When a director makes the decision to not see a film he or she is credited with directing, you know there’s a reason for it. Zack Snyder decided not to see the theatrically released cut of Justice League, which released in 2017, after being advised against it by his wife and producing partner Deborah Snyder and director of the Dark Knight trilogy and executive producer on the film, Christopher Nolan.
They came and they just said, ‘You can never see that movie,’” Snyder said.
The film’s production was rocky. Snyder had been battling with Warner Bros. to get his creative vision out there, but the studio put a lot of obstacles in his way to give the film levity and make it more fun. They put DC Entertainment creative chief Geoff Johns and Warner Bros co-production head Jon Berg on the set to oversee production, and at least one of them had to be there every day.
“It was really tricky and not a position that I loved, to be honest,” said Berg. “I tried to be forthright about what I thought creatively. My job was to try to mediate between a creator whose vision is instinctually dark and a studio that perceived, rightly or wrong, that the fans wanted something lighter. I was respectful of the director and didn’t pursue things that were coming at me from the corporate side that I thought weren’t in line with what would make the best movie.”
Warner Bros made some big changes to Synder’s vision, including the removal of a romance arc between Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne and Amy Adams’ Lois Lane. They also forced the director to keep the film’s length down to a maximum of 2 hours.
“How am I supposed to introduce six characters and an alien with potential for world domination in two hours?” said Snyder.
Then, amidst everything, the Snyders’ 20-year-old daughter Autumn took her own life.
“It’s such a lightning strike in the center of this whole saga,” said Snyder. “It has informed everything we’ve done since.”
The tragedy was what ultimately took Snyder away from the rest of Justice League’s production, causing Warner Bros. to call in Joss Whedon to finish things off. Snyder took the time to focus on things at home rather than continue a losing battle against the studio.
“We just lost the will to fight that fight in a lot of ways,” says Zack. “All of us, the whole family, we’re just so broken by [losing Autumn] that having those conversations in the middle of it really became…I was like, ‘Really?’ Frankly I think we did the right thing because I think it would’ve been either incredibly belligerent or we just rolled over.”
Now, he’s returning to finish his creative vision in the form of the 4-hour long Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and his daughter is the main reason why.
“At the end of the movie, it says ‘For Autumn,’” says Snyder. “Without her, this absolutely would not have happened.”
There were reports that Snyder asked Whedon to take over, but those reports were untrue. Johns, who was already planning a Batgirl movie with Whedon, recruited the Avengers writer-director. Snyder says that he had only had one conversation with Whedon regarding the film. About three-quarters of the 2017 Justice League was rewritten and reshot by Whedon. Recently, a Warner Bros Executive talked about the initial reactions to the finished product.
“When we got to see what Joss actually did, it was stupefying,” the executive said. “Everyone knew it. It was so awkward because nobody wanted to admit what a piece of shit it was.”
When the film finally released, it seems that audiences also knew “what a piece of shit it was.” And thus, fans took to social media and called for Snyder’s original vision. #ReleaseTheSnyderCut was born, but at the time, the “Snyder Cut” didn’t really exist. The director had his nearly four-hour version of the film on his laptop’s hard drive when he left production, but it was black & white, lacked visual effects, music, and polish. At that point, it was nothing more than a small memento of his work.
But, over the next few years, fans got increasingly more passionate about the “Snyder Cut,” with some of them paying single-engine airplanes to fly a “Release the Snyder Cut” banner around the Warner Bros lot and the annual San Diego Comic-con. Other fans pooled resources to buy out a Times Square Billboard.
Eventually, in late 2019, Snyder, Affleck and Gal Gadot all began promoting the #SnyderCut, which was the push needed to catch Warner Bros.’ attention. Toby Emmerich, Chairman of Warner Bros. Picture Group, made the call to Snyder.
“A lot of the people at the company, myself included, always felt badly that Zack didn’t get to finish his vision of this film because of the circumstances,” says Emmerich. “And so if there was a way to make it logistically and financially possible, which HBO Max did, and Zack had a willingness to do it, it seemed like a win for everybody.”
At first, the studio wanted Snyder to release the raw footage on his laptop, but the director pushed back hard against that proposal. “I was like, ‘That’s a no, that’s a hard no,’” Snyder said. “I go, ‘Here’s why. Three reasons: One, you get the internet off your back, which is probably your main reason for wanting to do this. Two, you get to feel vindicated for making things right, I guess, on some level. And then three, you get a shitty version of the movie that you can point at and go, ‘See? It’s not that good anyway. So maybe I was right.’ I was like, No chance. I would rather just have the Snyder cut be a mythical unicorn for all time.”
It cost an estimated $70 million to undo Whedon’s film and turn it into Snyder’s, and Snyder won’t be getting a dime for the new cut. The creative control over the project is payment enough.
“I didn’t want to be beholden to anyone,” said the 54-year-old director. “And it allowed me to keep my negotiating powers with these people pretty strong.”
Even though only one new scene was actually shot specifically for Zack Snyder’s Justice League, it almost looks like a completely different film. Superman is wearing a black suit now instead of his classic blue and red suit, the Jared Leto‘s Joker cameos in the film, and the ending was reshot to include a secret hero cameo that will apparently blow the minds of hardcore fans.
There are also some deeply personal elements layered in. The film closes with Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” performed by Allison Crowe, a friend of Autumn’s who also performed the song at her funeral.
“When you think about the catharsis of it, if I was a potter, I would’ve made some pottery to look for some way through this,” Snyder said. “But I’m a filmmaker, so you get this giant movie.”
The mythical “Snyder Cut,” which is now called Zack Snyder’s Justice League will finally release on HBO Max March 18. Snyder also directed a film for Netflix, Army of the Dead, a spiritual successor to his 2004 breakout zombie film, Dawn of the Dead. The new movie is set to release May 21.