“There would be no chance on earth that I would use a shot that was made prior or after I left the movie. I would destroy the movie. I would set it on fire before I used a single frame that I did not photograph. That is a fucking hard fact. I literally would blow that fucking thing up.”-Zack Snyder, JusticeCon 2020
Fandom is a funny thing in the age of social media. More often than not, the stories that people tell are about the act of being a fan, not the people, properties, and pieces of art that they’re fans of. This behavior is a manifestation of the contemporary attitude that I call the Tyranny of the Audience. Meaning is defined by the audience, and any interpretation that can be brought to a piece of art is considered to be valid. The artist’s intent no longer matters.
Curiously, the pervasiveness of this perspective spawned the fight for an artist’s vision. Beginning on November 17th, 2017 I participated in the #ReleasetheSnyderCut campaign. Arguably my, and many other people’s, participation began well before that date. Over the months leading up to the release of the Justice League movie, I came to realize that the version we would see in theaters wouldn’t resemble the vision of its original director Zack Snyder. I only use the release date of the theatrical cut for ease of reference and to minimize any squabbling over who began the “movement” as well as who joined it when and why.
For a long time I’ve been explicit about labeling the fight to see Zack Snyder’s cut of Justice League as a campaign and not a movement for a very specific reason. Many of the supporters claimed that the underlying philosophical justification for pushing Warner Bros to release Snyder’s version was artistic integrity. That principle is certainly a noble one to fight for. However, artistic integrity is so far gone in our culture, especially in the entertainment industry, that its reacceptance is decades away. Integrity is hard to find anywhere anymore. The eroding of the importance of principles in American culture has led to a pragmatic approach to capitalism in which whatever earns someone the most money in the least amount of time is considered to be right. A movement to restore the ideal of integrity would require a lifelong commitment, not just a desire to see an unreleased version of a movie (or two or ten).
The Cut exists as proof of my lifelong commitment to the restoration of that ideal in American culture. As early spring began in 2020 and the announcement of the release of the Snyder Cut became more and more obviously imminent, the supporters of the campaign began to contemplate what to do next. Would they continue fighting the attacks against Snyder’s character and the quality of his art? Would they use their newly realized influence to campaign for the director’s cuts of other movies? The choice was, as all are, individual, so I made mine by reflecting on why I participated to begin with.
Zack Snyder is a unique figure not just in Hollywood but the current culture as a whole. The art he creates stands out stylistically as well as thematically. That an entire movie of his existed unseen was a grave injustice. (It’s almost astounding to write that sentence considering said movie’s title.) Simply put, I wanted to see that movie, not the compromised cut I saw in theaters. Doing so would make my life better. The locking away of the work of a great artist is just the tip of the iceberg though. What happened to Snyder and his movie is truly unprecedented. Almost every Hollywood director sees his cuts whittled away by studio notes and test screening audience feedback. It’s an occurrence as commonplace as it is irrational. The story of the Snyder Cut is much more tragic and much more personal.
I soon realized that no one was telling that story…and no one would be. Anyone involved in the production, up to and including Snyder himself, certainly wouldn’t due to Non-Disclosure Agreements and the fact that doing so would be a potentially damning public relations decision. Cinema Blend’s Sean O’Connell is writing a book chronicling the #ReleasetheSnyderCut campaign. During a promotional appearance he noted that what happened on the set of Justice League was someone else’s story to tell. Upon hearing his comment, I realized that “someone else” was me. I fully committed to the idea for a novel that I had developed and sporadically drafted. You are now reading the final result of that commitment.
I do not personally know anyone who was involved in the ill-fated production of Justice League. I was fortunate enough to meet Zack Snyder in March of 2019 at the The Director’s Cuts event he organized at his film school alma mater in Pasadena, California. We shared a brief conversation that I found both enlightening and spiritually uplifting. I’ve studied his movies for a little over a decade, work which has resulted in uncountable conversations, numerous articles, a series of podcast episodes, a few deconstructionist YouTube videos, and this book.
I like to describe The Cut as being “based on a true story” realistic fiction. A well educated friend of mine described “the nature of the project” as “in real life fan fiction.” I want to be clear that none of what I’ve written is intended to be a journalistic account of what actually happened. I have no way of knowing the reality of the behind-the-scenes of the Justice League production. All I could do is research diligently, as any good writer does, to find the articles and rumors that exist and then combine that information with completely made up material. Some facts were omitted. Others were intentionally ignored. All the characters, though inspired by real life people and mostly named very obviously, are not intended to represent any one person. Often they are an amalgamation of several individuals. They are always built to represent an idea and fill a role, no matter what the reality of who they may seem to represent may be and have been.
This novel is a thought experiment. It’s about what might have happened and why it might have happened. In an age where we let the audience dictate to the artist (and amid a campaign which purported to fight for artistic integrity), I thought it important to tell the story of the importance of the creator and how our system and culture have lost sight of him. In doing so, I’ve hopefully made the transition from fandom to artist myself.
How well I’ve succeeded is now left up to your judgement. All I can ask is that you respect my intent by trying to enjoy and understand what I’ve actually written here. I think you may find that doing so will make your life better.
This was never my story. It’s yours.
Now don’t screw it up, ok?
Justin M. Lesniewski
Florida, August 2020