The big 3 of '300'

Category: 300 News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: December 1, 2006 | Publication: New York Daily News | Author: Ethan Sacks
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The big 3 of '300'

How director Zack Snyder, comic book writer Frank Miller and actor Gerard Butler battled to get the Greek epic made

Director Zack Snyder rallies the troops on the set of Warner Brothers' '300.'
Sizing Up the Competition: Since actor Rodrigo Santoro (the Persian king Xerxes) is slightly shorter than Gerard Butler (l., as Leonidas), this scene was shot using a miniature blue human-shaped bust, with footage of Butler superimposed on it afterwards using CGI.
A younger Leonidas proves that Spartans can't get along with animals or other people.
Fans of Alan Moore's seminal comic book series, 'Watchmen,' can perk up: Snyder is tackling the long-delayed movie adaptation next.
To hear Scottish actor Gerard Butler tell it, shooting "300" - the movie adapted from Frank Miller's graphic novel of the same name - was as almost as hard as the actual Battle of Thermopylae on which the story is based.

In both the real-life and reel-life versions of the 480 B.C. battle, the 300 titular Spartans stood up against a Persian army of tens of thousands hell-bent on conquering Greece. That the Spartans, led by King Leonadis - played by Butler in the movie opening March 9 - were ultimately all slaughtered is less important than the symbolic victory the underdogs won by fiercely dispatching a large chunk of the Persian forces first.

At a recent screening of 30 minutes of footage from the movie to drum up buzz from the type of journalists who wantonly file stories months before the actual release date, the 37-year-old Butler relayed his own war story about filming his first battle sequence under director Zack Snyder.

"I trained so hard for this particular piece - it was fifteen guys and it all worked fine in the gym when you knew that Johnny comes, and then David and then Chad. But then suddenly you dress them all the same as Persians and you're like 'who the f--- [is who]?'" said Butler. "At the last minute, we're running out of time, and Zack came over to me and said, 'look, I think maybe we should use a stuntman.'

"I think he just didn't know how badass I was yet."

But after Butler snatched a great take from the jaws of defeat, the crew discovered a glitch with the high-tech camera used to film the scene. The whole day's shoot was rendered useless.

To make matters worse, said Butler, Christmas was looming, which meant a timeout from the 6-hour-a-day training regimen the actor had subjected himself to for eight months - and plenty of Christmas pudding back home in Glasgow. The actor, best known for playing the title role in 2004's movie version of "The Phantom of the Opera," was worried he'd lose his cheese-grater abs for a scene that required for him to fight topless.

Butler didn't need to panic: the later take - in which Leonadis lunges spear-first into a phalanx of Persian soldiers - looks like it was pulled directly from the comic book.

"You know one of the saddest things in the world is to hear a Spartan bellyache," deadpanned Miller, who was seated next to Butler during a q & a session after the screening.

Miller has reason to be in good humor. For a comic book creator who vowed never to return to Hollywood after a humbling experience writing the screenplays for "RoboCop 2" and "RoboCop 3" in the early '90s, the 49-year-old industry legend is enjoying reverential treatment in back-to-back movie projects.

Just like his collaboration with director Robert Rodriguez on last year's "Sin City" - of which two sequels are currently in the works - the dialogue and story of "300" is taken virtually panel-by-panel from the graphic novel.

It's an impressive streak considering most comic-book-to-movie adaptations run rough-shod over the original source material.

"Comic book artists out there, own it," said Miller. "If you own it, then it doesn't go into the grist mill and you can protect your baby. And so when you finally send it down the river because some nice guy sweet talked you, at least you know it's your own damn fault."

The nice sweet-talker in this case is Snyder, a veteran commercial director who made his feature-film directorial debut with the 2004 remake "Dawn of the Dead." When he first approached Warner Brothers with the idea of turning Miller's very-graphic novel into a movie, he was politely rebuffed since the studio already had a sandal-and-sword epic, "Troy," in production.

After the box office success of "Dawn of the Dead" and some nudging from veteran producers Mark Canton and Gianni Nunnari, however, the studio greenlit the project.

"When they did say yes, they sent us strangely to film our Greek epic in Montreal, Canada... and they put us in an abandoned factory where they make train engines," said Snyder of the film's sixty-day shoot.

"I'm sure it's littered with carcinogens," he said, laughing. "I'm probably going to live about twenty years less having shot that movie not just because of Gerry but because of you know the whole toxic thing."

Borrowing another page from "Sin City," Snyder shot his movie in similar fashion: live action scenes acted out in front of green-screen backgrounds. The stylized backdrops - with a look heavily influenced by colorist Lynn Varley's work on the book - were added digitally in the editing room.

Snyder is becoming the go-to-guy for translating comic books to film. Next up on his schedule is adapting Alan Moore and David Gibson's "Watchmen," arguably the most-influential comic book series of all time, for the big screen.

It would be an impressive streak if the project gets off the ground considering that three different studios have been scared off by the idea of compressing the complex tale of neurotic and ethically-challenged superheroes struggling in a world on the brink of nuclear war into a two-hour movie. More established directors Terry Gilliam, Paul Greengrass and Darren Aronofsky have tried and failed to bring "Watchmen" to the big screen since it first appeared in print in 1985.

"It's Hollywood, after all, so am I confident? No. They're all liars," said Snyder, still laughing. "No, I'm just kidding. I feel pretty good. I feel that [the studio executives at Warner Brothers] generally see the script and they see a movie in it."

Snyder is not likely to get any help from Moore - who unlike Miller doesn't "own it" and declined involvement in previous movie versions of his works, including "V for Vendetta," "From Hell" and "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen." As he knocked on wood paneling, Snyder said he hopes to start pre-production in January.

If fan reaction from this summer's San Diego ComiCon - the biggest annual fanboy gathering in the U.S. - is any indication, Snyder has already won his own epic battle to woo an always-fickle audience.

"We showed the trailer at ComiCon - a 2 1/2-minute trailer - that played pretty well," said Snyder.

"It played pretty well? They called for three encores," added Miller of the overwhelmingly positive fan reaction.

Shifting gears, Snyder replied: "They tried to tear the building down."

"A lot of them are still there waiting for the fourth showing of it," said Butler.