Snyder Series: Who is Zack Snyder? + Dawn of the Dead

Join us in The Midside for the premiere edition of our Snyder Series, an in-depth look at the work of director Zack Snyder. To "roll camera," we discuss his background, philosophy, and directorial debut Dawn of the Dead. It's a Zack Attack that would even make Mark Paul Gosselaar cringe.

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About

Early/Personal Life

  • Born on March 1, 1966, in Green Bay, Wisconsin (Wikipedia)
  • Originally wanted to be an animator at age 11 (Watch Mojo)
  • Changed his mind after seeing Star Wars during its theatrical run in 1977 (Watch Mojo)
  • Attended Camp Owatonna in Harrison, ME for six straight summers (The Rumpus)
  • Played soccer (The Rumpus)
  • Attended Daycroft School in Greenwich, CT (The Rumpus)
    • small enrollment (130) private Christian Science boarding school
    • SNYDER SAYS: “It wasn’t that cliquey at Daycroft. There was only like a hundred of us. It was more incestuous than it was cliquey. That was the problem. Weird but true. There was a freedom for you to be yourself. There were a lot of characters in that group; I think it was because they were allowed to be…At school, at Daycroft, I had the same kind of personality then. I don’t think I’ve changed that much. Other than that I’m a little bit smarter. Maybe.”
    • His parents were dorm parents at Daycroft School (The Rumpus)
    • SNYDER SAYS: “I’m at this real strict boarding school with my parents there, and my mother, my mother more than my father of course, happened to let me break the rules and get away with stuff. In some way, I would bend that world to my will, in a really manipulative and horrible way because I was in high school. I mean I feel bad about it a little bit, but on the other hand, it gave me a way I’d approach life, the same thing, I bend the rules of society a little bit and have chosen a lifestyle that’s outside of the normal approach to how to make a living. My mother and father and sister—they were pretty supportive of me. They knew that I was not the sharpest tool in the shed. That I was a bit of a dreamer and you know, I think having them pull up the slack for me as far as what was expected of me from the rules aspect of high school, they let me get away with things. I would have had a really hard time without them.”
  • Remained dedicated to film throughout high school
    • SNYDER SAYS: “That time (1980-1984) in my life was a big influence on the kind of movies that I ended up making. I always think I’m going to make a movie that’s gritty and real, but then I make a movie that’s like an opera. I fight it at first and then that’s just the way it is.” (The Rumpus)
  • Attended London’s prestigious Heatherley School of Fine Art. (Watch Mojo)
  • Attended Art Center College of Design in Pasadena alongside Michael Bay (Watch Mojo)
  • Directed music videos and commercials in 1990s and early 2000
  • In 2002, signed deal to direct adaptation of the 1975 TV show SWAT (Watch Mojo)
  • Columbia canceled the deal “due to concerns over his gritty shooting style” (Watch Mojo)
  • Has 6 children (New York Times)
    • 4 with Denise Weber (his first wife)
    • 2 with Kirsten Elin (a line producer girlfriend after he divorced Denise)
  • Married his current wife Deborah, who produces all his movies, on September 25th, 2004 (New York Times)
    • SNYDER SAYS: “It’s a deal breaker [if a film company doesn’t want her to be one of the producers on a movie he’ll direct]. Our relationship is husband and wife, director and producer. My wife is my best friend. I trust Debbie’s taste and way of navigating the world.”

