INTERVIEW: Zack Snyder - Director of 300

Category: 300 News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: February 11, 2007 | Publication: Entertainment Junkies | Author: Powder
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Zack Snyder, director of 300, spoke with EJ during a teleconference about Frank Miller’s involvement, writing the screenplay, the comparison of 300 to Troy and Alexander and so much more (including Watchmen tidbits).

Here’s a teaser to get you salivating over what he had to say: “I did a lot of hysterical research, I mean historical, okay that was on purpose and it wasn’t funny.”

Zack, it was funny, you just couldn’t tell who was laughing ‘cause we were all on mute! A fair warning to all who are reading. My recording equipment stopped working right before the interview, so I had to rely on my typing skills to transcribe as the interview was happening. I got most everything, and I apologize for what I didn’t get. Anything you see in brackets is the gist of what was said.

So for those of you that don’t know who the wonderful director Mr. Zack Snyder is, well he co-wrote the screenplay and directed the upcoming 300. But before this project he was best known for his direction of Dawn of the Dead, the huge Zombie hit. He’s also worked on countless music videos. And most recently has signed on to The Watchmen (God willing it is actually made this time).

BTSThis project for him was huge, the project he’s been dreaming of. A long time fan of Frank Miller’s, especially he graphic novel of 300 he began working on the script himself.

“The biggest challenge in wring the screenplay and the reason I wanted to write it is because I have so much respect for the graphic novel. I didn’t want it get turned into a movie. I didn’t want it to get Hollywoodized. The shooting style itself, was all part of, in some ways, the act of the writing.”

With Frank Miller’s support and blessing for the project Zack began developing this “style” for the film (and would occasionally “bounce ideas off of” Frank.

“I was a fan of his [Frank Miller’s] work [and] the chance to get a shot to bring one of his graphic novels to the screen was a dream come true. I am a fan of the historical account of that battle, I wanted audiences to have the experience I had when I first read the novel… I took it [the style] from the graphic novel to fit the visual style.

Rather than making a more classical story about the Spartans, [we took] the nonclassical approach of basing it on Frank’s novel…I did a lot of hysterical research, I mean historical, okay that was on purpose and it wasn’t funny. I do know what Xerxes and the Immortals really looked like. Our production philosophy was to do arduous research and not use any of it… “

In tune with the look and feel of Miller’s graphic novel, Zack and his team decided to use a system they developed previously to use on this film called “the crush”, manipulating the contrast ratio of the colors by crushing the black on film. It will no doubt become the distinct look of the film.
crush“Crushing” every frame of the movie in postproduction will help to make the audience feel like they were being transported.

Even with this distinct color balance and look the filming of 300 was still an original and unique experience.

”Making a movie with lots of filming on blue screen in 60 days was fickin’ hard. The physical production demands that were made on everybody to shoot, the way we made the movie, was the hardest part. Really long hours! [But I was] happy to do it.”

Although many, including myself, believe that this film is truly unique in style, Zack says he wasn’t trying to come up with something completely original. Other films of the same genre inspired him in a particular way.

“Compared to other historically based epics like Troy and Alexander, [I tried to be] more authentic [by] following Frank’s vision. … in comparison to them … 300 [had] to reinvent visually that genre, that experience. They have paved the way for me to get at it from a different angle. Certainly what I’ve done is inspired by what Frank did because I share an aesthetic kinship with Frank, the two of us combining our aesthetics that have created something that hopefully the sword and sandals genre will be rocked by… [It’s a mistake] to think you can think you’ll make something that no one has ever seen before. Moments [films] that do [that] do it on accident … We were able to get closer to the actual look of what Frank created in the book. When you go outside and shoot against a rock you end up with a look like Troy or Alexander. [We had to] reinvent that whole work and genre, closer to what Frank did [in the graphic novel], with blue screen.”

gerryA lot of this started with the cast. Facing typical challenges of an existing story being translated to film Zack had to find the perfect cast.

”People [the cast] should look like the drawings. I don’t go who is the flavor of the week [and say] “let’s make them Leonidas”. The cool thing is that Gerry really did try and channel the drawings that Frank did and as much as he could, [and he tried] to be them. That was what I was looking for… [we didn’t want to make a movie with the] US Magazine aesthetic, [we wanted you] to wander into the movie and [for it to] take you out of [reality]. On the other hand I don’t think there is a movie without Gerry Butler he IS Leonidas.”

And the actors he cast had to be able to work with imagination and great perseverance. “Most of this was shot in front of the blue screen. The visual [ability] of the actors [makes] great performances. The blue screen is a big part of the reality of filming. It’s something you have to take into account when shooting, we’re not out in a field, it’s not dirty, and dusty, and cold, so you have to imagine all of those things. Although I do credit my actors with being able to transport themselves to Ancient Sparta or Ancient Greece and be believable. [A great thing is to have] one actor or both playing off each other to sell the reality of the moment. If you see it in the eyes of the person you’re [in] the scene with you [can make it more believable].”

spartansBesides the drama of the story set against a digital backdrop it was difficult for the Spartans to get into their characters even before shooting began. The actors cast as Spartans had to look the part. They were put into rigorous training schedules working with two different trainers to transform their bodies.

”They [the Spartans] didn’t show up that way and we wanted them to look, the way they do in the film. [but they took the training to heart and] they approached the training from the actors perspective [and really worked hard to look like their characters].”

elephantThere are some other visual effects in the film that mix with the characters and take the story a step beyond. Zack says he came up with these creatures to show the Spartan perspective and really make the audience understand how epic and huge the story is.

”Flipping through the book [seeing] the rhinos and the elephants, a lot of it is exaggerated by the perspective of the Spartans. [These] monstrous creatures [are at] the point where these fantastic elements [mix] with the Spartan perspective on the battle… To the guys that would seem larger than life.”

BTS-1Currently with debates about film ratings and controversy over the MPAA, Zack luckily didn’t face any problems with them.

“I didn’t have to cut anything for the MPAA. The movie is the way I sent it in. The violence is so stylized I think it made it through the ratings board with out much scrutiny.”

He’s even recently been asked repeatedly about the comparisons of this story to actual political events today. He stated that the story really is it’s own, it is not a commentary on events that are happening now, but that:

”I can only hope that it inspires debate or change, or that it [inspires] discussion at least.”

Now for those of you that can’t wait for his next project, The Watchmen he did divulge a minor tidbit about the project and even commented on breaking away from the comic book movie genre.

”Watchmen just happens to be the shit, so I want to make it. If there was a romantic comedy as cool as Watchmen I’d want to make it…

Watchmen is not strictly a blue screen movie. Some of the elements like Mars can utilize those technologies but it’s more location driven.”

Now back to 300, there are already things planned for the DVD release.

”[There will be a lot of special features] Historical [featurettes], picture in pictures with the graphic novel, some deleted scenes [not many only a couple scenes were cut, one in particular with] armless giants [that had] midget riders on their backs… “

XerxesNow the biggest question of all, where should you see the 300 on March 9, 2007?

“See it in both IMAX and [theaters]. IMAX is awesome. If you ended up seeing it in IMAX it’s a different experience. If you’re looking for something and your local cinema isn’t getting it done for you IMAX is the answer.”

I completely agree! See it in both! I will. Now the question for me is where to see it first?

Now I’ll leave you all with Zack’s advice to aspiring directors.

“[You have to be] single minded in [your choices of] the right work, the right project. I mean that, make sure you chase down and try and do the thing that you feel passionate about because there’s a reason you’ll do [it] and that probably more often than not makes it more interesting and make it a viable piece.”