The American filmmaker Zack Snyder has a stratospheric reputation in Hollywood. Alongside his expertise as a producer and scriptwriter, he is one of the pre-eminent action film directors of the modern era, adept at every facet of contemporary filmmaking, from advancing CGI and green-screen sets through to close-up, intense hand-held camera work. Following a career directing commercials and music videos for artists such as Rod Stewart and ZZ Top, Snyder’s debut full-length feature was Dawn of the Dead (2004), a hugely well-received remake of George Romero’s 1978 original. He has since gone on to direct a number of acclaimed films, including 300 (2006) and Watchmen (2009).

Snyder trained first as an artist, studying at London’s Heatherley School of Fine Art before attending the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. This experience has been directly parlayed into his films, which have frequently set new standards for post-production work, vivid colour and lighting effects. For Army of the Dead (2021), Snyder not only co-wrote the script but also served as his own Director of Photography. Now 56, Snyder runs The Stone Quarry production company with his wife Deborah; the couple also have a close connection to many philanthropic causes near their home in Pasadena, California. 

Aston Martin's ethos reflects the director's own approach, which honours the past while embracing  the latest cutting-edge technology

Aston Martin Magazine showcased Snyder’s house in AM48, a spectacular villa designed by architect David Montalba, embedded in a hillside above Pasadena. Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted the DB2/4 MkIII featured in the images. This car was not a piece of set dressing but Snyder’s own vehicle, one of several Aston Martins the director has owned over the years. Snyder’s first Aston Martin was a 1981 V8, the spectacular grand tourer that was a thoroughly British interpretation of the muscle car aesthetic. “It used to break down all the time,” he admits. “I had a mechanic — a British car specialist — who would come out to my house to work on it in the front yard. I remember my accountants telling me that I could have any car, so why this one? And then, finally, I traded it for a Works-prepared DB9.”

Snyder describes this particular model as “pretty tricked out”, and it was his daily driver for about three years. “I was going to make the movie 300, but Warner Brothers stalled on green lighting it. As a result, I was out of money — I couldn’t work. In the end, I had to sell the car to keep myself afloat.” Relegated to sharing his wife’s convertible New Beetle, Snyder thought his Aston Martin days were over. “Then the movie came out and did pretty well for Warner Brothers, so they gifted me an Aston Martin Vanquish S,” he says, adding that he got three track days along with the car. “We had a great time. I even got my own race helmet. It’s kind of a joke because it has these fake sponsors on it. One of them is Prozac, for example.”

Snyder's 1957 DB2/4 MkIII “forever car”, pictured outside his restored mid-century bungalow

Not only does Snyder consider the 1957 DB2/4 MkIII to be his “forever car”, it has also had some high-profile screen time. “I used it in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” he explains. “We had a conversation about what car Bruce Wayne would drive if he wasn’t using the Batmobile. The MkIII seemed like a perfect car for him. It’s not trying hard at all, it just is. That’s what I really love about it.” For its appearance in the 2016 film, the Aston Martin was re-painted with deep, dark green bodywork. “It’s almost black,” the director says, “but I would still consider it to be a 1950s, mid-century type of colour.” 

His love of the period — and of contemporary architecture in general — extends to Bruce Wayne’s retreat in the film; instead of the Wayne Manor mansion, the Aston Martin can be seen parked by an extremely sleek steel lakeside house, in a modernist car port. The set was constructed for the film in Michigan. “I basically built a frame for the car,” Snyder says. “It’s a black version of the Farnsworth House [by Mies van der Rohe]. Because he’s Batman, he gets to have whatever he likes.” Snyder’s own photographs, featured here, show the car alongside another of his properties, a restored mid-century bungalow with spectacular views across Pasadena. It complements the new-build property, which serves mostly as the Snyders’ office, a fully equipped complex with a screening room and edit suite as well as guest accommodation and offices.

“I shot the car in front of my house and, you know, the vibe is correct,” Snyder says. “The disjunction between car design and house design is kind of big in most people's minds; this car is completely period to the house, yet people still think that it’s a really old car and quite a modern house.”

Interior of Snyder's 1957 DB2/4 MkIII “forever car”

For Army of the Dead, Snyder deployed his fascination with digital and analogue blending in innovative new ways. “There's a lens built in the 1960s that’s known as the Canon ‘dream lens’,” he says. “It has an extremely wide aperture, with an f-stop of 0.95, so it’s incredibly fast. I found three in a collection in Japan and had them rehoused here in LA.” The original Canon lenses were fitted to Red digital cinema cameras with 8K Monstro sensors and used to shoot the film — wide open, with no focus pulling. Snyder handled the camera himself because he didn’t feel comfortable giving this responsibility to another DP. The resulting cinematography features incredibly natural depth of field and light. “I’ve always been interested in cameras, even the way they look,” he says.

Interior of Snyder's 1957 DB2/4 MkIII “forever car”

Snyder works at the cutting edge of his industry, yet he combines the very best of past approaches with modern equipment, creating a unique hybrid. “Technology is a tool,” he says. “Whatever story you're telling, the technology is there. I just try and use it in the most organic way. I find it super interesting. When you combine technology with something that feels really spontaneous and organic, it’s like putting the handmade feel back in.”

This story is an extract from an article featured in the AMXX issue of Aston Martin magazine, out now. If you're not already a subscriber, visit magazine.astonmartin.com/magazine-subscription so that you can read the full story.

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