Philosophy

  • Self-reliance
    • “Been known to lack a certain assertiveness…when someone [he and his wife] hired fails to live up to the couple’s expectations…he prefers to avoid confrontation and do the work himself.”
    • SNYDER SAYS: “It can be doing anything. It could be a bad gardener, and he’s not mowing the grass that great. I’ll just mow it myself.” (New York Times)
  • His job
    • SNYDER SAYS: “I always say, thank god I have this job or I don’t know what I’d be doing. It’d be sad. I’ve always felt like I have been trying to brand a world for a quite a long time. You know what though, I feel no different. I feel like I’m doing the exact same thing I did in high school. Only I have more people helping me out now.” (The Rumpus)
    • SNYDER SAYS: “It’s weird I have a job and I’ve had a job since out of college that doesn’t require me to edit my personality that much. It’s your thing. It’s insular and whatever you do, you do. It’s crazy and I get yelled at sometimes by people in a restaurant for being too loud because I just don’t realize it. It’s like you can’t do that.” (The Rumpus)
  • His influences
    • SNYDER SAYS: “Blade Runner, fucking Road Warrior, Conan—those movies really stand out to me as movies that have shaped me. Return of the Jedi. Heavy Metal. All that stuff. It’s funny how you get shaped more then, actually, than when you’re in film school trying to be all intellectual. And there’s nothing you can do to change that. I aim my movies, as much as I can, at myself.” (The Rumpus)
  • Definition of Success
    • SNYDER SAYS: “Everyone has a pretty great television now, and you’d better fucking give them a reason to get up off their sofa and go to the movies.” (W)
    • SNYDER SAYS: “My personal success would be that people understand what I was trying to do…If the movie succeeds, it’s that people understand the subtlety. That they’re able to see past the conventions of what they think a movie is and go a teeny bit deeper…” (The Rumpus)
  • Romanticism in Film
    • SNYDER SAYS: “It’s a combination of pictures and design and acting and music can create an experience that is outside of the experience that you can actually have in reality, which gets to my motion picture philosophy. People are like, ‘aren’t you trying to make the movies as real as you can?’ I’m like, I’m really not. Reality’s its own thing. And I’m not really into reality that much. I’m into this cinematic stylized reality that can comment on reality. It’s like the most beautiful parts of reality and the saddest parts, but it’s none of this middle ground.” (The Rumpus)
    • SNYDER SAYS: “I’ve always been influenced by the human form. I’m a big fan of that Shakespeare quote. I tend to leave out the bad part of the paragon of animals quote, because I have this sort of Ayn Rand aesthetic. It was always one of those quotes that inspired me. For whatever reason I was always obsessed with the potential of humanity’s physicality. Especially since we grew up with such a non-physical philosophy.” (The Rumpus)

Ten Golden Rules of Film-Making

  1. There are No Rules
    • SNYDER SAYS: “Every job, every story, every shot is different. And each time you do it, it’s like doing it for the first time”
  2. The Will to Suffer
    • SNYDER SAYS: “This is a phrase I got from my friend Marc Twight. He used it in reference to mountain climbing, saying that the person who can endure the most pain will be the one who succeeds in the end. That applies to moviemaking as well.”
  3. Your Point of View
    • SNYDER SAYS: “It’s the thing that is not right, not wrong. It’s the thing that can’t be put into a technical box. It’s the tone and texture of a story. It’s the individual way of looking at things that makes us different. It’s why we go to the movies.”
  4. Storyboards
    • SNYDER SAYS: “Storyboards are not for everyone. As a matter of fact, I think some movies would be seriously damaged by the storyboarding process. But for me, it is how I make a movie; it is how I structure a scene. It’s not a shot list, it is an edited sequence. And although it can all change later, it is a good place to start.”
  5. Movies are Pictures
    • SNYDER SAYS: “For me, visual style has the same importance as story, as character and as the environment. In the end, a movie is a series of pictures and I try to be aware of that at all times.”
  6. Respect
    • SNYDER SAYS: “Respect the material, respect the process, respect the audience and, most of all, respect the countless incredible people who work their asses off helping you to bring your vision to the screen. Everyone has immeasurable value when it comes to making a movie, so never take it for granted.”
  7. Throw things
    • SNYDER SAYS: “Not at people, just for fun. On the set this means: Football, tennis ball, rock, ball of tape—basically any object, it doesn’t matter. Then throw: To a person, at an orange cone, into a distant trash can… again, doesn’t matter. At least for me, any version of throwing shit makes even the shortest break relaxing.”
  8. I Still Shoot Film
    • SNYDER SAYS: “I always shoot film, then move into the digital pipeline. I’ll be the first to admit that the future of moviemaking will be led by advances in digital technology. But the reality is there is just something about film that digital cameras still can’t replicate. Call me a purist, but it’s just how I feel.”
  9. Passion
    • SNYDER SAYS: “It is almost impossible to duplicate your original passion for a project late in the process. But if you can recall the feeling of that original spark of excitement, you’ll be able to keep your creative ferocity throughout the long haul.”
  10. Shoot Every Shot
    • SNYDER SAYS: “It goes back to what I was saying about point of view. This is not to say that a second unit director wouldn’t shoot it better, but doing it yourself keeps the tone consistent.”

