Worldbuilding allows us to visit a place we could never go in reality, and Zack Snyder shares some tips to help you build your next world.
Creating a cinematic universe for your movie is a big deal. Every world has rules and codes of conduct that everyone must recognize and follow. When these rules are broken, the world falls apart. These little mistakes or inconsistencies can be easy to brush under the rug, but believe me, someone will notice.
So how do you create a sane world without borders? Zack Snyder sat down with me Netflix film club to discuss how he builds worlds for his films. From zombie heist and superhero films, Snyder emphasizes that Weltbau is in the smallest details, different perspectives and playing with different ideas that concretize a world that we would like to visit again and again.
Check out the full video by Snyder and co-author for Army of the Dead, Shay Hatten, discussed how to bring their worlds to life.
Create a world that you want to visit
To be honest, our world kinda sucks sometimes. We watch movies to escape the world we live in for a world someone else made. Not all of these worlds are fun and awesome, but the details of all of the worlds we see in the film are beautiful.
Movies require a huge crew and cost a ton of money that many of us don’t have, but writing is a different story. Writing is completely free and only takes a fraction of your time. All you have to do is make a commitment to write down the world you created in your head.
Start by writing a good short story that is 10 pages long, and then keep writing and writing until your story is complete. The nice thing about writing is that everything is in your hand. You can always go back and make changes if you are not happy with the way something is dissatisfied in the universe you have created. All that matters during this process is that you create something that you like and that you are proud of.
As you write down the story elements, make sure they work for the story, not against it.
in the Army of the Dead, Snyder made sure that because of their biology, birds cannot be infected by the zombies. The reason the “bird’s rule” exists is because the zombie outbreak stays (for now, at least) within the walls of Vegas. In all fairness we don’t need to understand why bird biology keeps them alive because it’s not important to history, but the rule is good. It’s the little details that add depth to the story, and it’s always a good idea to think about the elements that could potentially reveal a huge hole in the story.
Whatever you create, you should do it as if you have the option of never creating a new one again. All you have is a keyboard, a blank sheet of paper, and all the words in the world that reflect your point of view.
Fictionalized history is the backbone of worldbuilding
Like our world, an imagined world should be grounded in some form of reality. This reality depends on what is happening in this world. For Snyder, superheroes, zombies or a world in which girls go into another dimension while dancing change the world of film into a different form than we know them.
Snyder’s superhero films have been criticized for their dark and sadistic view of humanity, but that mood makes sense in the world Snyder sees superheroes in. If all superheroes live in the same universe where Nixon is still president and being a hero means you’re still selfish and flawed, then it’s understandable why everyone seems a little nervous and exhausted.
The fictionalized story can help the writer and audience understand the world we are thrown into. Guardian and Army of the Dead establish the culture of the film through their introductory title sequences. A montage of recordings shows how the world came into being in the state it will be in for the entire film. It doesn’t take a lot of plot details, nor does an audience need someone to tell them what we can see on screen.
Genre mixing can bring a worn-out genre back to life
Had to be a co-writer with Snyder for Army of the Dead, said he found the entire zombie movie trope had been exhausted. Every time zombies appear in a movie, the story follows a group of people who are just trying to escape them. How do you breathe life back into a tired genre? Very simple: increase the dead genre by mixing it with another genre.
To create a fictionalized world, first look at all of the tropes within a genre you are working with, and then find a way to undermine audience expectations. in the Army of the Dead, Snyder thought not only of human society outside the walls, but also of the society that exists within them.
Snyder understands that the zombies in his world have their own functioning society. You are the “pure” creature, free from the tropics that society imposes on us to act in certain roles. Freedom mixed with power creates hierarchies among the undead that ultimately form an army of the undead.
By taking tropes and experimenting with the audience’s expectations of those tropes, a genre is twisted and can become what you want. You have the power to change people’s reaction to the world you create by spending time developing the inner workings of the movie’s society.
See things from a different perspective
Let’s be honest. As humans, we have a limited perspective. We understand our world through unique experiences and our relationship to these moments. When creating a world for your movie, you may not be able to see how the world affects certain characters or minor situations.
First of all, it is important that the actors can also imagine the world you have created. Once they can see it, ask them questions about what their character would do in a given situation. An outsider’s perspective can open your eyes to a different perspective on the world of film that you couldn’t see before. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to look at your script, or even ask an actor a few questions about a scene that you want to look at from a different perspective. A little collaboration can work wonders.
A world has to begin somewhere. Creating a world is not always easy, but there is always time to build the environment brick by brick. Start by keeping this document open and ready for you to add more ideas to the world. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the world either. New perspectives and genre mixes are the way of the future, and you could potentially create a new genre without even realizing it.
What do you look forward to the most when you create your next world? Let us know in the comments below!