In a recent interview with Collider.com, cinematographer Fabian Wagner (Victor Frankenstein, Game of Thrones and Justice League) discusses working on Justice League, Zack Snyder’s cut and a certain black suit.
How did you come to be shooting a Justice League movie? I mean, what was your reaction when you got that call?
FABIAN WAGNER: My first reaction was just I couldn’t believe it. It was so great. I had a phone call from my agent saying that Zack wants to meet me, and I’ve been a long-time fan of Zack’s work and his movies and also a long-time fan of his DP, Larry Fong, who has shot most of his movies. So to get that phone call was just great. Then I went to see him, and we had a nice chat, and I still didn’t expect to get the movie. So, it was a real surprise and just a great feeling when I had the phone call saying that, you know, I’m doing it.
What were kind of those early conversations with Zack like about what he wanted to do with this film and visually how you guys wanted to approach it?
WAGNER: Well, I mean, Zack’s a very visual director. Obviously, I mean, he’s super talented and very experienced. So he had it very clear of what he wanted to do, he told me sort of the way that he wanted to make the film lighter and a little bit more colourful than the previous films, and not going away too far from his visual style, but slightly lighter than what the previous films were. So we just talked about that and how to approach it. Yeah, it was a pretty straightforward conversation really, the first initial talks.
You’re obviously coming in to kind of an established universe and Zack having made Batman v Superman first. How did you go about as a cinematographer kind of bridging the gap between that film and something that’s different
WAGNER: You know, I think you approach every project as its own entity really and that’s one of the great things about being a cinematographer is that you can work in different genres. I mean, I looked at the comics and I looked at the previous films and I watched a lot of the previous Batman films and all the Superman films again, you know, just to get a sense of the genre. But we kind of wanted to make this its own thing, you know?
Sure. know you’ve worked with visual effects on stuff like Game of Thrones and Victor Frankenstein, but I was also curious, working as a cinematographer, when your lighting a set that doesn’t necessarily have a lot practically there, what’s that experience like?
WAGNER: Yeah, it’s certainly a talent and I’ve done quite a few of those things, not on the scale of Justice League. But we do a lot of visual effects in Games of Thrones and, like you said, Frankenstein, for example. But it really just boils down to collaboration with the visual effects team and Zack has a great supervisor with John Des Jardin, who’s fantastic. It just comes down to talking about the look and what it will look like, and they were great just working together and coming up with ideas. We were just sitting together and coming up with lots of ideas and eventually just went down to a certain idea that we stuck to for when we were filming it. But it was all very set-driven and, you know, we did a lot of interactive lighting that they didn’t incorporate into a set. So we basically just talked a lot and made some reference images of how it would look like. So it was pretty straightforward from there.
One thing that’s really interesting about Zack’s work is he’s known for putting together these kind of tableaus, these images and these shots that are really iconic and memorable. And I was wondering kind of what the working relationship is like when you have a director that is that visually talented and that kind of visually striking in terms of coming up with shots.
WAGNER: Yeah, I mean, Zack’s really talented with that and he’s very collaborative. I mean, he knew a lot of the shots that he wanted to do, those are iconic Snyder shots. But on the other hand, as well, just straight from me, he was very open to ideas and would always come up with ideas, and I would present them to him, and if he liked them we would do them and if he didn’t then we wouldn’t. So it was a very enjoyable work process.
Was there one particular shot or sequence that was kind of a favourite of yours to put together or one that was particularly challenging?
WAGNER: Yeah there’s a lot of shots I like. Probably my favourite shot, which unfortunately didn’t end up in the final movie was in one of the trailers. It was of Batman up on the gargoyle. But yeah, you know, there was a lot of great sets. We had some really great sets, which were designed by Patrick Tatopoulos, who did a fantastic job with the very detailed, beautiful sets. But I would probably say that was one of my favourite shots was the Batman on the gargoyle shot. That was a great set, as well, with the backlight and it was just a lot of fun to shoot, you know?
If I’m not mistaken, you shot this on ARRI ALEXA 65? I was kind of curious what went into the decision of using that camera and kind of what it brought to the film.
WAGNER: Well, no, we actually … So I was doing the main unit, and we shot the whole film on 35 millimetre. All of that stuff was shot on 35. And then the reshoots that obviously Zack didn’t direct, and I couldn’t be involved in, unfortunately, as I was on a different project, and they decided to shoot that on the 65. We shot all of our stuff on the 35.
Ah got it, interesting. So was that kind of exciting to use 35? I know Zack’s a big fan of film.
WAGNER: Yeah, Zack loves film. And I love film. I was lucky enough to shoot a lot of film before, you know, before everything went digital. I hadn’t shot film for quite a while, probably for about four or five years. So it was certainly getting used to that again. But then as they’re just casting and experimenting, it all came back. I mean, I love shooting film. I love the process of shooting on film, I love the kind of level of detail you get in film and just the excitement of lighting for film and exposing for film and then watching the rushes the next day. So that was a very fun process. And I’m very glad that, you know, I had the opportunity to shoot film again.
Well, I also wanted to ask about the Flash stuff, because I think that’s some of the most visually interesting scenes in the film, but I imagine also one of the most tricky to kind of pull off. How did you guys go about deciding how to visualize his abilities?
WAGNER: Yeah, that was definitely tricky. Again, it was long talks and coming up with ideas with DJ and Zack and all of us together on how to create Flash’s world and the Flash speed and all of that. And definitely the trickiest was the stand-off, the fight between Flash and Superman. And it was a combination of a lot of interactive lighting and the sets and shooting at very slow speeds and combining that with how the actors move at different speeds, and yeah, sort of bringing all of that together to make it one. But it all came from, again, collaborating with DJ a lot and doing some tests.
WAGNER: Well I mean, they had the idea early on that we would shoot that obviously not underwater but above water, and create that world as a mixture between lighting and various in-camera effects and then obviously creating the visual underwater world around it. It took time to sort of figure out how to do it. But yeah, again, we were just talking about it, we were doing tests, we came up with various lighting ideas on how to create an underwater look. And then once we all settled on something that we liked, that’s what we did.
WAGNER: Yeah you know actually, to be totally honest I just can’t remember if we were shooting it as a test or if we were actually shooting it as a full scene with the suit. I definitely shot it, but I just can’t remember if it was more of a test or a full scene. But definitely seeing the black costume was great. So I’m not 100% sure whether that would have been in the movie anyhow. But yeah, I mean, all the Superman scenes were great, and even just shooting Superman in his normal suit was just, you know, a lot of fun for someone who grew up in that era where the Superman movies just had come out and it was just great to shoot those iconic characters like Superman and Batman. For me that was just great fun.
WAGNER: You it’s hard to say because Zack obviously left so early. I never got to see the final cut that Zack had done, if he ever had done a final cut—I think he might have done, but I’m not sure. So it’s hard for me to say what was actually in his cut. But I know that we shot a fair bit of stuff which unfortunately isn’t in the final film. But obviously they wanted to get down to a certain length that’s good for the cinema. For me, I think Zack is a great storyteller and he takes his time with his movies and I always loved his cuts and his director’s cuts especially, which are obviously longer. So I guess unfortunately there wasn’t the time to put all of those things that we shot into the final film.
Was there one specific bit that you remember from Zack’s version that really kind of killed you to not see in the finished film?
WAGNER: Yeah, I mean, I think there’s a few. Like I said, you know one thing for example is the shot of Batman on the gargoyle, which was a great scene and a wonderful setup of introducing him. But there were a few scenes that we did which didn’t make it, but I guess that’s the way it goes with those kinds of movies. Some scenes make it and some scenes don’t