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Exclusive: Fabian Wagner ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’ Cinematographer Interview



Here We Go

Well, now that the cat’s out of the bag, Ben and I are very excited to bring you our exclusive interview with Cinematographer, Fabian Wagner. We spent some time in the beginning just chatting about life in a COVID-19 world. We found out he was not involved with Zack Snyder’s Justice League additional photography though he was aware of it. But I wanted to highlight some of the interview here in written form for those that prefer a little reading.

Be sure to check out the entire interview below for even more information about Fabian Wagner. I only pulled some of the quotes because we dove into a lot of subjects, but the ones I have are to highlight just some of the important subjects we spoke with Fabian about.

John: For those who aren’t aware, each one of the 8 Episodes you did, all had very game-changing circumstances and some of my favorite sequences which I wanted to bring up because I’m such a fan of your work, as well as Ben. The Laws of Gods and Men had my favorite montage, with Yara talking to the Ironborn while Ramsey is with Miranda, then Tyrion’s trial. Mockingbird is when we see Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson and he’s backlit from the sun. And then we see Petr killing Lysa. The Gift, which was your first time working with Miguel Sapochnik and from that moment, you only worked with Miguel which I will get to after this because I’m building up the question. That episode had Maester Aemon pass and Tyrion meeting Dany for the 1st time. Again, another integral moment of having something involving Tyrion, which I think they were using your skills to utilize these big moments that are happening with certain characters. Now to Hardhome. You gave us the now Iconic Night King Shot. Battle of the Bastards is my 2nd Favorite Episode of the series and has the best 1-2 combo of Daenerys and Jon concluding an arc. You then follow that up with The Winds of Winter and possibly one of the best endings of a season in television period with Cersei’s massacre/coronation and Dany setting sail. That was when I first started realizing that this show was on a different level. That episode only I was able to notice some special about how different this one would be and made this show so unique to anything I’ve ever seen. Then we get to my favorite episode of the entire series, The Long Night…

Oh Good! [Laughs]

John: Yeah, that’s why I was so shocked that everybody was saying they couldn’t see it.

You could see it? You could see it without the sound design? [Laughs]

John: And then I’m going “Well that’s exactly what it would look like if you were in a fight at night!” I thought it was the most brilliant thing that you could’ve done to light, specifically the very beginning. To light all of those Arahks and now we’re having them rush [into the fight], just seeing all of that was great. Then to have the orange “blade-runner-type” of thing of orange lighting for the fire in the background. That episode alone was the pivotal one I felt was the best out of all 8 seasons. So thank you so much for shooting that. And lastly, my daughter’s favorite episode, The Bells. The absolute destruction of King’s Landing. I wanted to run down these episodes because if you haven’t noticed, each episode is getting bigger and bigger. Almost to film- level, this-should-be-in-a-theater-type level. How were you able to UP the anty of each episode you were involved in?

Well, first of all, thank you for that run down. You know, I mean, obviously, that’s not down to me that’s down to the little things and there’s a lot of people involved to make [the show]. I mean, first of all, the great thing you can say with Game Of Thrones is you got really well-written episodes. You know, it’s well-written stuff and you got great actors to act. So you got two of the main biggest, most important ingredients that you can have for making a good show, you already have them. 

 So then you have HBO and David and Dan, and all the production and they understand that they really want to make something that’s visually interesting, maybe groundbreaking. Maybe something that’s really right from the show. And so all these things come together and then you’ve got a brilliant crew, you know? A lot of great people working on the show and when all that comes together and everything works out then you get really good episodes. And then use [the previous work] to up it every time you come back.

You know, David and Dan really pushed it after season 4. [Dan & David] called me up for season 5 and said “We’re going to do Hardhome and it’s going to be big”. I was like, right, I didn’t even know what was going to be big. [Or] what it was going to be but I was like, ‘Great, looking forward to it’. And then I came and I read it. [Production] started to build this village in a quarry outside of Belfast and I will I was like, ‘Ok. Shit man, this is big’.

I met Miguel [Sapochnik]. We kicked off our relationship and we quickly became great friends and very good collaborators. And that made this [shoot] a lot easier. And we made Hardhome and just thought, ya know, [if] they want to make this big, let’s make it even bigger than what they wanted. And so we [made it bigger]. And then when [Dan & David] came to us that year and said “Look guys, we want you to come back because we got this big episode next year called Battle Of The Bastards”. We said ‘Ok, great!’

