SDCC 2010: Zack Snyder and Debbie Snyder Interview SUCKER PUNCH

     July 25, 2010


Shortly after the Sucker Punch trailer made its debut during the Warner Bros. panel at Comic-Con, I was able to discuss the film with writer/director Zack and producer (and wife) Debbie Snyder in a small roundtable interview. Although it actually lacked a table and, according to Deborah, was only a rousing chorus of “Kumbaya” away from a campfire, the interview allowed the pair to shed light on the ambitious project, talk about identifying and bending the rules of dream-related films, bestow Scott Glenn the coolest person on planet Earth, and update the status of the recently confimed Xerxes. Hit the jump for bulleted highlights as well as a full transcript of the interview.

For more info on Sucker Punch, check out Matt’s coverage of the panel. Briefly, the film revolves around an ensemble cast of women who are imprisoned in a mental institution and work together to help one escape prior to being both lobotomized and defiled by a vile man (I hate it when either of those things happens, much less on the same day).

Here’s the bullet point recap:

On using dreams within the film

  • Every dream runs parallel with the adventure taking place in reality
  • Dreaming big is a core concept at play, thus explaining the exaggerated imagery (i.e. ten-foot samurai’s)
  • Wanted to challenge the conventions/expectations of how dream actions have consequences in reality
  • Joked that the film only utilizes three levels of reality, as opposed to the four levels in Inception, because Inception had a bigger budget

On the film not being in 3D

  • Warner Bros. did not put any pressure on them to release in 3D
  • They were spoiled by the beauty of the 3D used in Legend of the Guardians and didn’t want the “3D vibe” often present in post-conversion

On Xerxes

  • They have Frank Miller’s detailed outline and are writing the story based upon his panels….Currently they are a little ahead of him and may have to go back and make changes once he submits more material
  • The story runs parallel to 300, eventually running past it, and covers the Persian invasion of Greece known as the Battle of Artemisium

Note: As this was a roundtable interview, each of the five participants were able to ask questions. What I’m trying to say is, any questions you think are lame, assume I didn’t ask them. Any questions you find to be insightful, assume I stayed up all night working on. That said…

Here’s the full transcript:

Sucker Punch seems to deal a lot with dreams and blurring the line between dreams and reality. With Inception dealing in similar themes about dreaming, one of the problems I had with that film was that it was so straightforward. I don’t dream like that and, judging from the trailer, you don’t seem to either.

Zack Snyder: Yeah, I don’t dream like that either. I dream in a different way. I guess that’s what our movie is about, for me anyway. You know, one of the procedural parts of the movie is that when one of the girls fantasizes or whatever you want to call it, their adventure parallels a little adventure they’re doing in reality. Like, for instance, they need to steal a lighter from a dude that has a dragon itched on it. It’s the simplest thing ever. That’s what they’re really doing. Baby Doll’s version of it is what you see, you know, that’s the movie – or part of it. So, when she closes her eyes, they go to another freakin’ world, they fight a dragon, they have a B-25 with a jet engine, they finally slit the baby dragon’s throat and then–

Debbie Snyder: They steal the fire.

Z. Snyder: Absolutely, they steal the fire. She ends up killing the dragon and when she comes to, and the music ends, that object has been stolen because she has successfully distracted the person they need to distract. There’s like this kind of super-simple, straightforward procedural part of it, but then there’s like this insane, when she actually does fantasize, it’s like a fantasy. I just use my own imagination as a template. So, yeah, I guess the characters in the movie do dream big.

How much of the movie is made up of those fantasies and how much of it is more of the real world?

Z. Snyder: In a percentage (laughs)?

D. Snyder: There’s four of the fantasies.

So, is much more taking place in reality?

D. Snyder: Well, there’s kind of three levels of reality.

Like Inception?

Z. Snyder: I think Inception had four levels of reality. So, we didn’t have quite as much money (laughs).

D. Snyder: Basically, the real world is bookended almost like Wizard of Oz. I always think of it that way.

Z. Snyder: So, what’s happening is that there’s a giant tornado at the beginning (laughs). But really, it is bookended.

And there’s multiple levels of the fantasy? Could you expand on that?

