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‘Man of Steel’ Interview: Producer Deborah Snyder Explains How This Film Sets Up the New DC Universe

Man of Steel
Warner Bros.

Since 1978, Hollywood has made five movies about Superman, all of which essentially characterized the superhero the same way: wholesome, morally resolute, and indefatigably heroic. The sixth – ‘Man of Steel‘ – takes the character in another direction – technically, backwards. Director Zack Snyder’s film re-examines the character’s origin story, looking at the formative years, and experiences, which gave him the certitude and clarity to be Earth’s greatest protector. Meanwhile, audiences simultaneously get to thrill at watching the character test out his strength while battling General Zod, one of Superman’s greatest foes.

We sat down with producer Deborah Snyder at the recent Los Angeles press day for Man of Steel, where she seemed excited to finally be able to talk about the film. Perhaps appropriately, she discussed the balancing act that goes into deciding how much to disclose to audiences as a film like this is coming to theaters, and then revealed the attitude and approach which she and Zack took as they were reinventing the great-granddaddy of all superheroes. Finally, she offered some insights about where this Superman fits – both into the character’s own canon, and then the current landscape of heroes that Christopher Nolan razed when he paired Batman’s cape and cowl with a complex foundation of moral and personal ambiguities.

When ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ came out it started a conversation about secrecy and its relationship to audience anticipation.  What are your thoughts about how much should be shared with fans in a movie’s promotion?

I think from our perspective, you don’t want to ruin anything for the audience. It’s like knowing the end – you might not see how it gets there, but you still know the end and it ruins the surprise. And information travels so quickly, that if a surprise gets ruined, I think it hurts the enjoyment of the film. So that’s I think what you want to protect, the integrity of that, so actually when you sit in that dark theater, you can have this experience. And it’s the lengths that you have to go to now, with paparazzi at the set and trying to get pictures, the other thing is that sometimes you’re in the middle of a creative process, or you’re in the middle of your casting process, and it gets leaked – ‘here’s your people’ – and half the time, you haven’t even met with those people. There’s so much more misinformation out there because things are just getting out there. Zack and I have always shared a lot with the press, but always things that were ready to be shared, not half-baked, and I think that’s when you have be sort of a little more protective, because you want to put your best foot forward.

What elements of the Superman canon – be it cinematic or just generally – did you want to re-examine or change, and which ones did you know needed to stay the same? This movie does not have a “Superman enjoys saving people” montage, for example.

We knew we had to have a flying one, for example, but that’s the thing we learned from Watchmen. Someone asked me the other day about the order of these things – ‘you did this deconstruction, and now you’re kind of rebuilding.’ I don’t know what it would have been like [in the opposite order], but to deconstruct something, you have to understand the rules first, and I think for us there were certain things we couldn’t [change], like his history, coming from Krypton, his parents. There were certain things you couldn’t do. Obviously the suit, we had to update it, but it still had to feel like Superman – it had to have the cape, it had to have the colors. You needed to see the payoff of him flying. That’s the payoff of coming to a Superman movie, the moment he gets to fly. But I think we did it in our own way. I think it’s that balance of taking it and modernizing it, putting him in our world more, making him more relatable – but still understanding that it’s Superman, and he has to have certain things and you have to respect that canon.

Although I was a fan of ‘Superman Returns,’ it was a film that people did not want a sequel to, even though it was commercially successful. Presuming that this is a film Warner Brothers wants to turn into a new series, what quality did you or they feel like it needed to have in order for the franchise to move forward?

There is a DC Universe out there – we’re all aware of that – and Superman is the pinnacle of that DC Universe. And you have to get him right first, I think, before you can work on anything else. So we pretended that no other films were done; someone said, are you going to use the music? But we had to start from ground zero and start and kind of rebuild our interpretation of who he is. And if you get him right, it does set up the DC Universe, but I think you just have to go into it worrying about what you’re doing at that moment, and worrying about servicing this character and this story and then see what comes from there.

What then were the qualities the character or this story needed to have in order for him to be brought to life as successfully as possible?

I feel like you needed to care about him. I felt like there’s a whole generation of young kids that aren’t reading comics that might wear the Superman t-shirt but they have no idea who he is or what his story is. So I think that you have to assume that they know nothing and re-educate everybody. But for me, and I was a fan of the original movies, you have to care about him, and I think in order to care about him you have to relate to him. I don’t think we’ll ever know what it’s like to have super powers, but there needs to be something that you can latch onto, and say either I like this about him, or I can relate, like I’ve gone through something – whether I’m a kid that’s been bullied, or you find yourself in a job going, how did I get here, or a bigger question of what’s my purpose in life – something. I think once you can grab onto that, I think it makes you care about him more, and that’s what was needed, because our Superman was good, but he was too squeaky-clean that it didn’t seem believable. And we wanted him to feel believable, and that was our goal.

Do you feel like since this is both a literal and metaphorical hero’s journey, Superman ends at a place where he regains that sort of idealized persona? Or given the fact that Christopher Nolan, who wrote the story, has always been committed to a sort of ambiguity and realism that it’s more emblematic of that kind of morally-complex heroism?

I think he’s a more idealistic character, just in general. He is about goodness. I don’t think he is as dark as Batman. His conflicts are different, I think, and his self-discovery, not to say that it’s not as deep, but it is not as dark, I feel. But I do feel like he does go on this journey and he figures out who he is – and he has some difficult choices to make. I mean, choosing to wipe out his people, where he comes from, or saving Earth, his adopted family, is a really big decision to grapple with morally and emotionally and all of that. So I definitely think there’s a lot of complexities there.

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