Collider Goes to the Set of WATCHMEN and has a Geekgasm

     February 16, 2009

Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

It’s October 27th, 2007 and I’m sitting on a plane flying back from the best set visit I’ve ever been on and I’m sad it’s over. Two days ago, I woke up with anticipation over getting to go to Vancouver and see “Watchmen” get filmed, and now after yesterday’s full day watching filming and interviewing the stars, I’m left with a notebook filled with observations and the knowledge that I’m not going to see the final version until 16 months from now. The other thing that frustrates me is that I’m writing this entry in my laptop with the knowledge I won’t be posting it for probably over a year. It’s crazy to realize how far away the release date of this movie is.

All I want to do is scream as loud as I can to everyone I know and to everyone who reads the site about how amazing this set visit was and how the movie looks like it’s done the impossible – making Alan Moore’s “unfilmable” graphic novel into a movie everyone will love.

I want to let them know all the cool stuff I saw: The amazing fight we saw in the jail cell; the fact that I touched Nite Owl’s costume after he got dressed before he walked to set; how I ate my lunch in Dr. Manhattan’s lab and got to touch the reactor; seeing Rorschach in his jail cell; talking to Zack Snyder in between takes; seeing all the production art; walking around the New York street they were building forfilming next month; seeing the Owl ship and getting to walk inside; even getting to hang out in Rorschach’s apartment.

I saw so much that I don’t know how any other set visit will be able to compare to this one. Seriously, I’ve been damaged by the experience, but in a very good way. The other thing about the set visit is with the extreme embargo we’re under, I’m forced to try and write all this stuff up while it’s fresh in my mind, because if we’re not allowed to post this till 2009, I don’t think I’d remember everything as vividly as I am today, less than 24 hours after leaving the set.

Since we saw so much and interviewed so many people, I think the way I’m going to write this huge report is chronologically. It’s the only way to make any sense of the day and to keep it all organized for both myself and all of you. So if you’re just looking to know what I thought of my day on the “Watchmen” set, I think you can probably deduce how amazing it was and how I think this film will revolutionize the super-hero movie the way the comic book did when that came out in 1986.

It’s quite interesting to realize that when “Watchmen” came out in 1986 no one had ever seen anything like it. The comic was deep and textured, it had superheros with flaws, with sexual hang-ups and problems, and the book was a nuclear bomb to an industry still playing with a six shooter. And now, over twenty years later, the movie is going to do the same thing to the new medium it’s being adapted to. It’ll show things that have never been seen in a movie with costumed heroes; we’ll see issues that have never been addressed on screen in a super-hero movie; and once again, we’ll have the genius of Alan Moore to thank. His comic was a revolution in 1986 and everything changed as a result of it. After “Watchmen”, the major publishers (DC and Marvel) seemed to let more adult stories and ideas seep into what was formerly a kids medium. While indie publishers had always tackled adult subject matter, the mainstream publishers never felt that comfortable allowing real life adult issues into their popular characters. “Watchmen” changed that.

And the things that makes “Watchmen” so brilliant are still as fresh and relevant as the day it first came out. To anyone nervous that Zack Snyder and his team of artists responsible for bringing this vision to life, I say this: I’m quite certain this will be another jaw dropping experience like “300” was in a movie theater. The “Watchmen” movie arrives in March of 2009 and I believe it’ll be a beacon to show what can be done in movies even when people are fighting in costumes.

The Beginning

About eight online journalists left the Hyatt in downtown Vancouver at about 9am and drove for around 45 minutes to where they were filming the movie. The production was spread out on three locations. They had a old paper mill which had been converted into a lot of different locations, they were building a New York street circa 1985 close by, and they also had a building for soundstages, production offices, the prop department, and what they called “The War Room” – which was where they had the storyboards for the movie spread out over all the walls. In this room they had every scene of the movie – from beginning to the end – in order and it was a mixture of preproduction ideas to photos of the locations they were going to dress. It was an amazing room and one that any fan would’ve freaked to be in. They also had on the walls some comic book panels next to the artwork and ideas for what they were going to do.

