Zack Snyder’s Army Of The Dead is releasing on Netflix on 21 May 2021. It’s basically a zombie heist movie, and Snyder isn’t a stranger to zombie films, as he previously directed the 2004 Dawn Of The Dead remake, which was also his directorial debut.
The synopsis for Army Of The Dead reads:
“Following a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, a group of mercenaries take the ultimate gamble, venturing into the quarantine zone to pull off the greatest heist ever attempted.”
The cast includes Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana De La Reguera, Theo Rossi, Matthias Schweighöfer, Nora Arnezeder, Hiroyuki Sanada, Garret Dillahunt, Tig Notaro, Raúl Castillo, Huma Qureshi, Samantha Win, Richard Cetrone and Michael Cassidy.
We managed to attend a virtual press conference with Zack Snyder himself, courtesy of Netflix Malaysia. Stay tuned for our review of the movie soon.
Q: It’s been a long time since Army Of The Dead was originally announced in 2007. Can you give us a glimpse into how the project ended up getting released?
A: Yeah, I came up with the idea for the story for Army Of The Dead right after Dawn Of The Dead, to be honest. Then, we kicked it around. It was written but I wasn’t going to direct it; we had another director. We couldn’t get the budget right and we talked about it again later on. Warner Bros didn’t want to do it.
Finally, I was talking with the guys at Netflix and I just mentioned it as an idea that I had. They were like; “That sounds amazing, so go do that!”. I said there was a script but I said I wanted to start it from scratch. It wasn’t really written for me to direct and if I’m the director, I really wanted to kind of write it myself.
So, I got Shay Hatten to partner with me and we wrote the script. And then we went right ahead and shot it. We wrote it pretty quick because I knew it really well. We went and shot it. When we finished it, Netflix was like, “This is great, let’ s go do it.” and so yeah, that’s how it got to where we are now.
Q: Was there a reason why you chose Las Vegas as the setting for Army Of The Dead?
A: Well, look, the best zombie movies have social commentary and I just felt like, with the casinos and humans, Las Vegas would make a good zombie origin area. It’s also a place with a lot of money.
Q: How has the experience of shooting zombie films changed for you 17 years after Dawn Of The Dead?
A: For me, I guess the relationship between Army Of The Dead and Dawn Of The Dead, yes, the similarities. I feel like where I am right now and shooting the movie myself is really a completely different experience.
It was a really kind of a re-connection with cinema for me. You know, doing these giant superhero movies, you get further and further away from the camera. For me, just shooting the movie and operating, this incredible sort of re-connection is a joyous experience.
Though I had a great time doing Dawn Of The Dead, this was really kind of my favourite cinematic processes; the process of making the film was satisfying.
Q: What sets Army Of The Dead apart from other zombie movies?
A: Personally, a lot of things, but more than anything, when I did Dawn Of The Dead, it was based on another film and this (Army Of The Dead) is based on original IP so it’s really a chance for me to create a world, frankly.
I think that getting the chance to create this world from scratch was really fun and I think for the audience, they’re just going to sort of go into a zombie world they’ve never seen before.
Q: Do you have a cameo in Army Of The Dead?
A: Yes, you can certainly watch Army Of The Dead a hundred times over to find Zack Snyder and you will. You have to be super observant, it’s a very tricky moment but I’m there. I’m operating a camera and it’s in a mirror.
By the way, you have to be really careful to see it because it’s only two frames but it’s in there for sure. We were going to take it out but I told them to leave it, it’s good.
Q: With most people now consuming more content at home via TV than going to the cinema due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, did that change your philosophy or perception or process of creating films in any way?
A: You know, probably not and I’ll tell you why. I felt like when I decided to make Army Of The Dead, I knew it was going to be straight to the streaming service. There was no discussion, Netflix didn’t say, “Oh, maybe we’re releasing it in theatres too.” That’s only been a recent evolution for this film and I hope it’s just because they’re confident with the film and they just want people to see it in the theatre, which I’m very excited about.
But I did make it specifically for your TV. My approach to it was that I wanted to make a big giant movie for you regardless. Like you’re going to watch it on your TV. You’re basically watching a movie that, if it were up to me and in a normal world, you’d be seeing this on a big giant blockbuster worldwide theatrical opening but I said no, no, I want that quality of a movie but you’re getting it at home day one when it comes out.
Q: The film centres around a father-daughter relationship. Can you share the inspiration behind that story and the soul of this movie?
A: The father-daughter relationship has always been the core of the movie. Frankly, it’s evolved quite a bit as I evolved. When I was writing those scenes between Kate Ward (Ella Purnell) and Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), my own experience with my own children plays a huge role. The catharsis and knowing that your children can hurt you with a word worse than anybody but they can also bring you joy, your greatest sorrow and your greatest pain can come from your children, your greatest highs and your greatest lows.
