300 - Zack Snyder interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
ZACK Snyder talks about the challenge of bringing Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300 to the screen and the overwhelming success of the film in America.
He also talks about some of the training techniques he employed, why some of the controversy surrounding the film has taken him by surprise and why Watchmen is now inevitable.
Q. How long have you been involved with this project?
Zack Snyder: I started working on it in 2002. I worked on it, went off and did Dawn Of The Dead and then came back and kept working on it. When we first got it no one was really interested in it at all, especially in the concept of re-inventing the sword and sandals movie because they didn’t think it was broken at the time. They were in the midst of making Troy and they were saying: “We have Brad Pitt, this awesome script and Wolfgang Petersen, and we’re going to Morocco and Mexico. You want to just go inside with relatively unknown actors and film a comic book? No but thanks anyway!”
Q. Was it always going to be done digitally, with so much blue screen work?
Zack Snyder: We had an idea of doing it City of Lost Children style too. We always wanted to do it inside but I think originally we talked about doing it with giant sets and painted backgrounds. But it was actually more expensive. I think that the blue screen version we got it is better for the movie because it gives it more scope than we ever could have had.
Q. How does it actually work?
Zack Snyder: It’s not a revolution. I would say that the weatherman has the same technology that we have – the big blue screen that he stands in front of. But what we did was take that off the shelf concept and put the screws to it as hard as we could. We asked: “How far can we squeeze this and what can we get out of it?” The process was basically if you can touch it, you should build it. If it’s the ground or something you’re going to lean on then we should probably build that. If it’s 25 feet behind them, then why bother?
Q. Have you seen the original Victor Mature film, 300 Spartans?
Zack Snyder: I have seen the old film. The relationship to the old film comes from Frank [Miller] more than anybody. He loves the old film. He saw it as a child. When you watch it now it doesn’t really hold up. But he says when he was sitting there, it got near the end and he thought: “Oh my gosh, are the heroes going to die?”
It was that idea that really rocked his world. It changed his entire perception. If you look at Batman, or Marv [Sin City], or even his Daredevil to some extent, they’re all these tragic heroes that are headed for bad ends – and that’s because of the original 300 Spartans. For him, Batman, Marv and Leonidas are the same character. He just put one in his version of ancient Greece and one’s in some film noir role. It’s the same guy but I think that’s really what’s at the heart of 300. It has very little to do with what’s around it and a lot to do with Leonidas and his crash course with his own demise and that happening in a slightly heroic way. It’s all about framing that moment.
Q. So was the casting of Leonidas all the more crucial?
Zack Snyder: It really was. I think when I put Gerard Butler in the movie it was my belief that he did understand what Frank wanted. What he got out of the drawings was what he tried to put in the movie – and that’s what we both tried to do. The performance is based more on the graphic novel than it is on anything else.
Q. Did you ever find yourself having to reign him in at all, because he’s quite crazy really?
Zack Snyder: He is a bit of a psycho but that’s consistent with the way Frank sees him. He’s not a guy you want to be friends with. In a normal movie the audience is supposed to see the hero and say: “That’s me! I’m fighting!” But I really tried from the beginning of this movie to say: “You’re not the Spartans. They throw their kids off a cliff. They beat them. Their morality is completely insane…” It was also part of the fun of making it – to suck you in and make you think you’re a Spartan and then showing you something they do that’s completely morally the opposite to what you’d do as a modern person.
Q. And yet you’re completely on their side…
Zack Snyder: You are on their side because that’s the point of view of the movie. Ultimately, a good movie takes you to one point of view. If I’d made this movie from the perspective of Ephialtes hopefully you’d be on his side. You’d go: “Oh my gosh, the Spartans are so mean to him! He’s just a hunchback. He’s trying to help! Screw them!” That would be cool. I could also have made the movie from Xerxes’ point of view and you might have said: “Those Spartans are crazy! They won’t listen!”
