"300" Post-Game: One-On-One with Zack Snyder

Wed, March 14th, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

TV/Film
Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher

In the past month, audiences have been "preparing for glory" as the media blitz for the feature film adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel "300" took off. The buzz on the Zack Snyder directed film grew to fantastic heights in the days leading up to its release, with interest running high both online and in the real world. Even with that great buzz, some were worried that less than favorable reviews from the likes of the New York Times and Los Angeles Times would affect interest in the film.

Wrong.

The film went on to exceed everyone's expectations, pulling in a record breaking $70+ million dollars, far above the expected $35 - $40 million dollar bow the studio was hoping for. Clearly, audiences were ready and willing to dine in hell with Leonidas and his 300 men.

With the film now in the record books, CBR News caught up with director Zack Snyder Tuesday evening by phone for something of a post game report and to discuss his next feature film, the highly anticipated adaptation of the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons graphic novel "Watchmen."

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Zack Snyder directing on the set of "300"
Hey Zack, I'm guessing you had a pretty good weekend.

Yeah, but we've all been a bit under the weather at my house, so Debbie [Snyder, Zack's wife and Executive Producer on "300"] and I were just hiding out and being fluish, but the info coming in from the streets was keeping us happy.

So, were you sitting there on a laptop frantically checking out the daily box office receipts?

I tried to stay away from that and was waiting for the studio to call with either, "We're very disappointed" or a "There's a big mistake in the numbers." [laughs] Luckily, it was a good surprise.

So, you guys were sitting at home, nursing your fluish symptoms with little calls of joy coming in occasionally.

Exactly. Chicken Soup - through the phone. [laughs]

The buzz on this movie going into Friday was huge, which is something of a mixed blessing. Certainly it's nice to have people talking, but that could also rise expectations to such a level that suddenly they can't be met. Fortunately, "300" exceeded whatever expectations there were. Now, despite all that, how nervous were you the week leading up to this film?

You know, I knew people would come out to see the movie and I was excited about it, but it was nerve wracking. I knew my "people" would like the movie, but I had no idea how the general public would respond.

So you pretty much threw up your hands and hoped for the best.

Exactly. My hope was that maybe it could do as well as "Dawn of the Dead" did on its opening weekend, which saw a $26 million weekend and that's a big weekend, you know?

Well, $70 million is a pretty damn big weekend, too.

That's just ridiculous! [laughs]

And in head-to-head comic book film battles, you beat the opening weekend of that flaming head "Ghost Rider" guy, too.

Awesome! [laughs]

So, you're currently the number one comic book movie of the year thus far, but of course "Spider-Man 3" comes out this year ...

I've got no chance, especially with that movie being PG13. If they turned "Spider-Man 3" into an R rated film, I might have a chance! [laughs]

So, in the week leading up to this film, the chatter and feedback on the film came from everyone, including the Government of Iran. Javad Shamghadri, the cultural adviser to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had some choice comments about "300," insisting the film is Hollywood's attempt to humiliate Iran. Have you read any of these comments?

Yeah, I saw that, but I don't think he's even seen the film, so I'm a little disappointed! [laughs] Then I saw another thing where some Iranian newspaper guy went to see it and said, "What? I don't get why everyone is so mad."

Zack Snyder directing on the set of "300"
Now, I've also seen a handful of messages left on public message boards where people are saying that "300" promotes racist ideals, that it promotes white supremacy with the Spartans over the darker skinned Persians. So, how do you respond to those kind of accusations, especially now that the film is out, whether it's from the government of Iran or someone posting on a message board.

You know, when I see that, when I see someone use words like "neocon," "homophobic," "homoerotic" or "racist" in their review, I kind of just think they don't get the movie and don't understand. It's a graphic novel movie about a bunch of guys that are stomping the snot out of each other. As soon as you start to frame it like that, it becomes clear that you've missed the point entirely.

This has to all be a bit unusual for you - I can't imagine that you ever anticipated the government of Iran would comment on a movie you made.

Oh, it's awesome! [laughs] Best thing ever! [laughs] When someone says I'm a "homophobic neocon," I think to myself and think, "Oh My God! How awesome is it that they care that much!" That's a lot of caring! [laughs]

Allright, so, it's the Monday following a quiet weekend where you didn't do much celebrating, how did you spend that first day of the new work week? Did you give yourself some much needed time off?

Nope, I was shooting a commercial. I was on set working. It was a Miller Lite commercial. It's pretty funny. It's about this giant crowd shaped like a person, stomping through the streets looking for beer. It's kinda fun.

Do you think you'll be giving up the commercial directing any time soon?

No. It's fun. I've been doing it for 15 years and it's just fun.

Even considering the movie slate you have upcoming, which includes "Watchmen," following that you see yourself still directing commercials?

Oh yeah. Something like a Miller Lite commercial? Absolutely.

What does a smaller production like a commercial do for you? Does it give you the same kind of rush you get from working on a big movie like "300?"

On a smaller scale, it does. It's problem solving, it's working with my buddies and it's being creative. You work in the moment a lot. It's really a lot of fun.

Before I let you go we have to touch on "Watchmen" obviously. Now, in addition to "Watchmen" another film your set to direct was announced recently. Will "Wacthmen" be your next film, or will you try something else first?

I'm doing "Watchmen" next for sure. That's what we're focusing all our attention on. It's the shit, as they say! [laughs] It's the best thing out there. Maybe I don't know what I'm talking about, but I feel like "Watchmen" is the coolest thing ever and I have to do it.

Do you have any concern that this early on in your feature career you could be labeled as the "comic book movie" director?

