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Interview : Zack Snyder

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Clint Morris talks to the “300” director


Zack Snyder must be one hell of a director – after all, Frank Miller doesn’t let just anyone make films based on his legendary graphic novels. But just as Robert Rodriguez and Miller saw eye to eye on what a film based on “Sin City” should be, so did Snyder (the director of the recent “Dawn of the Dead” remake) and the legendary author. Thus, “300” the movie got made.

CLINT MORRIS talks to “300” director Zack Snyder about the task of minding Miller’s baby.

Was “Sin City” what sparked your attention to “300”?
No, I was working on it well before Dawn of the Dead and I was like, look we don’t need to write a script, and they were like, “What are you talking about? Of course we do. You’re an idiot, you don’t understand how movies are made.” I come back from Dawn and I say, look, they didn’t use a script, they just shot the book and they were like, “Okay, whatever.” Sin City completely made the studio go, “Oh. Huh. That’s cool, that could work. We could make money from them.” I thank God for that movie.

How did you decide on your actors for “300”?
You know, the studio was actually really cool, if you look at the cast there is no big Hollywood move. Once I had Gerard [Butler] they were like, “Okay. So it’s R-rated with Gerard? Okay, go ahead. Go make it.” Gerard’s awesome, but you look at him in the teaser and he is someone else. I think the world will go, “Okay, that’s Leonitis,” he’s done an amazing job, I couldn’t ask for anything more. The rest of the cast just kind of fell in, I went to England and found everyone else.

Why England?
I don’t know. They train all the time and it just seemed like an obvious place to go for super fit guys. [laughing] No, I just thought I would find really great actors, a bunch of young guys that no one has really seen in America and it would seem original. Then, of course, they took their shirts off and they were like, “Oh fuck, they gotta hit the gym pretty hard.” Because they would be like, “Oh, in England it’s not cool to be in shape.”

How do you approach something that is pretty much storyboarded and scripted already by someone else?
Well, no, I drew the movie. The way I would do it is I would photocopy Frank’s frames because basically the challenge for me was to tell the movie through Frank’s frames, but Frank draws a montage, not a moment-to-moment experience like a film is. The challenge for me is to try and take the moment that Frank drew, like the horse rears up and it is freakin’ awesome, so how do I get into that moment? My challenge was to draw the ten shots to get to his shot and then another ten shots to get out of it. It was a fun process to have a frame as a goal to get to. Any scene that wasn’t in the book I felt obliged to find my frame, to try and find my “Frank Frame” and I would set it before and try to draw at it. I used a similar style to try and get this continuity.

I noticed in the ‘300’ footage that we saw that the shooting of the arrows was an homage to ‘Hero’, what other films did you draw from?
has a huge influence on the movie, if you are looking for a reference for 300 there’s nowhere to go, Hero’s kind of close, but after that you kind of run out of movies.

Did you enjoy making a comic book movie because you are now attached to ‘Watchmen’?
I did enjoy it for a bunch of reasons. Frank’s book is beautiful and to have that as source material and to try and make those frames real, that’s an experience in itself and I think that we hit it a couple times where we were like, oh that’s it, that’s the shot. I really couldn’t hope for much more than that. The difference is that where Frank’s book is like a series of paintings that tell a story I think that Alan [Moore]’s book is more like a novel that has drawings in it. My feeling with Watchmen is that yes, I made a deal with everybody, I want to make this movie, it would be awesome to make it. I need to be convinced that it is worth making, that we have the respect that needs to be had to be able to say, “Okay, here is a thing that needs to be filmed.” I am going to wait and see, right now I am the biggest skeptic.

Have you started casting?
Oh God no. People are always like, “What about this? Wouldn’t it be cool?”

I guess the real question would be what draft are you on?
That’s the real question because I feel like Alex [Tse] has taken the Hader draft and whacked it around and everyone’s got ideas. He has said, “What about this?” and I said okay… I just don’t know, I haven’t seen anything yet that makes me think that we’re any closer to it.

It seems to be the Rubik’s Cube of comic book movies.
Truly, and right now it’s hard to say, but I feel like it is the answer. Everyone says, “I would respect the source material,” but I am not sure that the source material can dictate this format like it did with Lord of the Rings or whatever. But I think what Hollywood misses and what we need to think about is what is the book about, what does it mean? It’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics of writing the script to try and say how do I get character A to B, to find this out, to go to here… the mechanics of the movie, that’s the problem of the movie. The screenwriters get caught up in the story and forget what it’s about. For me you’ve got to deconstruct it, it’s more important to get to the philosophy of the book than to get to the A and B of the book. What will happen, I don’t know. I will tell you this, the Watchmen movie needs to be hard and challenge everybody and the awesome thing about it is that Warner Bros. has it and in some way it is incredibly poetic that they do, because they have Superman and Batman and I always ask, “Do you guys realize what Watchmen is? You really want me to make this movie?” To their credit they are like, “Yeah, we think we do.” They know that in order for their movies to be cool, in order for Batman or Superman to be cool, they also need to look at it as if Superman cares too much about humanity. What would Batman be like if he lost his confidence and he was hollow? Who’s that guy? That, to me, is what it’s about. We have got X-Men, we’re gonna have another X-Men movie I’m sure you saw the end of it… it’s not like no, no way… Come on! That’s ridiculous. We’re gonna get another Fantastic Four, another Spider-Man, it’s time for someone to debunk that shit and say, “Yeah we all think it’s awesome, we all think it’s cool, but what does it mean to society? What’s it mean to pop culture?”

How are you going to approach the material?
Well I think the knee jerk for everyone is to go, “Update it, make it contemporary, make it the war on terror or whatever,” and that’s all cool, but I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s cooler than making the book just the way it is. Is the metaphor clearer if you update it or is the metaphor clearer if you just render it the way it is, as a metaphor? That might be a better way to do it, I don’t know.

– CLINT MORRIS

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About Caffeinated Clint

The writer/publicist/producer who wears the editor hat on Moviehole. Favorite films include "Say Anything...", "The Hunt for Red October", "Jerry Maguire", "Almost Famous", "Die Hard", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "Young Guns", "American Psycho", "Back to the Future" and the "Star Wars" series.
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