But back to when we first arrived.

As we got off the bus we were greeted by Debbie Snyder – Zack’s wife and one of the producers of the movie. She talked for awhile about the production and how things had been going and she then took us around as our ringleader for the day. The first thing we did was walk through the prison set.

We first got to walk through the lower levels of the prison. This is where Rorschach was being held in his cell. The production had incorporated as much as they could from the paper mill and in doing so, they were able to make everything look real and authentic – like this was a real prison with real prisoners.

As we walked through the jail I touched the doors and looked in the cells. The doors felt heavy and real, and they even had porn magazines on the beds and the newspapers on the floor we from 1985. While it’s doubtful the cameras will even capture more than a few frames of these items, this just shows you the level of detail the production was working with.

We then continued walking and found our way upstairs rather quickly. Unlike some set visits which require an inordinate amount of patience as you’re forced to wait for hours to see something happening, or getting to talk with the director or an actor, in mere minutes we were huddled behind the monitors outside Rorschach’s cell, watching the production setting up the shot and seeing Jackie Lee Earl practicing with the guy attacking him after they broke open the cell and were trying to kill him. We saw Danny Woodburn standing in the background smiling and we saw just how much time it takes to get a shot right and getting the actors to know exactly what to do so no one would get hurt.

Zack Snyder Shows Up

Then, as we stood there watching, Zack appeared and sat down in his director’s chair and started talking with us (click here to read the interview). It wasn’t even 15 minutes from getting off the bus that all this happened, and I think it caught all of us off guard. At first we were all talking about costumes and the normal stuff of how things were going, but after about 10 or 15 minutes of talking, we all started to realize that Zack was giving us great answers and the recorders started coming out. I really don’t think anyone was recording the beginning as we figured he was so busy that the conversation would end rather abruptly. But it didn’t, and the questions kept going.

After awhile we got to see them shooting the fight. But the thing I haven’t mentioned yet, and it caught all of us off guard, was just how cut and in shape Jackie Earle Haley was. His arms looked at first like they were fake – like the production had glued on the muscles because they couldn’t be real. But then we saw him lifting these weights over his heard like they were 5 pound dumbbells, and later in the day, when we held them for ourselves, we realized they were each at least 50 pounds and ridiculously heavy.

Seriously, Jackie lifted them like they were fake. And if you were wondering,Jackie had a bandage on his head and was made up to look like he had been punched on his right side. He looked just like I’d imagined Rorschach to look like!

So the scene they were filming was when Rorschach made one of the guys fall into the toilet and then it breaks apart so he can electrocute his cell. We saw a lot of rehearsals and eventually they shot it. Jackie looked amazing with the hair and it was awesome to see Rorschach actually being committed to celluloid.

Before we left Zack, he took out his iPhone and showed us pictures of Nite Owl’s costume and some of the others. It seems that while production has been going for about a month, yesterday was the first day the costumes arrived on set and it was a big moment for everyone to finally see what it the costumes would look like. Zack smiled like a kid on Christmas morning as he flipped through his iPhone and we tried to take in as much as we could. He went on to talk about how the costumes for Nite Own and Ozymandias would look better than some of the others as they had both the money and resources to make them. He also acknowledged that they wanted to stay true to the graphic novel, but at the same time, they couldn’t ignore the Hollywood movies from the last few years. Later in the day I saw Nite Owl’s costume up close and I think any fan of “Watchmen” is going to be beyond happy with what they managed to accomplish.

Rorschach’s Apartment

From there we walked a short distance and up some stairs to a small room which housed Rorschach’s apartment. Inside we saw what looked like a cheap motel room with old VHS tapes and radios from the era cluttered on the table with other random things like matches and dishes. We were told that they would be filming inside later that day and not to touch anything. As everyone else walked out, I stayed a bit longer, trying to savoir the moment and take in that they were actually making a “Watchmen” movie and I was actually standing in Rorschach’s apartment. It was a feeling I cannot describe.

