‘Justice League’ producer Deborah Snyder shares how she and husband Zack overcame the grief of their daughter’s suicide to make the ‘Snyder cut’ a reality

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Deborah Snyder. Eli Snyder
  • Deborah Snyder is revealing more about the moment she had to walk away from “Justice League.”
  • “Zack just said to me, ‘I can’t do this anymore,'” Snyder told Insider.
  • Snyder also reported an incident involving Joss Whedon before “Justice League” opened in 2017.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Deborah Snyder was in a hotel room having just spent a day talking to journalists while promoting 2017’s “Wonder Woman” when her husband and producing partner, Zack Snyder, completely hit a wall.

“Zack just said to me, ‘I can’t do this anymore,'” the producer told Insider over a Zoom call from her home office in Los Angeles.

The two had just buried Zack’s 20-year-old daughter, Autumn, who died by suicide in March 2017.

Snyder and Zack thought they could handle the work despite their loss. Deep in production on their ill-fated film “Justice League,” they mixed grieving with shouldering a movie that Warner Bros. desperately needed to be a hit.

Featuring iconic superhero characters – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash – in the same movie, “Justice League” was to be DC Comics’ answer to Marvel’s hugely successful “The Avengers.”

“We thought going back to work would make it easier and take our minds off of it,” she said. “I think in hindsight you really have to face things and not put them in the background.”

The two exited the project before it was finished. When Warner Bros. released it later that year, it resulted in a subpar $US658 ($AU890) million worldwide box-office gross on a $US300 ($AU406) million budget (not counting marketing). Notably, it was not the version that Snyder and her husband had spent years trying to get to the screen.

It had been severely reconfigured by Joss Whedon, the same director that Snyder would later have to report to the studio, alleging inappropriate behavior on the movie’s set.

Since 2017, fans have been on a quest, fueled by the hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut, to get Warner Bros. to show that version of the movie. Finally, Snyder, 57, and her husband are set to release the true version of “Justice League,” or, as the internet has dubbed it, the “Snyder cut.”

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Deborah and Zack Snyder at the premiere of ‘300.’ Kevin Winter/Getty

Snyder has been the driving force behind Zack’s movies since ‘300’ became a megahit

Snyder began her career as a production assistant at the ad agency Backer Spielvogel Bates and worked her way up in the industry. By 1996, she had become an executive producer. That’s when she hired an up-and-coming director to helm a Lady Foot Locker commercial.

“We went to this desert, and we actually didn’t have any permits for this one shot of this mountain climber,” Snyder told Insider, recalling how scared she was when a park ranger hassled her for one. “That was my first job with Zack.”

They continued to work together and married in 2004. Zack brought along six kids, including Autumn, his adopted daughter. Snyder and Zack then adopted two children.

Along with raising their large family, Snyder became more involved in Zack’s work.

“When Zack was doing ‘Dawn of the Dead,’ I had so many opinions. I remember being in the edit room with the studio execs and the producer there, and I was like, you can’t be doing that for a sequence,” she said. “They had this look like, who is this chick?”

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‘300.’ Warner Bros.

“Dawn of the Dead,” a 2004 remake of George A. Romero’s 1978 classic zombie movie, put Zack on the map, making over $US100 ($AU135) million worldwide on a $US26 ($AU35) million budget. But it’s not a coincidence that when Snyder turned away from the ad-business world and began producing Zack’s movies, his next film would make him a star.

That 2006 film, “300,” an adaptation of Frank Miller’s highly fictionalized graphic-novel retelling of the bloody Battle of Thermopylae, brought in a whopping $US456 ($AU616) million at the worldwide box office on a $US65 ($AU88) million budget.

“She has amazing taste, and she gets ideas quickly, which is a great skill as a producer,” Zack told Insider, looking back on his wife’s evolution. “She was all about the work, and the work was the most important thing.”

Suddenly the Snyders were one of the leading directing-producing duos in Hollywood. Their stature only increased when Christopher Nolan offered them the 2013 Superman movie “Man of Steel.” (Nolan has executive-produced all the DC Comic movies the Snyders have made.)

The Snyders were now the leaders of Warner Bros.’ DC movie universe; they made 2016’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and produced 2016’s “Suicide Squad” and 2017’s “Wonder Woman.”

It would lead to Zack helming “Justice League,” the tentpole in the DC Extended Universe. It should have been the culmination of years of hard work building a franchise from scratch.

