Let me start by saying that this is a thankless story. It’s not easy to cover; It never has been; And all it does is make the reporters who have attempted to cover it look grossly insensitive. And, while there certainly have been reporters who have relished in their own brazen cynicism, there are others- like me- who’ve tried to simply share what I know with the world and have ended up taking a beating because of it. I can’t even tell you how many people berated me on twitter in the months following my breaking of the story that Justice League was essentially being remade.
From scrutinizing my sources, to mocking my understanding of how film production works, to childish name-calling and personal attacks, trying to pass along this information has opened me up to all kinds of ridicule.
Much of it centers on the fact that I, like a few other reporters, have been privy to the fact that Warner Bros. was slowly pushing Zack Snyder out of the door ever since Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice came out and didn’t do what the studio had hoped. On the contrary, rather than being an exciting launchpad for their shared DC Universe, it became a hurdle the studio would have to overcome to actually achieve the successes it so desires.
Mind you, I’m not speaking from a place of personal bias. I’m speaking from a place of verifiable, data-driven metrics (Cinema Score, Box Office tallies, Critical Aggregators). So when I say that BvS didn’t perform the way the studio wanted, I’m just stating facts, so please try not to get defensive.
Many of us knew that something unfortunate was happening behind the scenes from the moment Justice League started filming a mere three weeks after BvS came out. It was bizarre. We knew the studio was very displeased with the film’s reception and yet, instead of delaying Justice League to retool the project and address the concerns that were created by Dawn of Justice, they pushed directly ahead with the same director and creative team! How on earth could they justify that? It made no sense then, and it makes even less sense today with everything else that’s come to pass.
But then little murmurs started to pop up.
We started hearing that the studio had been tweaking and modifying things even before BvS came out, because they had a hunch the film would be problematic based on the way it tested. Then we started hearing that Snyder’s voice on the Justice League set was getting marginalized, as Ben Affleck and new DC heads Geoff Johns and Jon Berg were asked for input to try and get things on track. Then, in early-to-mid 2017, the “F word” started getting used.
“The F Word”?!
The word in question is “Fired.” Word started going around certain reporting circles that somewhere along the way, Snyder had basically been fired from Justice League. But everyone was scared to touch that story, because it was a bombshell, and because we knew the studio would go on a war path if it got out. So we’d talk about it in private, and comment on how crazy this situation is, but then we’d accept that we could only address it in vague terms publicly.
In my report from last May, I didn’t even touch it. I acknowledged that the studio wasn’t happy with Snyder’s vision and that they were taking big steps towards overhauling the film, but I didn’t come out and say that he’d essentially been let go. I knew he’d still be credited as the director, and that the studio was going to do everything it could to wrap this whole thing up with a bow, so there was no sense in saying he was gone. No one would believe me.
Then, a week after my report was published Warner Bros. made matters way worse. They gave Snyder a public sendoff, but they framed it around the personal tragedy of his daughter’s suicide. If I couldn’t say he’d been cut loose before, now saying so would mean I’m belittling a tragedy. Never mind that I knew that the real reason he was gone was because they just didn’t trust his vision anymore, or because they were unhappy with an early cut of Justice League, but now they’d taken ownership of the narrative by mentioning this unspeakable tragedy.
From that point forward, any time I would mention that Joss Whedon was overhauling the film, and that the version being released in November would- essentially- be “Whedon’s Cut” of the movie, people would flip out. They would accuse me of minimizing the death of Autumn Snyder; They would regurgitate the studio spin that Whedon was just doing “a couple of weeks of pick-ups that Snyder asked him to do” and that he was following Zack’s vision to the tee; And I would be treated to all kinds of theories and accusations that I was just part of an anti-Snyder conspiracy by the evil media.
I wasn’t alone, of course. Many other reporters were whipped by this backlash anytime they tried to address what was happening with Justice League without mentioning Autumn Snyder. But what certain people failed to understand at the time was that we weren’t omitting Snyder’s tragedy out of callous insensitivity; We were omitting it because it wasn’t the real reason he was gone.
In the months since Justice League‘s premiere, the truth has come out in drips and drabs. Fans instantly learned that we were right that the film wasn’t so much a Snyder film as it was a mish-mash of Snyder, Whedon, and the studio’s wish list; They saw with their own eyes how much of the material shown in early trailers had been completely cut from the film; And they realized that all of the spin from the studio, the actors, and the producers about this being “Zack’s movie” was all a big lie.
And the hits have just kept on coming.
From leaked footage, to crew members publicly railing against what happened, to Snyder’s son Eli acknowledging how the film had been hijacked, to a full on campaign by fans for the Snyder Cut of Justice League to be released, the fallout has been anything but pretty.
The latest chapter in this saga began on Saturday when a reporter on his way out from Mashable decided to share what had once been a secret: That Snyder hadn’t stepped away from Justice League because of his family tragedy, but that he’d actually been fired over creative differences.
Here’s what Josh L. Dickey tweeted:
Since I’m shifting into DGAF mode, here’s a hot one for ya: Zack Snyder was fired from the DCEU just over 1 year ago. Couldn’t write it ~quite~ that way at the time, but was able to tapdance around it [clumsy/oblique headline not mine] https://t.co/7cht70rCaG
— Josh L. Dickey (@JLDlite) February 10, 2018
Right there, he flatly states, “Since I’m shifting into DGAF mode, here’s a hot one for ya: Zack Snyder was fired from the DCEU just over 1 year ago. Couldn’t write it~ quite ~ that way at the time, but was able to tap dance around it.”