Z. Snyder: Yeah, so Baby is committed to the insane asylum by her stepfather who wants her lobotomized so that she won’t be able to testify or tell the police what he’s done to her. He pays the evil orderly off and the guy’s like, “No problem, but it’s going to take me a little while because we don’t have a doctor here that can do the lobotomy.” So, in five days, the guy’s coming to do it and so in those five days she comes up with a plan to escape because she wants to get out before that happens. That’s really, sort of, the story of the movie: that she can help these girls and the other girls want to help her get out because they want to get out. But then, somewhere along the way, she actually starts imagining that this insane asylum is a brothel, and that she is a virgin, and that–

D. Snyder: In five days, she’s going to be deflowered.

Z. Snyder: This rich guy’s coming to take her virginity.

So that’s were all the Internet-chatter about prostitution came from?

Z. Snyder: Yes, exactly. In that reality, the shows that the girls do are shows they do for the men that come to that club and because she isn’t a performer yet, she doesn’t work out in the club, Mrs. Schulz (Carla Gugino) wants to train her to dance and become one of the girls. Problem is, Baby’s real shy and so each one of the fantasies is her kind of learning more about, you know, she closes her eyes whenever she dances, and we never see her dance, but what we see is the fantasy.

But the fantasy has repercussions in the world of reality?

D. Snyder: Everything ripples back to reality.

director_zack_snyder_imageZ. Snyder: Yeah, and the trick is, what I tried to do is fuck with that a little bit too because I didn’t want it to be like one of those procedural things where like they say, “Oh, if I stab your leg, your leg starts bleeding in reality!” That was a thing that, I was aware of that convention and I wanted to kind of fuck with it.

A convention stemming from something like Nightmare on Elm Street?

Z. Snyder: Yeah, exactly. But it’s like one of the main rules of dream-making movies is that you have to, you know, “If I die here, if I die in the matrix, do I die in real life?” It’s like, “Yes, okay? Well, that’s a bummer.”

D. Snyder: I think at the end of the day it’s about, when things are so bad, where do you go, what do you do to escape that, how do you cope with that? A lot of times you’ll visualize somewhere else, you want to be somewhere else and I think Baby Doll finds strength, like she goes to a different place and actually each time she seems to get a little bit more strength and a little bit more strength.

Z. Snyder: Yeah, Scott Glenn is kind of like her Yoda.

How awesome is Scott Glenn?

Z. Snyder: He’s the most awesome person on planet Earth. He’ll say, “Listen, Zack, I know we have to do ADR (advanced dialogue replacement) but I’ve gotta go. I’m flying out to Hawaii to go deep sea spear fishing,” where he free dives down like forty feet and kills these giant deep sea tuna while sharks are circling him. But not bullshit either, by the way, like I would tell it as bullshit, but he’s like, “Oh yeah, and on the way back I got my new leathers, my Ducati, and I gotta go check that out and I gotta go to WellSprings, just get my leather broken in and then I’m gonna shoot some machine guns,” and I’m like okay, whatever, you’re like the most awesome person in the world.

He plays a sensei or something like that?

Z. Snyder: Sort of, I mean, because it all sort of folds back around on itself so like, in the end, you’re like, “Oh, okay,” but yes, for practical purposes he is Baby Doll’s Yoda.

I really like the uniqueness of the film’s approach: a gritty, violent, fantasy-based, primarily female-driven story. Could you talk a little about how that idea came about and what type of audience you hope to appeal to?

Z. Snyder: Well, I hope the film will appeal to, you know, everybody because I don’t think that boys are going to see the images and be like, “I don’t want to watch that, it’s about a bunch of girls with machine guns.”

D. Snyder: By the way, there’s sexy girls, orcs, samurai, and all these creatures.

Like real orcs?

Z. Snyder: We had to cast real ones.

How many genres does the film touch upon? It seems like there is steampunk, there is a fantasy element, then there’s flat out science fiction, then there’s gothic horror, can you give us a list?

