Zack Snyder, who began his career by directing commercials and music videos, broke away to make his inspired re-imagining of George Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead in 2004. He went on to direct the groundbreaking epic 300, which he followed up with the movie version of the popular graphic novel, Watchmen, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole is his first animated movie. Based on the Guardians of Ga’Hoole books by Kathryn Lasky, the film follows the adventures of Soren (Jim Sturgess), a young owl who must save the owl kingdom, and his brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) by traveling to the Great Tree, home of the legendary Guardians, to enlist their help in freeing owls being held captive by the evil Pure Ones.
Is it a tricky balance to do something that keeps your fans happy, and doing something that families and kids, who have no idea who you are, will like?
Who are these kids? No, I’m just kidding. The truth is, I honestly didn’t think about it that way. The truth is, we started working on the movie about three years ago, before we started shooting Watchmen. So it doesn’t really fit into the chronology exactly like, ‘Okay, you’ve made all these hardcore movies, so what are you going to do now?’
Honestly I didn’t really think about it like I had any fans, so I didn’t really feel like I had anyone to disappoint. I guess our approach was really just to try and love the story and try and make some awesome pictures that supported the story, and whatever language it chose, that was the language that it was told in.
What is the casting process when you’re looking for a voice more than a face?
I didn’t say, ‘Let’s shut off the picture and just listen to the voice.’ With Ryan and Jim, I was a fan of their work, and so I just thought about it in a sense that, what I’ve seen them do in the past, and where they’ve emotionally gone, just made me confident that whatever I could throw at them with these characters, they would be able to tackle it.
I think that as you develop an idea of who this character is, when the actor comes in and does their version of it, the awesome thing about what I get to watch happen is they come and make it way better than you ever thought it could be. When it’s emotional, it’s way more emotional, when it’s intense it’s way more intense, and when it’s sad, it’s sadder or more joyful than you could imagine.
How was it working with the actors when you only had their voices to direct?
When you record just a voice, in some ways it’s a lot faster and a lot easier. I think that you can get at a lot more ideas quicker, and that part’s kind of rewarding and fun. But it’s interesting in an animated film how amazingly obsessive you get over single words. You’re actually listening to every word, like, ‘The way you said ‘the’ was odd,’ in a way you would never do in with live performance.
Why are there no American actors in this?
I was blessed with an embarrassment of riches and talent in the cast that I have. Though in the past I have worked with American actors and I find them incredibly awesome and very talented. In the case of this film, because I was interested in this fantasy world if you will, I think the accents and the ability of these actors come together to create the perfect storm of support for the fantasy world that we’ve all endeavored to create. That is not by design, the lack of American actors, it just happened to work out that way.
This movie is intense, was the fear factor a concern at all?
As far as, am I going to scare children? You know, for me I wanted to make an adventure film like Star Wars, Narnia or Lord of the Rings, that I personally, as a child, would have loved.
I wanted to take what Kathryn Lasky wrote in the book and treat it seriously. Because I knew this was going to be a kids’ fantasy film, and the last thing I wanted to do was smirk at their fantasy. If they believe that it’s a hundred percent real, they take it hundred percent seriously. Far be it from me to make it a joke. Like, ‘Oh, (the owls are) wearing helmets,’ that’s hilarious.
For me I think the thing that makes it strong is that I’m like, ‘No, that’s real and that’s the way I want to approach it.’ The byproduct of that may be deemed that the battles are intense, or that the reality of their consequence is real, so that it’s immersive, so that the kids at the end are like, ‘Oh my gosh, that happened.’
I was a huge fan of Star Wars, I love that Joseph Campbell mythic journey, I really wanted that experience in the movie. When you actually watch the film, I tried to (edit it) so that right when it gets super intense there’s something that happens that lets you off the hook.