Wesley Coller, co-producer for Watchmen, knew he and director Zack Snyder faced an uphill battle when adapting the beloved 1986 classic graphic novel, where super-heroes are outlawed amid a vast conspiracy on the eve of nuclear war (an oversimplification of the plot if there ever was one) for the big screen earlier this year.
With Watchmen, writer Alan Moore (who asked his name be taken off the credits as he has with his other works that have been adapted for movies) and artist Dave Gibbons gave the comics medium respectability, alongside Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Art Spiegelman’s Maus (which won the Pulitzer Prize for its allegorical portrayal of the Holocaust, using mice for Jews). Moore’s deconstructionist take on super-heroes elicited the attention of the mainstream media, including The New York Times. In 2005, Time named Watchmen to its “All-TIME 100 Greatest Novels” list.
Watchmen will be released on DVD on July 27.
Mania.com: Watchmen is your third film with Snyder, your colleague of 10 years. You worked with him on 2004’s Dawn of the Dead and 2007’s 300.
Coller: Zack’s a well-respected commercial director. We engaged on a few projects until Dawn of the Dead came around. He and I were shooting a commercial, we read (the script) over the weekend, and thought it was incredibly well-done. It embraced the zombie genre as a whole and was self-aware of the genre; there was nothing self-conscious about it. With 300, we turned the sword-and-sandals genre on its ear. With Watchmen, we turned the superhero genre upside-down.
Mania.com: What’s your history with Watchmen?
Coller: I read Watchmen as a teenager and thought it was awesome. For the film, I’ve read it forwards and backwards 100 times. It’s a great work. Also, what’s interesting was reading it so many times, there’s always something new that catches your eye. I’m aware of the comics culture. I’m fortunate that the comics in my wheelhouse are the ones that Zack loves.
Mania.com: Fans have been reluctant to see Watchmen get adapted, given the complexity of its story. Moore asked that his name not be associated with the movie as he does with most of his works adapted for film. For over two decades, many attempts to make a Watchmen movie stalled until it was offered to Snyder. Can you comment on this walk in the minefield?
Coller: I think ultimately when the studio came to him and asked him about making Watchmen, his first reaction was “I don’t know.” He was at that stage in his career where he wanted to do something cool visually. When Watchmen came along, that was awesome. Ultimately, Zack felt a great deal of responsibility if he took a stab at it, doing everything he could to bring this beautiful piece of literature to life. Finally, he decided, “Let’s do it.” (Zack) was very respectful of the graphic novel. The rest of the challenge was making the script more contemporary, more on the war on terror, yet bringing it back to 1985 to follow the arc of the graphic novel… Some of (the graphic novel’s) ideas are pretty mature. To cut legs off it thematically just didn’t feel right. The studio was very supportive of our endeavor to make a nontraditional super-hero movie and a non-traditional narrative.
Mania.com: Nonetheless, you still took liberties with it?
Coller: There were quite a few hard choices. As much as you want to be as true as you can be, Zack did a great job finding a solution that worked. As a filmmaker, you have to take responsibility for whatever it is that you’re adapting, trying to push that script into a version that’s loyal to the essence of the graphic novel.
Mania.com: You and Zack aren’t the type to do a straight-forward, down-the-middle predictable film, yes?
Coller: There’s a place for it – like all types of movies. There’s something collectively as a group that really is drawn to pictures that turn things upside down and have an interesting perspective. As a filmmaker, what you bring to the table is your perspective. Without that, what’s the point?
Mania.com: All said and done, you’re proud of the finished product?
Coller: I really am. I feel like that in the filmmaking world without a doubt there’s a very business end of things; I’m aware of that and respectful of that – we want to make movies people want to see. It’s important to respect the property. It’s part of the excitement of making it.