Six months ago, in the face of tragedy, Zack Snyder stepped away from the upcoming Justice League movie. While the director and his wife dealt with the death of their 20-year-old daughter, Autumn, Joss Whedon stepped in to finish the film—and changed the conversation around Justice League considerably. Almost immediately, questions of how this one movie would perform shifted to speculation about how Snyder’s departure would affect DC Entertainment’s overall cinematic future (and how the arrival of Whedon—previously a Marvel man—might do the same). What was never asked, and never announced, was what Zack Snyder would do next.
Recently, though, the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice director started dropping hints. And today, he finally unveiled just what it is: a short film he shot entirely on an iPhone.
Creating the four-minute-long short, Snow Steam Iron, which just premiered on the somewhat obscure social networking app Vero, was what Snyder says he needed to do once he left Justice League behind. He wanted to be around family and friends; making a movie was the easiest way to do that. His daughter, Willow, a makeup artist, helped. His son, Eli, brought along friends from UCLA to be set PAs. He enlisted friend Samantha Jo (who played Amazonian warrior Euboea in Wonder Woman) for the lead role. They shot the whole thing the last weekend of April in and around Snyder’s office on the Warner Bros. lot in Los Angeles.
“It was a cathartic experience for all of us in a weird way because when we all get together it’s easier for us to make a movie than talk,” Snyder says. “There was a heavy air around, as you can imagine, but this film gave us this way to be with each other that was nice.”
Nice in a way that directing a nine-figure superhero movie sometimes isn’t. After Snyder left Justice League, speculation ran rampant as to the status of the movie and Snyder’s status in the DC Extended Universe. The film reportedly needed extensive reshoots and Whedon ended up getting a writing credit on the film for his script work, leading some to question how much of the film would be Snyder’s when it hits theaters in November. According to the director, after his daughter’s suicide he tried to “bury myself” in the DC film to get through it, but he couldn’t. Making a smaller movie became a much better way to cope.
Snow Steam Iron also exists as a proof of concept. The other thing Snyder has been doing in the last few months, besides prepping his next two movies (more on those in a minute), has been planning to teach a film basics course at his alma mater, ArtCenter College of Design. According to Snyder, he wants the class to instill a sense that anyone with a phone can make a movie—but he realized as he was planning it that he’d never done it himself. The short, then, is a way for him to “make sure I’m not telling these kids something that isn’t true.”
That’s not to say Snyder used just a phone. He also deployed a Zeiss ExoLens and mount, a couple of smartphone camera rigs, a Kessler Pocket Dolly for tracking shots, and the FiLMiC Pro app to control the camera’s settings. Oh, and a DJI drone for aerial shots. Those tools ensured that he could make something that looks every bit like a Zack Snyder film. And it does—right down to the dark hues and slow-mo violence. We won’t spoil it, but Snow Steam Iron is about a cop who abuses his girlfriend, leading her to seek revenge, if not justice. Yes, it’s gruesome. It’s shot on an iPhone, but the chances of Apple putting any of it on a billboard are pretty slim.
When Snyder will teach that class, though, is still unclear; he says the plan is to offer it when he’s in post-production on his next movie, which is likely to be The Last Photograph, a drama that he originally started working on shortly after the release of 300. (He says he’s still working on the script for his adaptation of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.) He’s also still executive-producing many of the forthcoming DC films, but says that working on the script and prep for The Last Photograph will likely take up most of his time in the foreseeable future.
But what about Justice League? He left his superhero team-up in capable hands when Whedon took over, but is he still involved? At least seeing it through? Not really. Snyder says it’d be “unfair in a lot of ways” for him to get involved again after being off the movie for so long. “I’m at a place where I feel excited about it and I’m happy for my guys and I love these people that are working on it, and they’re my family and I think they’re doing an amazing job,” he says. “But I’ve kind of just let them do their thing.”