But it all fell apart.

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Deborah Snyder. Jun Sato/Getty

Snyder learned of an ‘incident’ involving Joss Whedon before ‘Justice League’ opened in theaters and reported it to Warner Bros.

The two planned to take a year off to focus on their family following their daughter’s death. It turned into two years.

Whedon, the director of Marvel’s “The Avengers” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” who was already doing rewrites of “Justice League,” was brought on to complete it. That was a disastrous choice. Much of Snyder’s footage was pushed aside for Whedon’s reshoots, and the “Justice League” set under Whedon’s control reportedly became an uncomfortable place to work.

On July 1, 2020, close to three years after “Justice League” opened in theaters, Ray Fisher, the actor who plays Cyborg in the movie, tweeted that Whedon’s behavior on set “was gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable.”

Other stars from the movie spoke out, including Jason Momoa, who plays Aquaman, and Gal Gadot, who plays Wonder Woman.

An investigation by WarnerMedia concluded in 2020 with no details given except that “remedial action” was being taken.

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‘Justice League.’ Warner Bros.

Snyder said Fisher’s revelation was not a surprise to her because after leaving the movie she was notified of an inappropriate incident involving Whedon.

“There was one incident I was aware of that I had reported back to the studio right before the movie came out,” she said. “I went to the higher-ups that someone came to me about Joss.

“I think it was resolved in a way that the person was happy with,” Snyder continued. “That’s all I can really say.”

WarnerMedia confirmed Snyder’s report to Insider but had no further comment. Reps for Whedon declined to comment.

Snyder and Zack always strove to create a safe workplace, so it was painful to hear what had happened on set once they left, Snyder said. But despite the changes to the movie and the Whedon allegations, Snyder and Zack never thought of taking their names off “Justice League” when it was released, she said.

“The way I saw it, it was not our movie, but we owed so much to so many people for these years, starting with ‘Man of Steel,'” she said. “It was a very difficult time.”

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Zack and Deborah Snyder at the premiere of ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.’ Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty

The Snyder cut would never have been possible if it weren’t for streaming, Snyder says

The four-hour “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” will be released on HBO Max and in theaters internationally on March 18.

After the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement got so big that Warner Bros. could no longer ignore it, and after HBO Max became a reality last year, Zack was asked if he would make a version of “Justice League” the way he wanted.

Snyder said it was Nolan who was helpful in getting Zack back to work.

“A lot of times directors don’t get to talk very often, so I think through this process it’s been nice, because outside of Chris, Zack hadn’t talked to a lot of people,” Snyder said.

The Snyder cut is colossally different from the 2017 theatrical release in tone and structure.

Told over six chapters with an epilogue, the movie has a new beginning and ending. But the biggest difference is that it delves much deeper into all the characters as they try to recover the mother boxes from the villain Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) and bring Superman (Henry Cavill) back to life to help in the battle.

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A teaser image of ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League,’ aka the Snyder cut. HBO Max

Whedon’s contributions are gone, including Cyborg saying “booyah” and a story line about a Russian family that needs to be saved from parademons. So is Whedon’s screenwriting credit.

Despite the conflicting reports of how much had to be shot to make the Snyder cut a reality, Snyder said there was only one new scene – everything else had already been shot during principal photography and just needed to be edited back into the movie. The gargantuan task was pulling off 2,656 new visual-effects shots in seven months.

“It was an enormous undertaking,” Snyder said. “Some of the effects we had to redo because it wasn’t in our style. And Zack wanted to go back and put in some of the early character designs. We really put everything back in.”

Snyder told Insider that if their family tragedy hadn’t happened, the 2017 release would not be what “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is today; HBO Max made that possible.

“The studio wanted things different than we wanted,” she said. “Just theatrically what you’re allowed to do is different. I feel streaming affords risk-taking and character development and so many things.”

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Snyder on the set of ‘Army of the Dead.’ Clay Enos

The Snyders will delve deeper into the non-theatrical space when they launch their Netflix zombie heist movie, “Army of the Dead,” on May 21. It’s expected to be the start of a franchise for the streaming giant.

Where does that leave “Justice League” sequels?

“I’m just going to celebrate this now,” Snyder said of finally getting the Snyder cut into the world.

“My best asset as a producer is to be nimble,” she added. “You have a plan, but that plan is probably going to fall apart at some point and you need to come up with another plan and keep moving.”

HBO Max will release “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” on March 18.