Dr. Manhattan’s Apartment and Lab

Upon walking out of his apartment we walked down some stairs and around some dark and thin hallways to reveal what was left of Dr. Manhattan’s apartment. The first thing we saw was the remnants of his relaxation room – which used to have grass on the floor and it was a forest. All we saw was the wallpaper that was left. From there we walked through some doors to his actual apartment, which again was empty, and then we walked into one of the best sets we saw all day – the reactor room!

Inside this stage was what every fan of the comic would imagine it to be. Up close, I saw the reactor, a second level above it with stairs on the side, and a wide space to get the feeling that this was no small room. And, in fact, it wasn’t. Walking around I studied the reactor and when compared to the comic, it looked exactly like what was in issue 2 or 3. I imagined the Doctor walking in at any moment and asking me to leave. But instead of a large, naked blue gentleman, it was a Caucasian man with blond hair—Matthew Goode. Goode walked in and we conducted a short 15 or so minute interview with the smartest man in the “Watchmen” world – Adrian Veidt. You can read it by clicking here.

After our Q&A I got to ask Debbie if Alan Moore was going to be involved at all in the production. She mentioned that Alan wanted to take his name off the project but he wished them no ill will. She said that they hoped one day they’d find out that Alan would see the movie and say it didn’t stink. But while Alan distances himself from all of his properties getting adapted, she did say that Dave Gibbons would be coming to the set and doing some new art. I don’t know what specifically he is going to do.

From there we once again boarded our shuttle bus and ventured off to the production offices.

The War Room and Props

After going through security and walking up to the third floor, we got to see the nerve center of the “Watchmen” production. It was on this floor that everything was taking place. Here were the production offices, Zack’s editing room, the “War Room”, the prop department, the art department, and the visual effects area. As a fan of “Watchmen,” it was literally like being in the ultimate fanboy temple, as every wall, every desk, every single space of the floor was devoted to the movie and the walls were loaded with production artwork and costumes and pictures of all the actors in each part.

As we walked to the war room, we first had to go through the art department. The walls were covered with the actors in costumes, we saw concept art and ideas, the production schedule was casually on the wall behind us, we saw dates when they would be filming sequences, vacation schedules, you name it – we saw it. It was like they had opened up every aspect of production and let us see anything and everything. That’s one of the reasons I know this film is going to be amazing: I saw everything they are planning on doing. Also, when anyone asked a question, they all spoke so happily about getting this gig, and everyone came across as fans of the comic. I cannot accurately describe how amazing this experience was…to be around things I’d only dreamt I’d one day see.

Anyway, from there we met Production Designer Alex McDowell and he showed us stuff that would’ve made any “Watchmen” fan freak out. We saw the actual props from the movie like the smiley face with the blood on it, Rorschach’s grappling gun that he uses at the beginning of the movie to get into the Comedian’s apartment, and a cover of Time magazine from 1984 with Dr. Manhattan and Ozymandias and it said “Supermen – United for Peace”. Other things were the book cover for “Under the Hood” and every other major prop you can imagine. The stuff on the table and in the room was a sight to behold.

After looking at all the props, we followed him into the war room itself.

In this room the entire movie was laid out. From the beginning to the end, in order, the huge conference room was like a timeline for the movie, and each scene and sequence had a title and artwork, and we got to see it all.

The first thing we saw and found out was about was the title sequence to open the movie. It seems that the goal of the opening is to show how the “Watchmen” timeline is quite similar to our own, but they’ll show how the timeline split to incorporate the differences in the universes but by the end it’ll all drift back together. We heard about seeing a Normal Rockwell type painting as well as Andy Warhol incorporating his art with some superheroes. It all sounded quite cool and a great way to get the audience into the “Watchmen” world, especially those who don’t know the comic.