So, I just brought that sort of pain and joy to writing this relationship between Scott and Kate. There’s this great bit in the movie where Scott’s like, you’re not going with us on the thing and she’s like, okay, that’s cool, I won’t go, you’ll go, I’ll probably go in, I’ll die and that’s on you, so what do you want to do? And he’s like, are you serious?
Q: Where do you see the zombie genre going in the future?
A: Of course, I’m sure thousands of genius and creative people are thinking about zombie movies right now and they’re going to come up with amazing other iterations or stories or whatever that is set in ancient Rome or Napoleonic France or the future. Wherever those things happening, they’re going to be amazing. So, yes, always a fan and excited about whatever creative endeavours people are stirring up in their minds.
For me, I know where I want to take it and it’s pretty crazy, so you know, we’ll see.
Q: What do you think about which zombies are the scariest?
A: I think Zeus (the male leader of the zombie horde in Army Of The Dead) is pretty scary and also Athena. That’s the actress’ name who played the zombie queen and Spider who plays the zombie general who’s with the zombie queen when they come out.
Those guys are stunt people I’ve worked with for years and they’re amazing. Athena and I actually met on this movie, she was new. But Spider and Richard Cetrone, who played Zeus, have been in every movie I’ve made. He’s great. There’s a huge acting element to the performance that Rich gives as Zeus.
The interesting about them is that the zombies in Army Of The Dead represent an evolution and because they’re not ambitious. They are formidable, they have zombie tigers and horses. You clearly can’t beat them in a fight. They’re like wolves or lions. If all lions were like, let’s procreate or create an army and go out and conquer the world, lions would be problematic, they would probably do really good in that way.
But our alpha zombies are not really ambitious in that way because they kind of mind their own business. And it’s only when poked by us that they act out.
Q: What was the casting experience like?
A: I always had fun casting. In this movie, I really wanted a diverse cast, a cast that was globally representative. I really cast them individually, I didn’t look at them as a package yet. I’ll do that when the time comes. I wanted to nail each of them and see what happens. It’s exactly as you would if you get together a team of guys who take you to a zombie-infested Las Vegas and you’ll be like, okay, what is your skillset and I need you.
I was like doing that for the movie but then, when they come together as a group, there’s where as a group of individuals and they form a bond in the movie. Because I was with them, not in a tent looking at a TV screen, because I was operating the camera, and they were right there, I felt like somehow I was with them. That was the experience of making the movie. I’m with them on the journey and like the last guy on the team.
Q: How did you approach the humour in Army Of The Dead?
A: I credit that to a lot of the performers, especially Matthias Schweighöfer (who plays Ludwig Dieter). He did an amazing job as the safecracker. He brought this fun naivete to the group. We already shot with him a movie which he directed, a prequel to Army Of The Dead, where we learn about Dieter’s backstory and why he loves Gotterdammerung, the safe that we see in the movie, why he knows it. He’s fun and funny.
Shay and I were like, okay, what about this story for Dieter and we brainstorm it over the weekend and then we pitched it and they were like, it’s cool, and those guys went and shot it. Getting the humour right is getting the actor right most of the times, the tone. There was this particular tone that I was trying to maintain where you’re constantly on the edge where the movie doesn’t break.
As soon as the movie breaks, none of the stakes means anything. You’ll know it’s all fake. The trick is to keeping you in. Frankly, the comedy is like a little steam or pressure release so that they could put it back harder next time.
Q: Are there any other easter eggs in Army of The Dead?
A: There are a few easter eggs. There’s one in particular in one of the opening shots of the movie if you look carefully at it. I think it’s one of the first two or three shots in the movie. You’ll see something in the sky. Where do zombies come from? It’s probably Area 51, and so, there’s a relationship between. The dialogue among the guys in the truck is starting to tell that story a little bit. And then taking a deep dive into that concept in the movie. You’ll find more clues to that within the context of some of the zombies.
Wait until you see the anime prequel that tells the origin story of the zombie. You won’t be disappointed (hint: zombies in space). We’re drawing it right now.
Q: What do you want viewers to take away from Army Of The Dead?
A: I guess for me, you know, it depends on the viewer. The movie is sort of custom made for viewers of all kinds. If you want to watch the movie and just have fun for two hours and 28 minutes, then, by all means, that’s what the movie should be for you.
If you want to take a real deep dive into what zombies are mythological-ly to the human race and you want to write your Masters’ thesis about the zombie genre or how they socially represent holding up a mirror to ourselves, how we interact with casinos or all of the different ways that the mythological comes through the zombies. That’s fine too.
If you want to be political and you want to talk about the wall and the refugee camps and that whole other part of it, that’s also a movie for you. Or if you want to be excited about the heist part of it, they’re going to go get the money or the father-daughter relationship, that’s what I really want the movie to be. I really want it to bespoke to the viewer in that way.