Zack Snyder Talks 300
Category: Watchmen/Tales of the Black Freighter News | Posted by: DaisyMay
Article Date: March 4, 2007 | Publication: About.com | Author: Rebecca Murray
Writer-director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) creates one of the most artistically beautiful films of the decade with 300, based on Frank Miller's graphic novel and starring Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Rodrigo Santoro and David Wenham. Snyder stuck closely to the source material when adapting Miller's work for the big screen, including scenes in his film that look as though they've been lifted straight from the graphic novel.
The Origin Story: 300 deals primarily with the mythology surrounding the Battle of Thermopylae rather than sticking with history. ďAbsolutely. Iíd say 300 is a movie that is made from the Spartan perspective. Not just from the Spartan perspective, the cameras are the Spartans, but itís the Spartans sensibility of the Battle of Thermopylae. If you had Spartans sitting around a fire and they were telling you before anything was written down what happened at Thermopylae, this is the way they would tell it. Itís not necessarily down to the fact that they donít have armor on. Everything about it is just to make the Spartans more heroic.Ē
Comparing Frank Millerís Graphic Novel to the Finished Film: ďI would say itís probably about 90% the book. Thereís maybe a 10% bit that I added thatís sort of the Queenís story line. We did that to really initially remind people of the Ďwhy we fightí part of it. You get all the way up there to Thermopylae and suddenly Sparta becomes abstract. I wanted to remind people. Once we got into that, we started to realize that we had to figure out what the Queen was about. Thereís a line in the graphic novel where Gorgo says, ĎCome back with your shield or on it,í which was attributed to her in history. In my research I found, ĎOh, hereís another thing - this thing where only Spartan women give birth to real men.í That was another line I found attributed to her. If you combined those two, what kind of character is that? Who is that woman who said those things? Thatís really what we used to sort of build her and flesh her out.Ē
The First Steps to Bringing 300 to Life: ďThe way we started was with the concept art. I would do a little doodle and Grant [Story] would say, ĎOkay.í He would so some photo shop, whacking together some images. That would sort of get us in an area where I would say, ĎOkay, thatís kind of working.í Then weíd try to refine that by maybe shooting stuff. Shot a guy in a Spartan outfit. Not the ones we used in the movie, but something like it: red cape for composition and sky and things like that. That process led us all the way to production where we sit at a table like this. Weíd have the storyboard sitting in front of us and Iíd say, ĎOkay, I want the camera below. What happened a moment before, if the guy walked up and stopped on the hill,í and Iím imagining that itís a silhouette and that sky weíd replace.
Everyone would take a turn and the visual effects guys would go, ĎWhat we plan to do is generate this sky, get this background. Maybe thereís a sun flare. Maybe blah blah blah.í Then Jim Bissell the production designer would say, ĎOkay, this is what I plan to build for you to shoot on. Itís a little silhouetted hill. Itís made out of concrete and you can use it for all these different things.í We basically do that 2,000 times and you have a movie.Ē
Getting Frank Millerís Stamp of Approval: Miller was apprehensive about turning Sin City over to Robert Rodriguez. How was he about Snyder signing up to do 300? ďHe was hesitant,Ē explained Snyder. ďI donít think he thought that anyone would ever try to make a movie out of 300. When Iíve been with him and weíve talked about it in these kinds of scenarios, he always seems to me to be very surprised that we picked it. Itís almost like a passion project for him. If you look at it in relation to his other work, itís an anomaly in a lot of ways. I think the graphic novel world, itís is an anomaly. It sort of exists outside the realm. The one thing that is consistent is who Leonidas is. Leonidas is Marv or heís Batman. Heís the same guy. Frank likes that guy. He writes him a lot. I think his chance to have Leonidas march up to Thermopylae and fight like a madman and then die, thatís the thing he just likes.Ē
Following in Frank Millerís Footsteps: Frank Miller has such a distinctive visual style yet in adapting 300 Snyder never worried over whether he was leaving his own mark on the material. ďI didnít really think about it in that way. Even when you try to get out of the way of something, youíre like a filter. You canít help it because it goes through you and when it comes out the other side, itís got people in it and thereís all sorts of stuff that happens so I really wasnít worried about. The thing I love about a movie is its tone. Thatís my favorite part of movies, the tone of the movie. What is it? What kind of a movie is it?