Work

Films

Awards

August 19th, 2003 Silence

Second Assistant Director

March 19th, 2004 Dawn of the Dead

Director

Actor (Commando at White House)

 

Nominations

Saturn Award Best Horror Film

Fangoria Chainsaw Award  Best Wide-Release Film

Teen Choice Awards Choice Movie – Thriller

Teen Choice Awards Choice Movie Your Parents Don’t Want You To See

Hollywood Film Festival Hollywood Movie of the Year

March 9th, 2007 300

Director

Writer (with Michael Gordon and Kurt Johnstad)

 

Wins

Saturn Award Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film

Saturn Award  Best Director

Nominations

Saturn Award Best Writing

Empire Awards, UK Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy

MTV Movie Award Nomination  Best Movie

MTV Movie Awards, Russia Best International Film

People’s Choice Awards Favorite Action Movie

Satellite Award – Best Motion Picture, Animated or Mixed Media

Teen Choice Awards Choice Movie: Action Adventure

Teen Choice Awards Choice Movie: Rumble

March 6th, 2009 Watchmen

Director

Actor (Commando in Vietnam)

Wins

Saturn Award  Best Fantasy Film

Nominations

Saturn Award Best Director

SFX Awards, UK Best Film

SFX Awards, UK  Best Director

September 24th, 2010 Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole

Director

Nominations

Saturn Award Best Animated Film

Asia Pacific Screen Award Best Animated Feature Film

Satellite Award Best Motion Picture, Animated or Mixed Media

March 25th, 2011 Sucker Punch

Director

Writer (with Steve Shibuya)

Producer

June 14th, 2013 Man of Steel

Director

NominationsBAFTA Children’s Award  BAFTA Kids Vote Feature FilmSaturn Award Best Comic-to-Film Motion PictureDenver Film Critics Society Best Science-Fiction/Horror FilmHollywood Film Festival Hollywood Movie AwardTeen Choice Award Choice Summer Movie: Action/Adventure
October 16th, 2013 Superman 75Director
March 7th, 2014 300: Rise of an EmpireWriter (with Kurt Johnstad)Producer
March 20th, 2016 Batman v Superman: Dawn of JusticeDirectorWriter (story with David S. Goyer)
TBA Justice LeagueDirector

 

           Music Videos

1990

Lizzy Borden – Love is a Crime
Michael Jordan’s Playground

1992

 

Morrissey – Tomorrow

Peter Murphy – You’re So Close

Shawn Colvin – Round of Blues

Soul Asylum – Somebody to Shove

1993

 

Del Amitiri – When You Were Young

Aaron Neville – Don’t Take Away My Heaven

Alexander O’Neal – In The Middle

Paul Westerberg – World Class Fad

1994

Jon Secada – Mental Picture

ZZ Top – World of Swirl

1995

Dionne Farris – I Know

Heather Nova – Walk This World

2009

My Chemical Romance – Desolation Row

 

              Commercials

1995

Sega of America – Elves

Clio Shortlist (Campaign)

1997

Audi A3 – The Test

Clio Shortlist

Audi A4 – Maharaja

Clio Shortlist

Jeep – Frisbee

Clio Bronze

Clio Shortlist (Campaign)

1998

Chrysler Corporation – Jeep Integrated Campaign

Clio Silver (Campaign)

EB Beer – General’s Party

Sector Expander – Rodeo

Clio Shortlist

1999

Subaru – Monument Valet

Chevrolet S-10 Blazer – Mountain Climber

Chevrolet S-10 Blazer – :30

Chevrolet S-10 Blazer – Geese

2002

Budweiser – Respect

2003

Budweiser – Replay
2005

Nissan – Take Me Driving in Your Car

2008

Miller – Break from the Crowd

Clio Shortlist

Unknown

Acclaim “NFL Quarterback Club”
Audi Quattro – Tracks

BMW – Lingerie

Molson – High and Dry

SnyderClios

 

Sources

Clio Awards.
Movie Maker. Zack Snyder’s 10 Golden Rules of Movie Making. 11 June 2013.
The Rumpus. Long Interview with Zack Snyder. Christopher Read. 4 March 2009.
New York Times. Off Screen, a Long Running Romance. 18 February 2011.
Watch Mojo. The Career of Zack Snyder: From 300 to Superman. 25 March 2011.
Wikipedia. Zack Snyder.
W Magazine. Zack Snyder’s Violent Reaction. March 2009.

Special Thanks

Craig MacGowan, Director/Producer/President, Voyager Productions Ltd. Inc.

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