From left to right: Director Zack Snyder photographing Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa as the Justice League. Photo courtesy Zack Snyder

Looking into the production of ‘Justice League’

8 mins read

An unprecedented time. An unprecedented opportunity. An army of persuasive fans.

And one very colorful, newly-shot scene.

After four years, director Zack Snyder returns to the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) to complete his vision.  

It’s a new era. Superman (Henry Cavill) is dead and a new villain channeling a very old evil has arrived. Honoring Superman’s sacrifice, Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) must not only work together, but also unite an unlikely group of heroes – Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and The Flash (Ezra Miller) — to fight Steppenwolf, an 8-foot-tall warrior from the nightmare world of Apokolips who wants to conquer not only the earth’s population but the planet’s entire existence.

In his 4-hour epic, Snyder not only assembles Earth’s greatest heroes, but he and writer Chris Terrio explore the depth of their backstories, diving into the complexities of their lives –– introducing us to Victor Stone’s mother Elinore (Karen Bryson) and Iris West (Kiersey Clemons), Barry Allen’s potential love interest. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) gets an emotional story arc, deepening her connection to Superman and his eventual resurrection. Vulko (Willem Dafoe) gives us context for Aquaman’s story. We experience the full range of Silas Stone’s love for his son alongside Cyborg.

According to HBO Max, an extended Justice League allows for extended world building. Never before seen scenes with Deathstroke (Joe Manganiello), Calvin Swanwick/Martian Manhunter (Harry Lennix) and Ryan Choi (Zheng Kai) round out the mythology. We get the opportunity to watch our heroes join forces to eliminate Steppenwolf, much to the chagrin of New God Darkseid, making his first appearance. 

For Snyder, this project is about a sense of closure, for himself, for his producing partner and wife Deborah, for the fans, for all of the cast, crew and artisans who worked on his initial vision. 

None of this would have been possible if it hadn’t been for the fans. Even before the 2017 version of the movie was released, there were rumblings from the fans. First it was quiet. 

After the movie hit theaters in November 2017, it only got louder. People demanded to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut, circulating petitions and pleading with the studio. Once fans learned an actual Snyder Cut existed, they were overjoyed and doubled down on their efforts.

It worked.

Around the time of Comic-Con 2019, and the second anniversary of “Justice League” that November, fans began to bombard Warner Bros. with grand gestures –– billboards, social media campaigns, even sending airplanes to fly over the studio. Stars Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot publicized their endorsements with #ReleaseTheSnyderCut tweets.

“Never in our wildest imaginations did we think we would finish it. We just had this version for ourselves,” Deborah Snyder said. “We knew the money it was going to take to complete the production – there was no music done, over 2500 VFX shots needed to be finished. So, we put together a big presentation: who’s the fan base, what numbers are we looking at, what are numbers in comparison to other hit films for streamers. We felt like if we could make the case that these numbers would translate into subscribers, it would make sense to do it.” 

According to Warner Bros., the Snyders made their presentation to HBO Max, and then COVID-19 hit. Everyone said it was too difficult to get it done, but Deborah Snyder saw things differently. 

The Snyders made their presentation to HBO Max. And then Covid hit. Everyone said it was now too difficult to get it done, but Deborah saw things differently.

“I said, ‘now is the time to do this,’” said Deborah Snyder in a statement. “Because a lot of movies are shutting down. A lot of companies had capacity now, companies that maybe wouldn’t have been able to keep their doors open. It was great to be able to support vendors that we and Warner Bros. had worked with for a long time.”

Just like the alternate universes that comic fans are keenly familiar with, this iteration of creating the Snyderverse was an amalgamation of the past and the present. They would use all existing footage from Snyder’s initial shoot, except for one closing scene that had lived in Snyder’s mind for years. 

Junkie XL (Tom Holkenborg), Snyder’s original “Justice League” composer, came back on to write an entirely new, 4-hour-long score. VFX teams got to work on thousands of shots that had to be completed or redone.

“The tricky part was figuring out the plan without it leaking,” Deborah Snyder said. “We didn’t want it to get out there before there was an agreement or before we could make our own announcement.” “A lot of the vendors went out of their way to make this happen, because for them also it was completing a journey. Their work got reimagined and so to be able to put it back to what we originally planned…. It was as fulfilling for them as it was for us.”

With traditional theatrical venues out of the equation, the Snyders and HBO Max worked together to create a deeply cinematic television experience for subscribers.

The streamer even went so far as to work with the Snyders on an interactive series of “chapters” for the film, which divides it into six parts: 

  • Part 1 –– “Don’t Count On It, Batman”
  • Part 2 –– “Age of Heroes”
  • Part 3 –– “Beloved Mother, Beloved Son”
  • Part 4 –– “Change Machine”
  • Part 5 –– “All The King’s Horses”
  • Part 6 –– “Something Darker.”
  • Epilogue 

According to HBO Max, the time stamp slider on the bottom of the screen will show various distinctions for each chapter. That way, if you only have time to watch one part, it will be easy to return to where you left off. 