So the cat’s now out of the bag.
The exact timing is a little hard to nail down, but his assertion that it was just over a year ago somewhat fits with reports that Snyder had screened the film in January or February- and that it didn’t go well at all. So, in that context, the dismissal of Snyder may have come shortly after that screening- which would be a fair bit of time before Autumn’s passing in late March.
As for how they went about it, let’s discuss.
Firing By Forcing Hands…
Something I’ve been saying for years now, on various podcasts of mine, is that Warner Bros. has this tricky way of getting rid of directors. They never come out and announce they’ve been fired. It’s always that “They left.” It’s always under the guise of “creative differences,” and the narrative is that they couldn’t see eye-to-eye so they amicably split. It’s always that the director “exited,” and never that Warner Bros. put them in a situation where they’d have to compromise way too much.
I first took note of this in 2015 when reading Cary Fukunaga’s explanation for why he left the director’s chair for Stephen King’s It. The director, hot off of True Detective, had been hired to do the new It, and quickly learned that this was going to be an uphill battle. In a chat with Variety, he outlined why he ended up bolting the project:
“I was trying to make an unconventional horror film. It didn’t fit into the algorithm of what they knew they could spend and make money back on based on not offending their standard genre audience. Our budget was perfectly fine. We were always hovering at the $32 million mark, which was their budget. It was the creative that we were really battling.”
After explaining a bit of how his vision for Pennywise was different than the studio’s, he said:
“It was being rejected. Every little thing was being rejected and asked for changes. Our conversations weren’t dramatic. It was just quietly acrimonious. We didn’t want to make the same movie. We’d already spent millions on pre-production. I certainly did not want to make a movie where I was being micro-managed all the way through production, so I couldn’t be free to actually make something good for them.”
By this point, I had also read about how the studio- seemingly in an attempt to strong-arm him- even did things like kick It from Warner Bros. proper down to subsidiary New Line. The theory was that they knew it would infuriate him and force his hand. And it worked, because he ended up leaving.
Similar things happened with their DC directors, as Michelle MacLaren, Seth Grahame-Smith, Rick Famuyiwa, and Ben Affleck (and almost James Wan and Matt Reeves!) all took turns walking away from their prospective DCU movies.
I outlined these DC Director Defections in this video I produced for The Splash Report last year. Check it out if you’d like. The only thing that’s changed since the making of this video is that we now know Geoff Johns will not the the “Kevin Feige-esque” leader of DC Entertainment, but rather that they’re committing to go back to being filmmaker-driven. Other than that, there’s still plenty of solid intel here:
This is all to say that Snyder’s exit went one of two ways:
- Following the rough cut screening of Justice League in early ’17, he was promptly told to pack his bags behind closed doors. They then brought in Joss Whedon in a situation that mirrors what happened with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story where Lucasfilm took the film out of the hands of Gareth Edwards, brought in Tony Gilroy to write and direct extensive reshoots, and then still gave Edwards full credit for being a team player.
- He stayed on past the initial negative response to his already-compromised rough cut, with the full intention of working all of the studio’s notes and additions into the film, only to ultimately reach a breaking point where he just didn’t want to go on with it any further.
If the latter is accurate, one could say that Autumn’s passing was a legitimate part of his exit- but more so because it just broke the back of his patience with the studio. Imagine having to work on a film that your bosses keep micro-managing while also having to carry the weight of such a tragedy.
It’s all too hard to fathom, so here’s hoping it was Option 1. It’s not ideal, but at least it doesn’t involve a grieving father having his hand forced.
Anyway you slice it, this whole thing was an ugly bit of business and here’s hoping that everyone involved learned a thing or two (or twenty). Even writing this piece was emotionally taxing, and took me way longer than it usually takes me because of the sensitive nature of it.
Being a doting father, myself, I have nothing but love, compassion, and understanding for Mr. Snyder. My heart goes out to him and his family. I cannot imagine what these last two years have been like for him.
While we’re talking about kids and family, and what’s really important, I’d like to add this post-script.
I’d like to apologize for any and all instances last year where I lost my temper. As this story unfolded, there were times where I’d get very snide, cynical, and sarcastic with people who challenged me on twitter. There were times when I’d gotten so fed up with being made fun of and personally ridiculed that I’d sink down to the levels of the angry swarms that came after me.
That stuff serves no one, and I’m glad to have grown beyond it.
One thing I don’t regret, though, is a gesture that brought me some infamy with a certain sect of Snyder Fans who developed an unusually irrational dislike of me:
In an attempt to say that there are bigger, more important things to worry about than what’s going on with a comic book movie, I shared a picture of my kids and I. I had just gotten home, and I was letting someone I’d been arguing with on twitter for four hours (never doing that again!) know that I was done with this fight and it was time to spend time with my family. This was ages ago, and there’s still a group of people who are obsessed with this gesture.
But hey, I love my family, and I’m happy to show them off. Wouldn’t you wanna show off these beauties to the world, too?
Now that I’ve concluded this emotionally-draining piece, it’s time to sign off and be with these angels. Be nice to each other out there. And, no matter how passionate your fandom is, remember that life’s too short to be cruel. There really are much more important things to worry about.