Z. Snyder: I don’t know if I have a list, but I can tell you that really for me it was just about, again this whole dreaming concept of just like why not? I’d be like, “No, it’s a bigger mecca and it’s like the samurai are ten feet tall, how about that? How cool would that be? Maybe one of the samurai has a mini-gun and maybe one of the samurai has a rocket-launcher.”

D. Snyder: It’s really a lot of fun.


You guys have talked about the decision not to make the film in 3D. That seems like a really hard decision to get away with because everyone seems to be getting pressured into 3D.

Z. Snyder: You know, I think it has a little bit to do with, for me anyway and for the movie itself, is that we don’t want this movie to feel like it was made in a board room because it really wasn’t. Warner Brothers has given us an awesome opportunity and they themselves didn’t want to like cheapen that. I really believe that.

D. Snyder: They saw the first visuals and it really didn’t need it.

Z. Snyder: They were like, “Okay, this movie’s out of its mind.”

D. Snyder: They were like, “This will hurt us more than it will help us,” and we really did not have faith that we could do it especially after working on Guardians which is made in 3D.

Is that because you would want to shoot it in 3D?

Z. Snyder: Yeah, it’s just, once we’ve been spoiled by this kind of baked in 3D that we created for Guardians where every bit of it is perfectly rendered, to kind of go and do a half-ass like, this is how good it can be, because that is how you qualify it, it’s like, it’s cool, but if you shot it that way it would be way cooler. They were like, “we can kind of get you a 3D vibe from the conversion,” but I was like, “I don’t want a 3D vibe.”

D. Snyder: I think there’s enough ways not to do it out there and I think, to Warner’s credit, they were really supportive in that they didn’t want to screw it up either.

I was looking at some of the toys at the convention and there was a big “mecca bunny thing.” I’m interested in hearing what the significance of the bunny is to have its own toy.

Z. Snyder: It’s just awesome (laughs).

D. Snyder: But also there’s a significance in the bunny. A lot of things play in the different levels of reality. We tried to use pieces because, think about it, when you dream a lot of times it might not be a total picture and if you’re stressed out about something you get pieces and little hints of things and that’s what we wanted to do. So, the bunny is Baby Doll’s sister’s toy that’s on her bed and something tragic happens to her so I think it’s very haunting.

Z. Snyder: But the mecca itself, it’s just awesome.

In the footage we saw that you had Led Zeppelin in there but you said that you may not get the rights to it.

D. Snyder: Oh, we did get the rights! You know it’s funny because years ago you didn’t really have to go and license any music for Comic-Con, but I think that there was a lawsuit like last year and Warner said, “Now, anything that’s shown, we have to license everything.” We were like, “We’re never going to get them, Zeppelin never does this kind of stuff.” So we were like, “Please! Please! Please!” and we couldn’t believe it because it was just so perfect and they said, “Okay, in case we can’t get it…” they showed us like ten different things and we were like no, I don’t think so.

What was the other music in there? The techno music?

D. Snyder: It’s Lords of Acid.

I just want to ask the inevitable question really fast, you recently closed the writing deal on Xerxes, is there anything you can say about the project?

Z. Snyder: Yeah, I don’t know if they said it in the article, I’m basically using Frank’s frames to kind of whackadus the story. We’re using basically the same process that Kurt and I used when we wrote 300 except, you know, sometimes we don’t have any images, because we’re a little bit ahead of him right now, but uh–

D. Snyder: We have an outline from him.

Z. Snyder: Yeah, we have his outline, we have his dialogue, it’s pretty detailed. We may have to go back once we get some pictures to sort of fill in stuff if there’s something cool, which there certainly will be. But, you know, it follows through the Battle of Artemisium, which is basically a sea battle that took place during the exact same three days as Thermopylae, so it’s kind of a parallel story. It kind of starts before 300 and goes past it.

Sucker Punch opens March 25th, 2011 and stars Emily Browning (The Uninvited), Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical), Jena Malone (Into the Wild), Jamie Chung (Sorority Row), Abbie Cornish (Stop-Loss), Carla Gugino (Watchmen), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), and Scott Glenn (W.).

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