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Fan makes a film

Category: 300 News
Article Date: March 9, 2007 | Publication: The Berkshire Eagle | Author: Bill Everhart

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The buzz is building for director Zack Snyder's film "300," with confirmation coming during a visit to Pittsfield, where his parents, Ed and Marsha, reside and where he often visits.

"I was at Applebee's and a guy working there, his name was Mick, said, 'Dude, '300' is going to be awesome," related Snyder in a telephone interview from California, where he was gearing up for today's nationwide release of his film. "So that's a good sign."

The movie opens today at Regal Bekshire Mall 10 in Lanesborough, and North Adams Multiplex 8.

Over the phone, Snyder sounds as enthusiastic as a youngster making films with a Super 8 camera, which he was back when "Star Wars" action figures starred in his films. His parents have deep roots in Pittsfield and though they moved away and Zack graduated from a New Jersey high school, they returned in 1996. Zack's sister Audrey Snyder-Davis left Los Angeles with her three children and now lives nearby.

A successful creator of commercials, Snyder made a splash in the film world two years ago with "Dawn of the Dead," an updating of the George Romero zombie classic.

Well-received by critics and at the box office, "Dawn of the Dead" opened the way for "300," though not without a struggle.

Snyder was pushing his movie idea, based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller, shortly after the Greek epics "Troy" and "Alexander" had disappointed and the studios, suffering from what Snyder describes as "sandal fatigue," were reluctant to commit.

"When I told them the movie was a reinvention of the sword-and-sandal genre they told me 'the genre doesn't need reinventing,' " recalled Snyder. "I told them, 'you watch.'"

Snyder sold Warner Brothers on the film and the dream he had long held of bringing the novel to the big screen began to take shape. He had been a fan of graphic novels (comic books to non-fans) since the days when he was making his 21/2 minute "Star Wars" film as an 11-year-old. Miller's "300" had a powerful impact on him. The novel and film are based on the legendary story of King Leonidas of Sparta, who led 300 men to the Gates of Thermopylae to confront thousands of advancing Persian soldiers.

"I loved the story, it was about sacrifice and struggle against all odds," said Snyder. "And I loved the beauty of the book. The opportunity to make it into a movie was impossible to imagine, like some film school dream.''

"When he was 8 or 9 he started getting into comics and he asked me to buy them for him," his mother recalls. "He just devoured them."

Because of the source material, Snyder wasn't striving for the realism of the traditional sword-and- sandal picture but the surrealism of a graphic novel by the legendary Miller.

"300" was filmed entirely on a soundstage in Montreal over a 60-day period. But with 1,300 visual effects to be added, it took a year to put "300" together in the editing room. Preview clips show a film that, with its rich colors and painterly backgrounds, resembles a graphic novel sprung to life, which was Snyder's primary goal.

"I felt like a fan making a movie, and I want the audience to geek out like I did," Snyder says in the rapid-fire cadences that emerge when he is particularly excited. "I want people to feel just the way I did when I first read the graphic novel."

Early looks at the film apparently won that reaction from the studio's executives, who were still skeptical even after giving the go-ahead to the film.

"It's based on a graphic novel, it's got no stars, no thanks," said Snyder, again looking back at the early reaction to his idea. "Then the marketing people got a look and said, 'Oh, we know what we can do with this.' It's the kind of movie that can stand out in a crowded environment."

Anyone who watched the NFL playoffs, which constitutes a lot of Americans, saw clips of "300," which was in heavy rotation throughout the post-season. Warner Brothers had elevated the movie to "tentpole," status, investing a considerable amount of money in ads in hope of a good return.

Like "Dawn of the Dead," "300" is a hard "R," with plenty of blood and gore to discomfit some fans, like Snyder's parents for example.

"Dawn of the Dead" featured a surprise ending during the closing credits that penalized audience members who left early ("one of my pet peeves," says Snyder). The director warns that fans who leave before the credits for "300" have rolled will also pay a price.

For Snyder's mother, who watched "Dawn of the Dead" through her fingers, "300" was a more enjoyable experience.

"I knew there was going to be blood and heads lopped off but it was so beautiful I didn't mind," said Marsha, who attended Monday's official premiere with her husband in Los Angeles. "There was so much to take in, and the movie looks like a painting. Those zombies were pretty gory. That I didn't like."

Snyder is not a household name among mainstream moviegoers, at least not yet, but he is rapidly becoming one among the many millions of fans of hard core horror films and graphic novels -- Mick at Applebee's is undoubtedly one of them.

The director could be elevated to mythic status among that subset of film fanatics if he pulls off his next project, "Watchmen," which Snyder describes as "The Bible of graphic novels." Fans of the "Watchmen" cherish the novel, however, and will hold Snyder to a punishingly high standard.

The work of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon, "Watchmen" tells the tale of a band of retired superheroes, broken mentally and physically by their lives of crime-fighting, who re-emerge when one of their colleagues is killed. A variety of film-makers and studios have tried to bring the 12-issue novel to the screen since it was published in 1986 but all have failed, in part because the cantankerous Moore, as Snyder notes, "wants no part of it."

Miller cooperated with Snyder on "300'' and spoke admiringly of the finished project, but there will be no such cooperation from Moore, who wouldn't allow his name to be listed in the credits of "V for Vendetta," a movie released last year based on his graphic novel of the same name. Moore claims in a recent interview that he talked director Terry Gilliam out of making "Watchmen."

"We have a running joke on press junkets for '300' about how long it will take someone to ask about 'Watchmen,' " Snyder said with a laugh. "It is usually the third or fourth question. The novel appears to mean a lot to journalists in their 30s and 40s."

Though the dedicated protectors of "Watchmen" will be looking over his shoulder, Snyder sees the upside to its passionate audience.

"There is a ready-made audience for the film (tentatively schedule for release in fall of next year)," he points out. "That will help the movie, as long as I don't screw it up."

Mick from Applebee's will undoubtedly give him the early word.

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