Continuing along the wall we saw all the scenes of the movie with the locations they planned to shoot at, as well as some of the sequences with panels from the comic alongside the building or room they had secured for filming. It seems like the production is definitely relying heavily on the comic for inspiration and wherever possible, trying to make it look identical to the panels and original ideas.

And as we walked around the room, it was just amazing to take in. To realize the movie was actually getting made and all this amazing Hollywood talent was working incredibly hard to try and bring Alan Moore’s work of genius to the big screen. Sometimes you forget how long and how hard it’s been to get this iconic comic-book to the big screen, and when you walk into a huge room that’s just an encyclopedia of “Watchmen” facts and info, you’re forced to take a step back and appreciate what you’re seeing.

A cool thing I saw in the corner was a “Watchmen” timeline. It listed the dates for the entire universe of “Watchmen” and when every event unfolded. Clearly it was being used by the production to keep track of everything, but I think it’ll make a great add-on to some sort of movie book about the comic when it eventually gets released in 2009.

One of the things that captured everyone’s interest was the Mars stuff. A big part of one of one of the walls had a lot of ideas for Mars and one of the things that looked interesting was how Jon (Dr. Manhattan)would be portrayed. While this was still being put together, with how confident everyone was, I’m sure whatever Zack has in store for Dr. Manhattan in the movie, getting the right look for the character is assured.

After leaving the war room, we walked around and saw a lot of other cool stuff ranging from the prototypes of the toys that DC Direct is working on (I’ll be buying them – they’ve very cool) to pre-vis of some of the big special effects stuff.


That’s another thing about the production offices that would make any “Watchmen” fan freak out: they had everything to make this movie come alive in one place. And while some filmmakers have their pre-vis departments in another state, Zack had his here so he could look at it every day.

While we saw some amazing pre-vis shots that they are planning for the movie, the one that I have to report on was of Dr. Manhattan in Vietnam. The shot they’re planning has Manhattan walking when he’s about 1000 feet tall and the camera pans thru a helicopter so you can see him while gunfire is all around and the music we’ll hear is “Flight of the Valkyries”. Trust me, this shot is going to be amazing….and that’s just one shot! We saw some other stuff that looked just as impressive.

After seeing and touching so many things, I figured the best of the set visit was over. I was wrong.

New York City Streets and the Owl Ship

We got back into out shuttle bus and went to another location that they were still building and it was the New York City streets with a soundstage nearby housing Nite Owl’s ship! While the ship was still being built, we were allowed to go inside and touch the walls and examine the craftsmanship that they were putting into building it. Trust me, when this thing is done, it’ll eventually end up on the Warner Bros. lot as it’s going to be amazing and it looks just like the ship in the comic.

But back to the New York City streets. While everything was still being built and almost nothing was finished, the set was incredibly detailed and expansive. They are building a set that could be filmed from any direction and by building it themselves, they can control every aspect of what you see on screen. While some may wonder about whether or not the production is getting 1985 right….they are. The street is going to be filled with old movie theaters playing adult entertainment and stores selling electronics from the era.

As we continued walking around the city streets we saw Dan Dreiberg’s (Nite Owl II) apartment, saw how the streets will have steam coming out of the sewer pipes like in the comic book, walked around the diner that Dan Dreiberg and Laurie Juspeczyk ate at, and were able to look out the windows of the diner and imagine what these streets will look like when they’re finished and it’s going to look amazing on a movie screen. Again, I just cannot believe how much time and energy are being put into making “Watchmen” come alive. I don’t know how this film won’t be amazing.

After spending a decent amount of time walking around outside in the cold, we once again boarded our shuttle bus and went back to where Dr. Manhattan’s lab was and Rorschach’s apartment. Since we’d been doing things for hours, it was time for lunch and we were all given the freedom to get some food and walk around on our own.

While I’d planned on eating in the tents with the crew, since there were no seats, I decided to walk to Dr. Manhattan’s lab and eat at the table where we’d conducted some of out interviews.

