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THEN WE SHALL FIGHT IN THE SHADE: BECOMING SPARTANS
Article Date: February 8, 2007 | Publication: Warner Bros. | Author: Production Notes - Part 3
The entire core cast plunged into research on Spartan history and culture to intellectually prepare for their roles. But Snyder wanted them also to look believable and to mesh together as the kind of fighting machine the Spartan guard represents. To physically prepare them for the rigors of the demanding fight sequences, Snyder enlisted the expertise of two people with whom he had trained over the years: Mark Twight, a former world record-holding professional mountain climber, to train the actors and stuntmen in physical fitness conditioning; and veteran stunt coordinator Damon Caro, to prepare them for the fight sequences.
With a background training special operations military personnel, cage fighters, firemen, paramedics, and mountain climbers, Twight’s approach included a strict dietary plan combined with a punishing regimen of physical activity. “It’s the equivalent of a sprint—it’s short duration, super high intensity with a nutritional program to support that effort,” outlines Twight.
For eight weeks prior to the start of production, Twight challenged the men to go beyond their normal limits. To support fight preparation the training emphasized athleticism by combining compound movements, lifting, and throwing. Primitive tools – medicine balls, Kettlebells, rings – were used instead of machines. Each session was competitive, with a penalty reward system tied to performance and results posted daily for all to see. ”By sharing hardship together over a period of time, with team interplay where they compete against each other, they come out as a fighting force that is believable on the screen. It changes the way they move and how they behave as a unit,” Twight offers.
Some of the men needed to lose weight, and some needed to put weight on, so everyone was put on a specific diet. Fassbender was one of the lucky ones. “I was lucky enough not to have to knuckle down to the cottage cheese and grape diet,” he says, “in that it was in the interests of my character that I added a few pounds.”
Vincent Regan underwent perhaps the most startling transformation. “Mark sent me a training DVD and I thought, ‘I can’t do that; I just cannot do that.’” Nevertheless, with the help of a trainer, soon he was running up steep hills and boxing, among other activities. Having everyone train together helped considerably. “Because all the actors were in it together, there was a sense that we were trying to reach one goal,” Regan remembers.
With a group of ten actors, as well as stuntmen from Los Angeles, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, Damon Caro and assistant coordinator Chad Stahelski began a parallel regime, coordinated with Twight’s physical fitness sessions. “It was a tremendous help as far as injury prevention, stamina, and overall focus,” says Caro. “With fight choreography, you only have a certain amount of time for physical training because it sometimes doesn’t mesh with the functional application. What Mark brought to the project was functional strength, not just sculpted biceps or ripped abs.”
Caro and Stahelski choreographed the impressive sword and formation fight sequences. Jeffrey Silver notes that Snyder wanted the fight sequences to have a very distinctive style. “When Zack talked initially about the concept for the fighting, he said, ‘Look, I don’t want all that long lens mayhem. I want it to be like ballet.’ He wanted every action in the fight to be carefully choreographed employing aspects of martial arts.”
In keeping with the director’s vision, Caro, who is a martial arts expert, was able to integrate moves from various martial arts disciplines into his fight choreography. Caro and Stahelski’s attention to detail made it easy for the actors to achieve the desired goal. “Damon and Chad are so incredibly talented,” says Butler. “Everybody learned and improved together until we became one single impenetrable unit. The action in the film is mindblowing, and that is largely due to the two of them.”
“They basically trained us from scratch,” adds David Wenham. “They taught us how to fight and they drilled us every day. So it wasn’t a matter of just learning moves; it became instinctual.”
There were eight weeks of fight training preceding production, and the training then continued throughout filming up to the days when each sequence would be shot. The constant training and rehearsing paid off. “When we actually got to the action, the guys performed brilliantly,” Caro affirms. “There are many fight scenes involving complex choreography, and after all those weeks working and training together, there was just a telepathic vibe among the actors and stuntmen.”
In fact, the total commitment from both the trainers and the actors resulted in the action sequences being the most efficiently shot. “You might think the fight scenes would take longer, but every move was so purposely and precisely laid out that those were the days we wrapped early,” Silver attests.
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