Q. Can you tell us about Mark Twight, the physical trainer you used on the film?
Zack Snyder: Mark is a friend of mine. I’ve known him for quite a long time. He’s a mountain climber. I called him and asked if he’d be interested in training the guys for the movie and he immediately said: “Not so much!”
I told him it’d be fun but he still said “no” and asked: “What would be fun about a bunch of actors? Are they going to cry?” But once I told him he could do anything he wanted with them, experiment on them he felt that had some appeal. I warned him that they weren’t in great shape and that the concept was we wanted to make them look crazy, so he finally agreed to do it.
Mark’s whole way of training is based on suffering. He likes you to be in extreme pain all the time. Sounds like a vacation doesn’t it? But he felt that if all the actors suffered together they’d bond. I’m not sure if that’s exactly how it worked but it was certainly a noble concept. And I think it shows.
Q. Is it true that you trained with them?
Zack Snyder: I did. I wanted to train with them because I really was asking a lot. I didn’t just want to be sitting in my chair, yawning and [points] saying: “You should work out some more.”
Q. What did you think when you first heard that the film had grossed $70 million in three days?
Zack Snyder: It seemed like a mistake, an accounting error.
Q. Were you surprised?
Zack Snyder: I was. I wanted the film to make money but never thought it would be this phenomenal.
Q. How did you celebrate?
Zack Snyder: I was sick. My wife and I were at home in bed. I had the flu.
Q. Why do you think so many people have responded to it?
Zack Snyder: I think it has a little bit to do with audiences saw the images and went “gosh”. I’ve sat in the movie theatre and watched trailers and a lot of them seem like the same movie over and over and over. Then you see something that makes you go: “OK, that’s a different way of doing it; let’s check that out!” Also, the Internet has often promised to make a movie a hit and hasn’t really delivered. With 300, the internet has really helped the movie deliver a large portion of its groundswell.
Q. Has the response from Iran surprised you?
Zack Snyder: It has surprised me a bit because I would hope that people would understand that the last thing I’d want is to offend anyone with the film. If anyone is offended by it, I’m deeply sorry because that’s not the intention of the movie at all. To me, it’s a work of fantasy; it’s not intended to depict any culture in a realistic way. That’s just not what the movie is. I do have an appreciation for those cultures because of the historical research that I’ve done in preparing the film. I think it’s the responsibility of someone who sees the movie to actually crack open the history book and see what really happened.
But the truth is, I am a little bit “wow” by the reaction. It’s not my intention at all to make a film that people would find offensive.
Q. And yet fans of the comic books have enthusiastically embraced the film ever since Comicon. Is that when you started to think it could work and who the film is really aimed towards?
Zack Snyder: Yeah, I think if you can see the film as a fantasy and enjoy that, then I think it’s more of a fun experience. That’s really what it’s about. I made it because I wanted to reinvigorate cinema. It takes a lot to get people out to the cinema nowadays. At home, they’ve got a 50” plasma, surround sound, so really why go out? To me, I wanted to say: “This is different. Look at this.” Whether or not it’s completely original is debatable, but there are pictures in the movie that you haven’t seen.
Q. Has the success of 300 made Watchmen inevitable?
Zack Snyder: I believe that Watchmen exists in some ways in the same circle, as part of the internet. I think it bodes well for the potential of Watchmen. By the way, Watchmen is a pretty radical notion – to say we’re going to make an R-rated superhero movie.
Q. Do you plan to do a sequel to Dawn Of The Dead?
Zack Snyder: I don’t have a plan to do a sequel to Dawn... ‘ve actually been asked whether there was a plan to do a sequel to 300 and I said: “Well, I have been asked to do a sequel to Dawn so now that you mention it, if you know anything about what happens to the Spartans at the end of 300 maybe there’s a combination movie that can be made.”
I’m interested in the zombie genre. I think it’s fun and clearly I had a good time with Dawn but it wouldn’t be a thing in the future that I would completely ever rule out.
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