Let me say that again: I ate in Dr. Manhattan’s lab!

If you had told me when I was a kid reading “Watchmen” that one day I’d be on the set interviewing the actors and filmmakers behind the movie and that I’d be eating craft service in Dr. Manhattan’s lab, I would have never believed you. I wish you all could’ve shared in the coolness of sitting there and getting this experience.

After a short break, we started doing more interviews with the cast and here are some of the links: Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Edward Blake/The Comedian), Patrick Wilson (Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II), and Jackie Earle Haley (Walter Kovacs/Rorschach). All of the interviews were great and each of them came across as incredibly excited to be working on the project and they all realized how beloved the graphic novel is. Also, the amount of time and research all of them seem to be putting in made me so happy to hear. This isn’t a paycheck movie to any of these actors; they’re all there due to the script and Zack Snyder.

Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II Prison Fight

After the interviews we then made our way back to where Zack was filming. They were now up to the scene in the prison where Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II were fighting their way through the prison to try and rescue Rorschach.

While sometimes filmmakers want the visiting journalists far away from the set and only watching on monitors, that wasn’t what happened here. In small groups we were led to the set and we were able to stand in some of the jail cells that were off screen and we watched the fight stuff happen right in front of our eyes. Right in front of me I saw Malin Akerman and Patrick Wilson fighting against a number of stunt people in costume! Again, words cannot express how fucking cool it was to see this up close.

After watching this scene get worked on, some of us were able to walk over to where Zack was and see the playback on the monitors. Trust me, this fight scene is going to be amazing. While Zack has clearly added some action that wasn’t in the comic, I think it’s for the best as it shows how tough Nite Owl and the Silk Spectre were. Also, it just looked awesome! The way Zack is placing the camera in certain places and the way he’s going to cut this scene together, it’ll remind people of a certain scene from “300” where Gerard Butler’s King Leonidas is fighting a lot of the invaders at two different speeds. It seems that for part of the prison fight, he’s doing the same thing: slowing certain parts down and speeding other parts up. Again, from what I could tell while standing there, I think people are going to love this.

After my time in the cell was over and it was other’s turns to stand there and watch, I went to where the monitors were for some of the production and journalists and got to see it all play out on the screen. It was also where I got to touch Patrick Wilson’s costume when he stopped over on a break.

An interesting thing he told me was the costume weighed eight pounds and it wasn’t easy to fight in. It’s funny, because when he said that, it made me have a whole new perspective on every superhero movie that features people fighting in costumes. You never think about those kinds of things when watching a movie. You just figure it’s easy to make people look good and also have it maneuverable to fight in.

After a little while of watching the filming on the monitors, it was time for us to leave the set and I’ll admit I could’ve stayed there for another few hours watching. I’ve been to a lot of movie sets and almost always, when it’s time to leave I’m usually ready. Not this time. Being on the set of “Watchmen” was one of those experiences I’ll treasure. I really didn’t want it to end as I knew I wouldn’t be coming back. And as a fan of the graphic novel and director Zack Snyder, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done while working on Collider. I seriously cannot thank everyone at Warner Bros. enough for including me on the set visit.

The Wrap-Up

While I’m sure some fanboys and fangirls are nervous about anyone making a “Watchmen” movie, I say with all honesty I’m extremely confident this film will not disappoint. I walked in hopeful and I left convinced. I really think Snyder has knocked the ball out of the park and this could be the best superhero movie that’s ever been made. While only time will tell if what I just wrote is true, judging from everything I saw this day, it has a hell of a chance.

“Watchmen” is scheduled for release on March 6th, 2009. It’s going to be a long wait.

Want more “Watchmen” coverage:

Director Zack Snyder On Set Interview – WATCHMEN

Jeffrey Dean Morgan On Set Interview – WATCHMEN

Patrick Wilson On Set Interview – WATCHMEN

Matthew Goode On Set Interview – WATCHMEN

Jackie Earle Haley On Set Interview – WATCHMEN

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