We didn’t know how big it was going to be but I came back and I read the episode and I was like ‘Shit, this is huge!’ And so you just sort of evolve naturally, it’s great. And it’s only possible because [HBO] want you to go all out. They want you to come up with all these crazy ideas to make this work. Then you got someone like Miguel who we’re very much on the same wavelength. So we push each other off and be like ‘Okay let’s do this. Now let’s go there!’ And it’s quite fun. So I’m just a little cog in the whole [production], but I’m very proud to be a part of it. And so, obviously, I couldn’t come back for season 7 because I was doing JL. Then Mig and I were saying ‘They want us to come back, but we’re only going to come back together’. So [Dan & david] said “Okay, well, you have to come back for season 8” and we said ‘Of course, we would love to’.

When I brought up how my favorite episode was The Long Night, Fabian spoke about fan’s reaction to season 8 of Game Of Thrones.

Look, you can’t please everyone. It wouldn’t be the show that it is and nothing would be what it is if you please everyone. There’s nothing you can do. I always say to people ‘I would never judge what they’ve done’ because I’m not clever enough to develop a show. [To] make a show successful for 8 seasons the way [Dan & David] made Game Of Thrones successful. They made the biggest, most succesful television show ever. With some of the biggest set pieces ever done. How can I criticize that? So it is what it is.

John: Well, it’s funny that you mention you and Miguel not coming back for season 8 unless you came back together. So, he is the showrunner of House Of The Dragon. Surely, you guys have discussed collaborating once again for HOTD?

We’ve spoken [about collaborating] but I can’t talk about it. It might be a yes. But it could be a no. Or it could be a maybe. [Laughs]

John: A few weeks ago, my co-host and I got into a heated battle, a fake one that is, about your comments about 10% of footage being in the theatrical cut. We both came to the conclusion that what you probably meant was 10% of the 5-hour assembly of footage you and Zack had, which would roughly equate to about 30 minutes. Zack has gone on record saying he hasn’t seen the actual film, but that it’s probably around 25%. Now that we’re getting the release, what kind of vindication are you feeling right now?

Well, you know, I mean, first of all, I just feel super happy for Zack. The one thing I always wanted and the one thing that’s always the terrible thing was that he couldn’t finish the movie that he started. Zack is an amazing filmmaking and a lovely guy and one of the nicest people that I’ve worked with. And so, for me, I just want Zack to finish the film his way. 

Obviously, he couldn’t because of that terrible tragedy that happened which is why things went the way they went. And Zack did the right thing and he left the movie because he has to be there for his family. So I deeply respect all of that.

The fact that he now gets to finish his film is all down to the fans and that is the second thing that makes me so fucking proud and happy is because I don’t think that’s ever happened in film history before. I’m not sure if that would ever happen again. But the fact that there are so many Zack fans out there who came out and supported the man wanting [his film], I still can’t get my head around it. 

And the fact that [HBOMax] actually eventually gave in and said ‘okay’ with Zack  and his movie. So those are the two things that I’m most happy about. And those are the two things that I’m most proud of because I just think that’s incredible. Obviously, I’m very happy to be seeing the film that I shot with Zack, and to be seeing the [film] that I shot [in] the way that I shot it. So that makes me happy because the film that I saw [in theaters] was not the film that I expected.

John: I fully expect this to become my top film after I see it. And that would be over BvS which I’ve seen over 450 times, and that’s no exaggeration. 

Wow, well that’s good. I hope you’re going to love it. The only thing I can say is the first 3 trailers that came out in 2017 were what we had shot with the main unit, with Zack and me. I was actually in L.A. when we were doing some of those trailers and we were coloring them. [And] those 3 trailers are the way the movie always intended to look [like]. And it was always intended to look different. Zack wanted [Justice League] to be different to Man of Steel and BvS. But obviously, I wanted to keep the Zack Snyder tone [and] world alive. I love Zack and his previous work. […] And the final film, unfortunately, was very different to those. But hey, now we get to see Zack’s version [of Justice League] which is great.

John: Did Zack show you the trailer he released at DC Fandome [before he released it]?

No, I hadn’t seen that particular trailer before. Obviously, that was all the footage that we shot.

Ben: So that was the first time you saw the VFX completed?

That was the first time I had seen some of the VFX completed on some of that stuff, yeah.

Ben: What were your feelings about seeing that to completion?

[Laughs] Well, I guess I was like a lot of other peoples reactions. I was like ‘Fuck! This is the stuff that we shot and this was the [film] of how Zack wanted it to be.

