin [Costner] playing Jonathan, he’s just done an amazing job. We’ve shot all his scenes except for one already. He’s just awesome because he’s an amazing actor, amazing instincts, wants to make the work better. He’s always looking at every scene like, “You know what would be cool if… What if I… Would it be more emotional if I did this?” He’s really awesome that way. Diane [Lane] is kind of the same way. She’s cool. You get one f*** in a PG-13 movie, but we haven’t used it yet, but I wanted Diane to say it. We couldn’t figure out a way for her to say it.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the 3-D and the fact that you guys are post converting? Your thoughts on the 3-D process, all that stuff?
Zack Snyder: I don’t know… Look, I’ll be frank about 3-D. I think it’s cool. We spent quite a while talking about shooting the movie in 3-D and we tested a bunch of rigs. I said, “Look, the movie’s handheld. If you guys can give me a handheld rig that I think is viable, I’m happy to talk about it.” No one could find me a rig that we could have… I think I did 20 set-ups today, 21 set-ups. I think that if we were… I would’ve done four, honestly, and especially handheld. John [Clothier] would be at the chiropractor right now. So, I guess my feeling is that I wasn’t going to change the style of the movie for 3-D. I wasn’t going to be like, “Oh, it’s 3-D, so it’s not handheld anymore.” So I guess that was one of the big things that made us just go like, “Well, we’ll post convert and that’s cool. We’ll spend time and we’ll make it as awesome as we can. We’ll collect all the data we need and we’ll just do as good a job as we can.”
Q: Any technological breakthroughs, do you think, on the movie?
Zack Snyder: I mean, I think that we’re doing a lot of crazy s*** on this movie. I can’t say exactly what technological breakthroughs, but we’re definitely doing some crazy s***. Like you know I always say, like, we wanted to make it really sort of realistically based, but don’t forget, Superman can’t do anything that’s not a visual effect. He’s not like other superheroes. He literally can’t. When he’s Clark or when he’s talking to you, that’s fine. He could just be himself in his suit and be kinda normal. But as soon as he touches anything… You can’t put like, a steel beam on it like, and make something out of lead. Those days are over. You can’t fly him on a wire and have him fly around. It’s really complicated and really difficult in scale in order to make this movie, “Superman” scale, that’s also been a pretty massive undertaking.
Q: Can you talk about the action set pieces? Do you have three huge ones? Do you have five minor ones? I mean, I’m just curious. The thing that was missing in the last “Superman” movie and a lot of us have talked about it is it just wasn’t enough action. You didn’t get to see Superman kicking some ass.
Zack Snyder: Suffice it to say, that is chock-a-block of action because I feel like it’s kinda crazy to have the most powerful superhero, basically, and have him just standing around feeling angsty. I get it… [L]ook, the movie is very emotional, this movie that we’re making. It’s based in-it’s got a lotta heart, but it’s not shy with its use of Superman as an ass-kicking device.
Q: Going back to the cast, I think with David (Goyer) who said that Michael Shannon’s Zod is sort of like Heath Ledger’s Joker in sort of re-envisioning in sort of a psychological way. Could you talk a bit about how your viewings Zod and how Shannon is bringing that?
Zack Snyder: Yeah, we’re just trying to make his point of view… He’s not maniacal or f***ed up. He’s got a point of view that is not crazy. I think Shannon also is just, he’s a force of nature and I think that that is really fun and helpful. Whatever the stakes are, you have to figure that Shannon will raise them just by being Shannon. Then, I think that’s fun because I think that you’ve gotta have a real threat. That’s a lot of reasons the Zod of it all comes from that, right? We didn’t want to start this adventure with a Superman that didn’t have an enemy that showed why he needs to be Superman. Zod is Kryptonian as well.
“Man of Steel” opens on June 14, 2013.