The Wizard Q & A: Zach Snyder
Category: 300 News | Posted by: DaisyMay
Article Date: February 27, 2007 | Publication: Wizard Universe.com | Author: Jenny Peters
EDITOR’S NOTE: Wizard recently sat in on roundtable interviews with the cast and crew of “300,” which opens March 9. First up is an interview with director Zack Snyder, who talks about his love of graphic novels and the responsibility he felt to preserve Frank Miller’s vision. Check back regularly for more interviews and all the latest “300” coverage!
When you try to bring something like this to the screen, is it a matter of making sure the technology is there first?
SNYDER: I guess that it is a little bit, but I think that acknowledging that we used to make movies without this stuff is important. I think the real change was in the studios had kind of exhausted these sort of tales to the point where they felt like the idea of reinventing it a little bit was a thing that they could go, “You know what? Maybe that is good. Maybe that does work. Maybe people do want to see something else.”
You mean like something different than “Troy”?
SNYDER: Well, maybe that was the thing where it was like, “You know what? This is another way to do it and maybe people will like this.” So, yeah, I do think that there was a studio saying maybe it’s cool to do this. Maybe it was Frank [Miller] going, “I want to make this graphic novel for Zack.” Frank never thought anyone would want to make this. This is one of his more obscure titles, and so the idea that someone would say, “Hey, let’s make 300 the graphic novel into a movie,” I think he was surprised by it. So he said, “Look, go do it.” He then gave me his blessing.
Why did you fall in love with the subject matter?
SNYDER: I was a big fan. When I was a kid I came to graphic novels. When I was a kid my mother used to buy me a magazine called Heavy Metal, and my mother did not realize it was an adult magazine. She thought it was a cool publication that had comics in it, and I encouraged her to keep buying it. At the same time she would try to buy me Wolverine or X-Men, classic comic books as well, but no one was having sex or dying in those—not a lot, anyway—and so it didn’t hold my interest like Heavy Metal did. I was pretty devout to it. I remember trying to order some of the pornographic stuff and I would always get caught. My mother would say, “What is this?” “Oh, they just sent it…for free.”
Then when Dark Knight came out, and also Watchmen around the same time, it sort of drew me back into the graphic novel world in a way that I was satisfied. That’s the way it happened. So I wanted to make any Frank Miller work that I could. You always say, “I want to make Sin City into a movie. They already did that. I want to make this into a movie.” So “300” was basically something that we would talk about like we were film students, like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do this shot? It would be awesome.” Basically we never thought that it would happen, but we would talk about it like it was fun. Then Gianni Nunnari is the one that actually got the rights and said, “I called Frank Miller, and he’s very difficult, as you know, but he’s going to give us the rights.” I was like, “What? What do you mean give us the rights?” He said, “Well, we’re going to try and make it into a movie.” So it was scary, but at the same time the idea of making it was the thing that I was passionate about.
Is the movie historically accurate?
SNYDER: It’s just upwind. I have shown the movie to historians. I showed the film to an English historian who’s a Spartan specialist, and I showed like 20 minutes of the movie to her and I said, “What do you think? Is it crazy? Am I stupid?” She said, “No, in a lot of ways it’s more Spartan than anything I could do.” As a historian, she said she can’t be emotional about the Spartans because she’s trying to give a historical reference, but then she goes, “What you made is Spartan.”
It’s like a home movie.
SNYDER: Yeah, like a home movie. It’s like the essence of how a Spartan thinks. The other thing is that people have asked me if it’s political and how I feel about the politics of the movie, and the one thing that I always try to stress is that we are not Spartans in the movie. I try to show you from the first thing that it’s fun to be with Spartans and it’s fun to go along with them, but you’re not them. You see the first image, which is the Spartans throwing their kids off of a cliff. I hope you go, “Okay, wow. These guys are a little rough.” They’re beating the kids constantly. It’s an effort to sort of remind you that you’re not them. When they meet the free Greek it’s like—well, it’d be like me asking you what you do and you’re like, “I work for a magazine. What do you do?” “Well, we kill.” I think that even when we’re looking down on the canyon and Dilios goes, “It’s awesome. We Spartans are looking for a beautiful death. That’s what we do”—all of that stuff is in there to just kind of present to you a little bit of a bridge. I want you to try and be with them, but I always feel like it’s important to remember that they are freaks in their own way.
It really seems like you captured the novel in this, and Frank’s style. Do you and Frank see yourselves collaborating on anything in the future?
SNYDER: I mean, that’s certainly an option that I would consider.
Have you discussed it?
SNYDER: We haven’t really, but we kind of have fun when we talk and that could easily be something that we’d get around to talking about. He really stressed to me from the beginning, he said, “Look, I’ll do whatever you want me to do, but this is your movie, so go kill it.” In some ways that made it harder, because he put the responsibility on me and said basically to not f--- it up.
How important was it to you that he gave you his approval?
SNYDER: It was great. It was really great. I mean, when he saw the movie he said, “Listen, I wrote this book because I saw a movie called ‘300 Spartans’ when I was a young man. And after I saw your version of my book in a movie form, I realized that I wished this was the movie that I had seen when I was a kid and not the one that I did see.”
Is there going to be a lot on the “300” DVD?
