Inspired equally by filmmakers like George Lucas and George A. Romero, writer-director Zack Snyder set out to dazzle audiences from day one of his splashy career. Gaining a reputation as a tireless, inventive and efficient director of sleek commercials for companies like BMW and Nike throughout the 1990s, he eventually made the leap to feature films by directing a hyperkinetic reimagining of Romero's zombie classic "Dawn of the Dead" (2004). Having turned a tidy profit on a modestly budgeted genre picture, Snyder far exceeded studio expectations with his next effort, the highly stylized Spartan epic, "300" (2007), a box-office smash based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller. Nothing if not ambitious, Snyder went on to mount the big-screen adaptation of "Watchmen" (2009), the ground-breaking comic book miniseries written by Alan Moore. Looking to work on something fraught with less potential for controversy, he helmed the CGI family fantasy "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" (2010), then wrote, produced and directed the wildly self-indulgent genre mash-up spectacle "Sucker Punch" (2011), about a young girl (Emily Browning) who escapes the real world horrors of a mental asylum by retreating into her own fantasies. Resuscitating the Superman franchise with the highly-anticipated "Man of Steel" (2013) was merely one more make-or-break challenge for the director. Accused of favoring style over substance by his detractors, Snyder unapologetically offered up his films to the fans as pure popcorn entertainment.
Snyder was born in Green Bay, WI on March 1, 1966. At the age of 11, photography and filmmaking replaced his previous career aspirations to become an animator, after viewing of "Star Wars" (1977) and receiving a Super 8 film camera from his parents. Snyder was hooked on the moviegoing experience, slipping into a screening of George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" (1978) by himself on the sly at the age of 12. Even as a commercial director in the early 1990s, Snyder knew he would make the leap into films. He worked at a breakneck pace, typically directing three commercial spots per month. The locales were exotic and the products were sleek. He was often a top choice for prominent ad agencies, which liked his flexibility with ideas and production schedules. Among countless others, Snyder spent the bulk of the '90s on high profile gigs for the likes of Nike, Reebok, Budweiser, UPS and BMW. In 1996, Snyder met Deborah Johnson, a commercials producer based out of New York who had hired Snyder to direct a spot through the agency Backer Spielvogel Bates. The two clicked personally and professionally over a short California shoot, but Snyder had a wife and Johnson had a boyfriend on the commercial's production team. Years later, in 2002, the two reunited when Johnson brought Snyder on board for a deodorant commercial. While on location in New Zealand, both discovered neither was romantically attached, which made falling in love now less complicated.
By August 2002, Snyder was venturing into the waters of feature filmmaking. His talents had come to the attention of Hollywood, now very much a commercial director-friendly industry. He signed a deal with Columbia Pictures to make a big budget version of the 1975 television series, "S.W.A.T." (2003). When he left the project due to the studio's concerns about his grittier take, he was quickly snagged by Spyglass Entertainment to helm an adaptation of the comic book "Mage," about an ambivalent superhero. That project stalled, but Snyder was soon offered the chance to remake his boyhood favorite, "Dawn of the Dead," by Strike Entertainment producers Marc Abraham and Eric Newman. The two were wary of getting it wrong, but liked Snyder's enthusiasm, as did actress Sarah Polley, an independent film veteran who was famously picky with her studio projects. With a cast spearheaded by Polley and Ving Rhames, Snyder was into production of "Dawn of the Dead" in Toronto by June 2003. After the film wrapped in September, Snyder - by then a father of six - took time to build his relationship with Johnson and raise the four children from his first marriage. He was also weighing the options for his next film project. By January of 2004, Johnson had relocated to Pasadena, CA where Snyder ran a production company, Cruel and Unusual Inc.
"Dawn of the Dead" (2004) was released in March and went on cross the $100 million mark with a budget of just over $25 million. Its success showed Hollywood executives that Snyder could do a lot with a little and primed him for his next passion project, "300." Based on Frank Miller and Lynn Varley's iconic graphic novel about the real battle of Thermopylae in which 300 Spartans fought under King Leonidas to defend their city against the armies of Persian king Xerxes, Snyder would co-write the screenplay with plans to direct. In the meantime, Snyder and Johnson were married in Manhattan on Sept. 25, 2004 and Snyder signed a deal with Paramount Pictures to adapt and direct his military ops novel Rainbow Six.
The ambition to realize "300" on the screen could very well have been a metaphor for the director's career itself. It took some convincing to get Warner Brothers, the studio behind "300," to see the movie could be made using the same digitally-enhanced blue-screen filming that was employed by another of Miller's properties, "Sin City" (2005). Things gelled when he found his King Leonidas during a brief coffee shop meeting with Scottish actor Gerard Butler, formerly best known for playing the Phantom in Joel Schumacher's big screen remake, "Phantom of the Opera." Now armed with a budget relatively small for the action genre, Snyder spent four months shooting the film entirely on sound stages. In June 2006, Snyder boarded the troubled big-budget production of another beloved comic book property. Paramount Pictures had acquired the rights to Alan Moore's "Watchmen" (2008) from Universal Pictures after the film's development stalled, due to enormous budgets under director Paul Greengrass, who had replaced previously-attached director Darren Aronofsky. It was revived when the studio was convinced through the early footage of "300," that Snyder could streamline the costs while keeping the story's impact intact.
While continuing to fine-tune the post-production elements of "300" over the bulk of 2006, Snyder inked a deal to write and direct an adaptation of the comic book, Cobalt 60, detailing the trials of a post-apocalyptic vigilante superhero. In early 2007, "300" was released to theaters and Snyder was at that time doing full-time duty on "Watchmen," combining the various screenplays and refining them into one, with an eye towards entering the casting process. "With "Rainbow Six" languishing in the development process, Snyder was ready to give himself completely to his next project, "Watchmen" (2009), the highly-anticipated and deeply contested adaptation of the popular comic book series. Though the project was originally in development at 20th Century Fox, it was eventually produced by Warner Bros. But Fox later claimed rights to the profits, citing that their original development deal allowed this if another studio distributed the film. Warner Bros. fought the action, but was eventually denied. Fox and Warner Bros. settled their dispute in early 2009. Snyder later said that the lawsuit never disrupted shooting.
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Directed first animated film, "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole"
Directed and co-wrote with Steve Shibuya the action fantasy film "Sucker Punch"