dialogue with Zack Snyder
EmptyFilmmaker Zack Snyder arrived in Berlin with "300," a historical action movie about the Battle of Thermopylae based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller. Snyder is an award-winning commercial and video director who made his debut with the 2004 remake of "Dawn of the Dead," which not only was a boxoffice hit but also was that rare horror movie to earn critical acclaim. "300" is only Snyder's second movie, but looking like a graphic novel come to life, it already is generating buzz for its unique style. Snyder discussed the film with The Hollywood Reporter film reporter Borys Kit.
The Hollywood Re- porter: How did you get involved with "300"? Did you read the Frank Miller graphic novel?
Zack Snyder: I was familiar with the graphic novel, and a few years ago, I was in (producer) Gianni Nunnari's office, and I saw it on his desk. And he was telling me, "We have this movie that Martin Scorsese is doing, and we have this movie …" and he said, "What are you interested in doing? What would be cool?" And I said, "That would be cool (pointing at graphic novel.) If you made '300' into a movie, and specifically this shot of Leonidas getting whacked by a million arrows." I said, "If you could make this shot real, then you've got, well, you've made something that I had never seen in a movie."
THR: But at that point you had not even directed a movie.
Snyder: I had no track record. I was the guy who quit "S.W.A.T." That's not a great thing to be in Hollywood.
THR: And then you made "Dawn of the Dead," which was a hit, and then the project was finally set up at Warner Bros.
Snyder: (Warners president of production) Jeff Robinov had seen "Dawn of the Dead" and for whatever reason thought it was something special. He wanted to make a movie with me. He helped shape ("300") and helped me understand that movie I wanted to make, but in the end, he wanted me to make my movie as cool as I could. And that's hard in this town. The way the system is set up, to really cultivate a filmmaker and say, "You're promising me you'll make something different?" That's a promise that every filmmaker makes, by the way. That was really cool, and I felt obligated to try to give him something else.
THR: How did you convince him that you're making something different with "300"?
Snyder: I did a test shot. I remember we were talking, and he said, "Is there anything you could show me that would help me understand what this is?" I said, "Yeah, let me shoot something." So I did a shot and basically it was a 360-degrees Steadicam shot of one Spartan fighting. I didn't want to do a shot from the movie because it invites a whole series of questions like, "Is this what the actors are going to look like?" It opens up a whole can of worms. So I did an abstract action sequence, but it actually tells a story. It starts with the Warner Bros. shield, which gets stabbed, and the camera comes around and you see this Spartan fighting these Persian soldiers, kills them all, and a phalanx links up with him and we go back to reveal the entire Persian army. And they all shoot arrows. So it had the same style as the movie.
THR: How did you come up with that style?
Snyder: I had played around with it in commercials. Aesthetically, it's what I like. What we did in the test shot — and we did this in the movie — is in the fighting. I wanted to see the actors fighting. If you look at the movie, in the beginning of Battle 1, there's a lot of quick cutting. And in some ways I did that on purpose, to goad the audience into perceiving that that's the way the battles were going to be photographed, in that sort of "Gladiator," messy, you're-not-quite-sure-what's-happening style. And then suddenly, the movie breaks out and the language of the movie really becomes apparent when Gerry (Gerard Butler) is hacking everybody and the camera is floating. We shot that with three cameras, all right next to each other. The one center camera is flat, the wide lens camera is slightly bladed in, and the long lens is slightly bladed in. And all three were running at 150 frames. All three are basically shooting the same thing. They overlap. And in post, you end up with the ability to zoom between the different sizes and never cut. By having all three, I could choose where I wanted to be.
THR: You made a conscious decision to show as much severed limbs and blood and sex as possible.
Snyder: Absolutely. I wanted to make a movie for me. I always feel that when I see a movie like this, it just stops before it gets good. I always want the extra bit that I don't get. I want to turn that volume up just a little bit louder and you go, "Oh, no way! Are you kidding me? They really didn't do that!" And even in the sex scene, it's not porn, but it certainly has some edge to it. You know you're in an R movie. The one thing about "300" is that it's a movie done on purpose. All of its weirdness is there because I like it, not because we couldn't do this or we couldn't do that. The movie is not shy. It's coming to get you. And it's not afraid of who it is. It's very confident in its skin.