“Working with HBO Max is the best possible situation, because you can really take a deep dive into the characters in a way you couldn’t do in a theatrical version of it,” Deborah Snyder said. “There are hard core fans that are going to sit through the movie and people who will sit through a little at a time. It was important to us to make sure that people have options in how they want to view it.”

Bringing a film to life has always proven to be a team effort, but the original team members behind “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” were ecstatic to jump back on board. For some, it was a much-needed culmination of their artistry. Others, struggling from a lack of work due to the pandemic, could put their available time and resources to good use. 

According to Warner Media, a lot of elements that require in-person collaboration (like shooting the movie) were already finished. Most of the visual effects vendors are international, so they work remotely anyway. Snyder was able to work from his home office. And when something absolutely needed to be done in person, all safety precautions were reportedly taken. Like say, for example… a totally new scene involving Batman, The Joker and various other heroes. 

“The idea was that we would do it without telling anybody,” Snyder said. “I talked to Jared and said we’d get him and Ben and shoot it in my backyard…just sneak it into the movie. Then I just wrote the scene and it turned out we could shoot it.”

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. For one thing, it was the height of the pandemic. Actors have notoriously difficult schedules –– especially when they’re all over the world and there’s not a lot of travel happening. Ezra Miller was shooting “Fantastic Beasts” in the United Kingdom and couldn’t make it back and there was a looming deadline. But they were determined to make it work.

“We wanted one brand new thing,” Deborah Snyder said. “All of this was very complicated, but we figured it out. Graciously Ezra’s film crew agreed to shoot it, and Zack directed on Zoom. The unions and studios did a great job of coming up with parameters of how to shoot during COVID. We really had a guidebook –– we followed them which kept everyone safe.”

No one thought about things like latex costumes, which are apparently not as durable as one might think. Deborah Snyder recalled a moment where Affleck went to put on Batman’s cowl and it just sort of crumbled. 

“We didn’t have time to recreate another set of costumes. Luckily it’s post-apocalyptic,” Deborah Snyder said, laughing. “They’re supposed to be in ‘not good shape.’” 

The movie’s score is probably the only element that had to be completely recreated from scratch. According to Warner, Snyder called Dutch composer Junkie XL, who had written the score for the movie’s 2017 iteration, and gave him a blank slate.

“Junkie has been a big collaborator of mine for a while,” Snyder said. “He and Hans Zimmer worked together, and he’s done a couple of movies for me. When I left Justice League, for whatever reason they decided not to use Junkie. And I think he had a similar experience with the movie when I told him we were going to do it again, finish it the way I intended. He was excited to dig back in.”  

And Junkie did. Despite the fact that he had to create an unprecedented 4-hour score in almost total isolation because of the pandemic –– he calls it “my Mountain of Everest” –– the massive project felt like a true labor of love. With less traditional constrictions, Junkie infused each main character’s theme with the lyrical depth of a backstory. 

“The Justice League theme had to feel like an anthem of some country,” Junkie said. “When you hear it you feel like, I want to be part of that – singing it in the stadium with your favorite team playing, a sense of being one.” 

Collaborating with Zimmer on “Man of Steel,” “Batman vs. Superman” and “Wonder Woman,” Junkie had developed some of the earlier themes, which he said “brought back great memories of working together on these movies with Zack.”

“Individually, these characters have one thing in common – a tormented past,” Junkie said. “A lot of darkness and pain and melancholy and sorrow are speaking through their music and I have to find all these different approaches to establish that with each character.” 

Junkie provided an example by comparing Superman to Batman.

“With Batman –– it always turned into anger and a darker look at the world,” Junkie said. “Superman –– everything comes from a place of nobility and seeing the good in people. It’s similar with Wonder Woman, but I wanted to rework her theme with world music elements, because the Amazon tribe felt like a clan.”

Junkie also reimagined the compositions for other notable Justice Leaguers as well.

“Aquaman deserved his own, very heroic theme with some cool solo features,” Junkie said. “Cyborg has a very troubled past –– for him I was able to do almost like a classical musical adagio. There’s a massive scene called Cyborg’s where we see his past and what he became. To write a scene like that is a composer’s dream, like, Wow I can write 15 minutes of music with no sound effects and barely any dialogue? Oh YES.”

Junkie worked with musicians all over the world in nontraditional ways on a nontraditional timeline. While a typical film score is one of the last components of a project that gets completed with hundreds of musicians in one room, this process took many months with Snyder –– a huge music fan himself –– encouraging the composer to go big. The director himself had a hand in song choices that Junkie didn’t compose, from Nick Cave’s “Song to the Siren” to the gorgeous cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” 

“I had been playing around with different needle drops for years,” Snyder said. “You can tell as you watch the movie, that it comes from a very particular kind of place. it’s all very personal.”

This article was composed from source material sent to the Daily Planet by HBO Max.

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Stories published by the Daily Planet are either guest pieces, press releases, articles from outside news sources and/or content that was sent to us.

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