First off, that label doesn't bother me at all. Secondly, if you know anything about "Watchmen" and how hard core that story is, you really don't need to worry about that kind of stuff. Life's so rough! [laughs]

Yes, life could suck a lot worse for you at this point. [laughs]

That's so true. This is all such an embarrassment of riches.

In Tuesday's "Hollywood Reporter" there was a note that said you were looking for a $150 million dollar budget for the "Watchmen" film while Warner's was hoping for something closer to $100 million. Is a film like "Watchmen," with all the intricate settings and locales, one that could even be made for less than $150 million?

I think it can. We have ideas and I think there's a way to do it.

How close are you guys on a budget?

I really don't know yet. We're trying to get something together to show the studio right now and we're hoping to get that as low as we can.

So, that budget that is being bandied about right now, is that just a production budget or all inclusive including actors costs and your own fees?

That's all in and all that stuff is talked about. And really, none of this is real yet. The reality is that it's still an R rated movie, it's an R rated super hero movie, something that's never been tested before and no one knows what the hell that means. But I think if you went to see "300," I would hope that you'd go see "Watchmen."

Rorschach test shot hidden in YouTube "300" trailer
Speaking of something to show the studio, you showed fans a little something with that R rated trailer for "300" that showed up on YouTube last week in the form of a quick test shot of Rorschach. How much test footage have you done for the film thus far?

Honestly, not that much. That really was the only shot we've done. I did that shot with a couple of friends a long time ago. Grant Freckelton, who was the visual effects art director on "300," and we were sitting around and I shot a picture of Wesley Coller, one of the associate producers on "300," in the trench coat and I said, "Hey, let's knock this up!" That's what we'd say when we'd create a frame for "300." So, I said I wanted to do this "Watchmen" frame and I did this little doodle with the moon here, the Empire State building over here, some atmosphere, stuff like that. Grant did it in like an hour, there's no grain on it, it's just a quicky and I thought it was cool. I had it as my screen saver on my computer for a while. [laughs] People would be looking over my shoulder saying, "Wow, what the hell is that?" [laughs]

That's the quickest way to get your laptop stolen, by the way!

It really is! [laughs] It truly is. I also travel with a copy of "Watchmen" and I'm always doodling on it and drawing all over it and I think to myself, "Shit, someone is going to steal this! It's got too much shit in it now!" [laughs]

Indeed. Now, there's been a lot of news about Tom Cruise possibly playing the part of Ozymandias in the film. Then there was news that he wasn't. Maybe he was. Anything new on that front?

I don't think he's doing it. I wish he would, but I think Tom's busy and our schedule is making that tough. We've had a lot of great conversations about it and he's a bit of a "Watchmen" fan now, but I don't think he'll do it.

He certainly would inhabit that role nicely.

It's a great idea, but what can you do?

Comic artist John Cassaday is doing some costume design on "Watchmen." How closely have you worked with on this?

I've gone out to a few guys in the business to get their takes. I don't know if I'd necessarily call it costume design so much as concepts, just to see what they'd come up with. A lot of what we're doing will look exactly as it does in the book, but there are a couple of things we'll update, like the girls. Not update in the sense that it won't be 1985, it'll still be 1985, but to give them a little sexier look or to update the outfits a bit. There's a sophisticated audience out there. A lot of graphic novels and comic book heroes have been made into films since 1985 and despite how cool "Watchmen" is, it needs an ever so slight tweak for today's audience. If "Watchmen" were the first comic book movie made, I don't think it would be a problem, but at this point you have to be aware of what everyone else has done a little bit.

How dramatically do you think you'll have to change the Gibbons designs for the various heroes?

A little bit. I don't think it'll be a ton. I think Rorschach will look exactly as he does. Dr. Manhattan will look probably exactly as he does. Night Owl will be pretty close, but we're trying to make him look a little scarier. I think there's a line in the graphic novel where it says the thugs are afraid of the outfit and I want to make that feel real because when you see him, he's not exactly the scariest guy in the world. Ozy I want to make just a little cooler. He's kind of got a Luxor aesthetic and I want to have more of a realistic look. I always thought that if Ozy had Egyptian artifacts, he'd have the real thing, no repro stuff.

Finally, this year will likely end up being one of the biggest for comics in other media. "Ghost Rider" performed above expectations, as did "300." There's "TMNT" coming out in a few weeks, but on the more mature side we also have "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" and "Spider-Man 3" seeing release this summer. Now, "300" is kind of the next evolution in comic based films in the way you presented the material and filmed it. So, what's next? What do you see as the next evolution in comics inspired films?

Well, the evolution with "Watchmen" is not a visual one as much as it's a revolution of ideas in the sense that I don't think comic book heroes have ventured into pop culture in the way that they do in "Watchmen." I don't think they've been politicized and I don't think anyone's seen super heroes do what they might do in reality. There's no super heroes that have been rapists or have tried to assasinte presidents or win wars, and that's a huge deal. Also, audiences have never seen super heroes have trouble with impotency or a bad guy who wants world peace. There's a lot of crazy concepts in "Watchmen" that I think will end up being the next evolution. In some ways it's the first time a comic based movie - and I don't really count films like "Road to Perdition" or "History of Violence" as they don't feature super heroes, so I don't count those as "comic book" movies necessarily - but I think when you see a movie with a super hero in it that acknowledges his super hero pedigree, you see him doing adult stuff in a cool way, I don't know what it means, but it sure is something else and something new for super hero films.

Thanks, Zack. Good luck with "Watchmen" and congratulations again on your big weekend.

Thank you.

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