SNYDER: Oh, I don’t know. I feel like the movie is pretty close to what I intended. There is no director’s cut. This is the director’s cut. There was some stuff cut out. There will be some behind the scenes. I think there’s going to be some historical things and a thing where you see the graphic novel come to life, things like that. There is the archer’s thing that we did. We did this crazy armless giant. Basically we had these giants with their arms chopped and these elf-like midgets riding them with arrows and they are shooting them at the Spartans and then they chop their legs off and they fall down. There is this cool shot where someone jumps up on this giant and there’s little elf midget and he spears him. It’s sad, but it’s kind of awesome. We had to cut that out because it was too much even for me.
Was there ever a time when the studio tried to get you to tone down the sex and violence?
SNYDER: I thought that they would more than they did. From the beginning there was a discussion about whether the movie would be PG-13 or R. Those were early discussions, pretty early, and they said, “What are you thinking?” I said, “Listen, in my mind, this movie couldn’t be more of an R. I don’t know how to make it a PG-13 movie. I don’t even know if I know what PG-13 is.” I said, “Even if I told you that the movie would be PG-13, I honestly don’t know what I would deliver to you. If I do what I’m thinking I’m sure it’s an R.” That’s why we were basically given a certain budget and a certain amount of time to do it. Because though they believed in that concept, it’s difficult to put into the marketplace. I was supported incredibly by Warner Bros. in the sense that they said, “Okay, well, go do it. Here’s the money. Go do it. We don’t know what you’re doing. You’re crazy, but we support your vision and we think that you’re going to do something different, and that’s the thing that we want.” Then the drawings, I showed everyone these drawings and they said, “Oh, well, that looks cool I guess.”
What was the process like in working with the actors on this film and making them the army that they were? How do you pull that out of them?
SNYDER: It’s funny. The way that we worked is that we would talk about it beforehand and talk about what we wanted them to do. Then I would just watch for it in the performance and then when we would get ready to go again I might say, “Look, you know, I know that we talked about this. So maybe he’s a little more shaky in this moment and I’m not sure that I felt it in that last one. So I just want you to think about that.” So it was simple stuff. I think that on a movie like this, it’s a physical job. I mean, I didn’t sit down much and I operate a lot too. So it’s hard for me. I’m energetic or schizophrenic, whatever you want to call it. I don’t know what it is, but I do like to touch the camera and make the shots, and so in some ways it gets you closer to the actors. A lot of people think that distances you from the actors, and I haven’t found that at all. I mean, when you’re standing there with a camera there is nowhere you can go. When you’re standing there and holding this heavy camera, it’s a lot more urgent. I’m not back there on a couch just relaxing—although I would like to be.
What was the choice behind not going with a superstar lead for this?
SNYDER: Gerry [Butler] is amazing, and there is no one else who could do it like him. So there is that aspect of the choice. Is it conscious to choose someone who isn’t Us Magazine Hollywood royalty, or is it that we just wanted the movie to be the star? We wanted that to be the feeling, and not for the audience to be plucked out by like, “Oh, look, there’s Brad Pitt.” And Gerry is awesome.
Will you want to do other work that utilizes that same kind of technology, or do you want to go in a different way?
SNYDER: Well, first with “Watchmen,” which is what we’re working on right now, there is no reason to do it that way. There are things you could use it for, [like] for going to Mars. I think that my experience with “300” helps me with using technology. It helps me to go, “When we go to Antarctica we should do this here and that would be cool.” There are things that I do know how to do because of “300.” I also think that “Watchmen” is much more like “Dr. Strangelove” than it is like “Fantastic Four.” So you have this stylistic thing that you have to go for.
How far along are you with “Watchmen”?
SNYDER: We’re trying to get a budget together that is palatable to everyone. It’s a long movie and we’re trying to do some cool things. I’m trying to shoot the Black Crater part as well, and no one has ever even talked about that. It’s like crazy time, and whether that ends up as a DVD extra or as a second release or whatever, that’s yet to be seen. So I don’t know, but that’s my plan.
Is “Watchmen” a lot more precious to you than “300” was, and will you be at San Diego Comic-Con with it this year?
SNYDER: I don’t know if we’ll get shots done for Comic-Con this year. I mean, our plan is to do it in the summer, but I will take it there and I’m sure that I’ll have something to show.
Do you have it cast?
SNYDER: It’s not fully cast yet, but I’ve been talking to a lot of people. I’ll know soon, though, when we get back from Berlin with this. I’ll know who’s getting locked in.
Are you doing the storyboards for “Watchmen” personally?
SNYDER: I am. That’s the way that I do it, but with “Watchmen” the cool thing is that it’s much more of a linear story. It does go all over the place, but if you look at the scenes—for instance, when Rorschach picks up the bag and looks up and goes up to the thing, I mean, there is no reason not to shoot it like that. I don’t know why you wouldn’t shoot it that way. It would mean that your ego got f---ed up somehow and you went, “Oh, I can do better than that.” That’s not how I want to do it.
Is there a lot of pressure with “Watchmen”?
SNYDER: Oh, that pressure is as real as real can be. But also, the thing with “Watchmen,” there is huge pressure from the fans, but at the same time the way that I have to do it and the way that I work is just to go, “Okay, let’s do this.” I think that when I look at it and what I’m planning to do with it, it’s cool. That’s the only thing that I can do in the end, and hopefully everyone else thinks that it’s cool too.