In March 2019, nearly a year before the pandemic turned the world upside down, fans of alum, Trustee and filmmaker Zack Snyder (BFA 89 Film) traveled from as far away as Australia to gather at ArtCenter’s Hillside Campus for an event titled Zack Snyder: The Director’s Cuts.
Over three nights at “SnyderFest,” people consumed blue Doctor Manhattans, wore T-shirts specially designed for the event by artist Alex Pardee, and huddled together in a darkened theater to watch director’s cuts of Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead (2004), Watchmen (2009) and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), followed by Q&As with the films’ casts and crews.
The reason for this event was not to drum up speculation as to whether Snyder’s oft-rumored director’s cut, aka “the Snyder cut,” of Justice League would see the light of day. (Spoiler alert: It did, a year later on HBO Max, to both critical and popular acclaim.) Rather, it was a fundraiser to kick off the renovation of the College’s Ahmanson Auditorium, a space on campus both near (literally, as he lives minutes from the campus) and dear to the filmmaker’s heart.
“A few years ago, I noticed the theater was literally unchanged since I went to school here,” says Snyder, sitting at a picnic table at Hillside Campus on a warm summer day, shortly after doing a walkthrough of the construction site with Rollin Homer, ArtCenter’s vice president, facilities and campus planning. “Even the chairs were the same.”
“But if somebody is screening a movie up here—and I’m saying this as somebody who loves this campus and its history—it should be in a world-class theater,” Snyder continues. “That way students will get the most out of the presentation.”
The renovation is being conducted by Darin Johnstone Architects, the same firm that has reimagined numerous spaces for the College—including the dramatic transformation of South Campus’ 870 building from a former post office facility into the light-filled home of the Fine Art and Illustration programs—and will bring the Ahmanson’s screening capabilities squarely into the 21st century, allowing the College to project films both digitally and in 35mm, along with Dolby Atmos acoustics and, yes, comfy new seats with excellent sightlines.
Snyder, who once referred to Hillside Campus as “the Jedi Temple,” looks forward to any opportunity he gets to return to the College. “I did some crazy projects up here,” says Snyder, with a laugh, as he points to the nearby film stages. “I built a big set over there, and there was fire involved. It didn’t get out of hand, but it looked really cool. At least at first. I got into a little bit of trouble.”
These days, Snyder is still working on crazy projects. Just two months after Zack Snyder’s Justice League came out, Netflix released Army of the Dead, a zombie apocalypse heist film set in the ruins of Las Vegas. Snyder is working on several projects for Netflix that are set in the same universe as Army of the Dead—first up is prequel film Army of Thieves, which comes out October 29, to be followed by Lost Vegas, an animated prequel series, set to debut in 2022. Snyder will also be directing an epic sci-fi fantasy film for Netflix titled Rebel Moon, which will go into production in early 2022.
But back to the zombie apocalypse for a second.
Eagle-eyed viewers of Army of the Dead will notice an ArtCenter alum Easter Egg, a billboard on the side of a decimated Las Vegas tower that reads, “Master of Illusion–Larry Fong.” What’s that about?
Well, in addition to directing Army of the Dead, Snyder also served as that film’s cinematographer. However, Snyder frequently works with cinematographer Larry Fong (BFA 89 Film), a College classmate who has shot four of the director’s films to date. Snyder says it was only appropriate to try to squeeze Fong into the production somehow, so he asked Fong to send him a shot of himself with playing cards and striking a magic pose.
“He was like, ‘I got it,’ and sent it over,” says Snyder of the Easter egg. “Somebody else asked Larry about that billboard and he said, ‘Oh yeah, there are stock photos of me in a magic pose.’ No, there aren’t. He set it up.”
Long before Snyder and Fong began their journey of collaborating on features, the two made their first film together in a class titled Basics of Cinema 2, a course in which students shot a Super 8 film every two weeks. That course was so seminal to Snyder’s development as a filmmaker that he says he’d like to teach a similar course at ArtCenter in the near future.
“The idea for the class would be that students shoot a film entirely on their iPhones every two weeks,” he says, adding that the briefs would vary from shooting a period piece to making something scary. “I’d leave things wide open, because the whole point of the class would be to push the craft of storytelling—to create an environment where the distractions of gear and gak are removed, and the constraints of rigid guidelines are absent."
"It would just be the filmmakers’ stories, their ideas, their points of view—all captured on this one simple device," adds Snyder. "I look forward to the opportunity to see the amazing stories the young filmmakers will tell, and to see those films in the newly renovated Ahmanson.”