I think when I did Dawn of the Dead my feeling with Dawn was that I wanted to make a movie that felt like a cult movie. You could feel it was organic and it was simple. It wasnít going to be a lot of CGI and it was going to be a lot of makeup. When we went to do 300, I wanted to make a movie that felt like the graphic novel. The characters stood and they looked and they talked like the graphic novel, and that you felt the graphic novel. That was the most important thing to me because I felt like the story was there, was sort of the heroic nature of the film. But, the tone of it, the where it came from, I wanted you to feel it. So in that way, I used the graphic novel as a thing that informed the tone of the movie. Thatís my favorite thing about the movie is that I feel that.Ē
Dealing with the MPAA: ďIt wasnít that bad. On Dawn I had like five or six tries before I got my R. But we got an R right away so it was pretty cool. I donít think the movie personally is that gory, 300. I think itís so bizarre. Iíve had 50-year-old women see the movie and go, ĎOh I thought it was cool.í And I go, ĎWhat about all the gore?í Theyíre like, ĎOh itís cool. Itís like art. Itís fancy.í I think on one hand, yes, if you want to enjoy that you can. But I think on the other hand itís abstract in a way. I think the MPAA looked at it and said, ĎOh, itís not Saving Private Ryan.íĒ
One Scene Didnít Make the Final Cut: Almost everything from Millerís 300 found its way into the film, with one exception. ďNothing from the graphic novel really except for that one scene with Xerxes, Stelios and Leonidas at the very beginning of the novel. We did shoot this thing thatís going to be on the DVD. Itís these giants with these midget archers on their backs. They just got so outrageous that when I looked at it I thought, ĎThis is from another movie.í It was crazy.Ē
That scene is 90% complete. ďItís pretty cool. The Spartans are running and they have no arms. Their arms have been hacked off. They have these little sort of elf-looking guys in these kind of wicker baskets on their backs. Theyíre firing arrows and then the Spartans come and hack the leg off it.
It falls and they leap off and stab the little elf.Ē
What else can fans expect to see on the 300 DVD? ďThereís only a few deleted scenes because itís pretty much the movie that we made. Thatís the thing. The one cool thing about the cinematic experience of 300 is that itís my cut. They havenít really messed with it that much. Although there are a few Ephialtes scenes we took out where, when we first see him, heís looking down on the Persians. Itís just straight out of the graphic novel. You can look at the graphic novel and those are the two scenes that arenít it in. But, we shot them. Also Stelios jumping off the wall of the dead, that was also in the movie.Ē
Next Up Ė Watchmen: Snyderís going to tackle another graphic novel in the near future when he brings the much-anticipated film version of Watchmen to the big screen. Snyder explained whatís happening now with that project: ďWeíre trying to get a budget together now for that. I feel like the movie is in a very cool place. I think the script is starting to become pretty cool. Iíve been talking to some actors. Iím not going to say who. But, itís cool because in some ways you can get real actors. You donít have to go Hollywood, so thatís all going along. Iíve been drawing away, you know, and so I think itís coming along. They have talked about maybe shooting in the summer.Ē
Why the Delay? 10 years ago Joel Silver was preparing to work on Watchmen and Snyderís happy that didnít move forward. ďI can only thank God that they havenít gotten it together yet. I think the delay is that they havenít known what it was. Itís only now. I set the movie in 1985 and I have the luxury of being far enough away from 1985 so that that is a viable idea. I think what happened in the past was that when youíre only five years away from 1985, itís a weird time to make a period piece that took place three years ago. But, studios donít get that. There has been a push, I think, on the other scripts that exist about trying to update the movie or trying to make it take place in present day and things of that nature. I think by setting it in 1985, by having the Cold War, having Nixon, having all that stuff, you sort of reinvigorate what the story is about. It allows all the metaphors to sort of erect.
If you set the movie in modern times, youíre basically saying itís the war on terror right now is the thing. Then the movie is asking me, ĎOh Zack, what do you think of the war on terror? Whatís your take on it?í Who gives a f**k about what I think about the war on terror? Thatís not why people go to the movies. I think that what Alan [Moore] in his book, the comment heís made about authority and government and all those things, maybe if you make that movie right what that has to say makes people think about whatís happening maybe now or in their own lives. Thatís my hope for what the movie could be.Ē
The 300 Launching Pad: The positive buzz surrounding 300 has helped Snyder in more ways than one. ďI canít say it hasnít helped a lot. What it does do, people have said to me, ĎWhatís going on with Watchmen? Youíve got to make sure you donít f**k that up.í Iím sorry if Iím swearing. He goes, ĎWhat can I do to help?í And I said, ĎGo see 300.í The truth is 300, to the studio, is a graphic novel movie. It is not a movie that they necessarily understand exactly when I pitch it on paper. When I say, ĎListen, itís this in the movie.í They donít get that. My point is that they feel in some ways the same about Watchmen. They donít understand why itís not Fantastic 4. I have to remind them that itís much more Strange Love than it is Fantastic 4, which they donít like hearing. But they believe that I know - which is a mistake. No. They believe that I know and in that way it helps. When they finally saw this movie, I think they felt, ĎWow, we didnít know this was the movie you were necessarily making, but we like this movie.í Maybe that will apply to Watchmen.Ē
Dealing with the Budget for Watchmen: Will the performance of 300 affect how much money Snyder gets from the studio to work with on Watchmen? ďThatís theoretical,Ē answered Snyder. ďI believe that is probably reflecting reality. I donít know that for sure. Itís not set right now. Maybe thatís a coincidence. Maybe not.Ē
Snyderís Approach to Watchmen: ďThe idea with Watchmen is not to do a CG movie, but to do it when itís necessary. Like when he goes to Mars, thereís an issue there. Youíve got to figure that out. We canít go to Mars. I know a lot of people are going to be disappointed in that, but I donít have the money. Antarctica also. Thereís no Karnak. I know again we should probably build it, but I donít think they are going to let us do that. So those two things right off the bat. Dr. Manhattan himselfÖ What do you do? How do you render him? Rorschach's mask? There are things that have to be dealt with and figured out. I think the appetite for me is to make a movie that feels more like Taxi Driver than like Fantastic 4. Itís a balance.Ē