In Warner Bros.’ new action-drama 300, director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) takes Frank Miller’s graphic novel and brings the events and the heroic account of the Spartans to the big screen. The army of Sparta daringly and courageously fought the overwhelming Persian military in what turned out to be one of the greatest battles in history. The Battle of Thermopylae may have only lasted three days, but the Spartan army of just 300 men accomplished what they set out to do, encourage all of Greece to unite and stand up for democracy.
ComingSoon.net/Superhero Hype! talked to Zack Snyder about the anticipated film and found out exactly how difficult it was to make a movie like 300.
CS/SHH!: For those who haven’t read the graphic novel, how close is the movie to the book?
Zack Snyder: I would say it’s probably about 90% the book. There’s maybe a 10% bit that I added that’s sort of the queen’s story line. We did that to really initially remind people of the why we fight 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. There’s a line in the graphic novel where Gorgo says, “come back with your shield or on it,” which was attributed to her in history. In my research I found, oh here’s another thing this thing where ‘only Spartan women give birth to real men.’ 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? That’s really what we used to sort of build her and flush her out.
CS/SHH!: Where do you start with movie like this? You’re on a green screen stage so do you start building environments? Do you start with the actors?
Snyder: The way we started was with the concept art. I would do a little doodle and Grant would say, “okay.” He would so some Photoshop, whacking together some images. That would sort of get us in an area where I would say, “okay that’s kind of working.” Then we’d 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. So that process led us all the way to production where we sit at a table like this. We’d have the storyboard sitting in front of us and I’d say “okay I want the camera below. What happened a moment before if the guy that walked up and stopped on the hill and I’m imaging that it’s a silhouette and that sky we’d replace.” Everyone would take a turn and the visual effects guys would go, “okay what we plan to do is generate this sky, get this background. Maybe there’s a sudden flare. Maybe blah blah blah.” Then Jim Bissell the production designer would say, “okay this is what I plan to build for you to shoot on. It’s a little silhouetted hill. It’s made out of concrete and you can use it for all these different things.” We basically do that 2,000 times and you have a movie.
CS/SHH!: Miller has such a distinct style in the book. Was it difficult as the director to leave your own make?
Snyder: I didn’t really think about it in that way. Even when you try to get out of the way of something, you’re like a filter. You can’t help it because it goes through you and when it comes out the other side, it’s got people in it and there’s all sorts of stuff that happens so I really wasn’t worried about. The thing I love about a movie is its tone. That’s 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 wasn’t 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. But 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 formed the tone of the movie. That’s my favorite thing about the movie is that I feel that.
CS/SHH!: We’re primarily dealing with mythology rather than history here.
Snyder: Absolutely. I’d say “300” is a movie that is made from the Spartan perspective. Not just from the Spartan perspective, the cameras are the Spartans, but it’s 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. It’s not necessarily down to the fact that they don’t have armor on. Everything about it is just to make the Spartans more overwhelming.
CS/SHH!: Were there any shots you just couldn’t make work and they’re out of the movie?
Snyder: Nothing 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 that’s going to be on the DVD. It’s these giants with these midget archers on their backs. They just got so outrageous that when I looked at it I thought this is from another movie. It was crazy.
CS/SHH!: Is it finished?
Snyder: Yeah. It’s 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. They’re firing arrows and then the Spartans comes and hacks the leg off it. It falls and they leap off and stab the little elf.
CS/SHH!: Frank Miller was hesitant on “Sin City” about letting Robert Rodriguez do the film. Was he apprehensive at all with you?
Snyder: He was hesitant. I don’t think he thought that anyone would ever try to make a movie out of “300.” When I’ve been with him and we’ve talked about it in these kinds of scenarios, he always seems to me to be very surprised that we picked it. It’s almost like a passion project for him. If you look at it in relation to his other work, it’s an anomaly in a lot of ways. I think the graphic novel world, it’s is an anomaly. It sort of exists outside the realm. The one thing that is consistent is who Leonidas is. Leonidas is Marv or he’s Batman. He’s 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, that’s the thing he just likes.
CS/SHH!: Can you talk about the color palettes you went with?
Snyder: All the color choices have to do with… and I have theories about each sequence and why they are the color they are and also how they sort of relay back to what the overall palette of the book is. In the book, the only color that is really saturated is the red. Everything else is pretty washed out. Even that in 90% in the case of the book are almost that brownie red.
CS/SHH!: With the DVD what can fans look forward to beside that one scene you already spoke about?
Snyder: There’s only a few deleted scenes because it’s pretty much the movie that we made. That’s the thing. The one cool thing about the cinematic experience of “300” is that it’s my cut. They haven’t really messed with it that much. Although there are a few Ephialtes scenes we took out where when we first see him and he’s looking down on the Persians. It’s just straight out of the graphic novel. You can look at the graphic novel and those are the two scenes that aren’t it in. But, we shot them. Also Stelios jumping off the wall of the dead that was also in the movie.
CS/SHH!: What was dealing with the MPAA like?
Snyder: You know it wasn’t 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 don’t think the movie personally is that gory, “300.” I think it’s so bizarre. I’ve had 50-year-old women see the movie and go, “oh I thought it was cool.” And I go, “what about all the gore?” They’re like, “oh it’s cool. It’s like art. It’s fancy.” I think on one hand yes. If you want to enjoy that you can, but I think on the other hand it’s abstract in a way. I think the MPAA looked at it and said, “oh it’s not ‘Saving Private Ryan.'”
You can check out the gore yourself when 300 hits conventional theaters and IMAX on Friday, March 9.