Ben: Now that we’re getting 4-Hour Long Episodes, how does it feel knowing that not only is all the footage you shot being used, but even more is being added?

We shot so much stuff for this movie [and] shooting for 125 days. [Zack and I] shot a ton of stuff that wasn’t in the theatrical version so there’s a lot of stuff that Zack can do to fill those 4 hours. And Zack has always said that his films are long because there’s a reason for it.

John: Speaking of the 214 [Cut of Justice League], did Zack shoot a certain way and then with the rewrites happening, shoot [the scenes] the way executives wanted?

When we were shooting [Zack Snyder’s Justice League], we were always shooting things Zack’s way. […] I was never there on set where someone said “Zack, you’ve got to do this [a certain way]“.

John: Did Zack speak with you about the additional photography being done right now?

Well, we spoke. [Pauses] I mean, yeah, we spoke not too long ago.

Both: Oh, ok…
John: I feel like you’re going…

That’s all I can say [right now]. [Laughs]

Ben: Did he speak to you about a season 2?

Well, he mentioned [a sequel] 4 years ago before we started shooting Justice League. He already told me about what he would love to do in the second part.

Ben: Can you elaborate on that?

[Laughs] Well, I can’t really talk about all that right now. [Zack is] very into this whole universe and he loves it and he knows the characters very well. He has a whole master plan. So before we were prepping [for] Justice League, he was already telling me about how he would love to evolve the whole [arc].

Ben: Ok, so that previous conversation you had [with Zack about additional photography] was the tail-end of that initial conversation [4 years ago]?

Well, ya know. [Laughs] I can’t tell you. [Smiles]

We then went into questions about the unique camera rig set up that we’ll see with the league members in the Bat Hanger discussing Cyborg’s origin and Superman’s resurrection. But also about being part of another one of Zack’s ‘Visual’ styles that would become an iconography statement like Larry Fong’s 300 style was. This led to our discussion of working with Chris Terrio, the writer, and how the post-production process was like with the film being 4 years old. We got into the Black Superman suit and if he and Zack needed to come up with anything in post to alleviate the executive’s worries. “No. Nobody has to worry about anything“, Fabian said, with a smile.

Ben: Before BvS came out, Zack was already working on his Justice League idea. And one of the things [he worked on] was that original ‘Dark’ scary idea. How involved were you with the Original “Dark” idea?
John: Because Zack had mentioned that the ‘scary’ idea was Lois dying from Darkseid.

No, I wasn’t very familiar with that [idea] at the time [of production]. That must’ve been before the time we started prep[roduction].

We then move the conversation to Tom Holkenborg and the biggest thing Fabian was looking forward to with Justice League finally being completed. Then we discuss his thoughts on the new technology that The Mandalorian used and is now being used by more productions. We also discussed him possibly working with Zack in the near future. And although his answer sounds optimistic, that might be due to him not actually being able to say anything just yet. Because we got down to our biggest questions near the end.

John: How long would you say the History Lesson sequence is, roughly?

I mean, that is a good question and I would love to be able to answer it but I can’t [think of it]. I would have to try and think…

John: Or was it like you and Zack were trying to make it fit this length of time or something?

No, but, you see, that’s exactly the thing I said before. That’s not the way you shoot things with Zack. Zack isn’t like “Hey, we need to fit this into 30 seconds“. [Zack]’s like “This needs to be however long in [whatever] minutes, so that’s what we’ll shoot“. […] We shot a lot of stuff for the History Lesson so trying in my head to add it all up. It’s really hard to put it in a number. But, I reckon, that [the History Lesson] is going to be fairly substantial.

We then went into how long some of the other set pieces might be. And when I brought up the Tunnel sequence, Fabian said “I mean, that was chopped to pieces“. But he was also able to answer our questions of how they prepped for shooting some of the bigger set pieces like the 3rd act. There is definitely more information packed into our interview so be sure to give it a listen below. One of the last nuggets Fabian teased us with was in our goodbye’s.

Maybe we’ll speak after?

John: Are you going to get a pre-screening before it gets released? Surely, you gotta be in the know, right?

[Smiles] Maybe yes. Maybe no. [Laughs] I think so. I think hopefully yes, I think so.

Ben: Ok, well you gotta hang out with us after that, then.

That would be dangerous.

Be sure to check out the full interview down below.

Father // Senior Editor // Co-Host for The Reel in Motion Podcast @TheReelinMotion // Male Feminist // Unapologetic Snyder Enthusiast // Xbox X