Zack Snyder talks 300

How did you initially approach the adaptation?
I look at it like a work of literature; I look at it like I’m doing an adaptation of a novel, and if that novel, if it was Moby Dick, Shakespeare or whatever, you just do it like it was written, that’s the point. You have to do it a thousand times before Baz Luhrmann comes along and says, ‘Okay, let’s do it like this.’ It takes a while to get to that point.

And I think the first responsibility for me was to go, ‘Okay. How can I make that experience in a movie?’ That’s it. People were like, ‘Well, you know, don’t you feel like you want to be creative?’ It’s more creative than any other normal movie project to try and make that book into a movie. I feel honoured to have had the chance to do it.

You fought quite hard for your R rating. Was there ever a temptation to cave in?
Well, there was a slight temptation when the studio said, ‘Listen, here’s the deal, we’ll give you as much money as you want, and you can put anyone in the movie, and you can shoot for as long as you want, if you try and figure out a way to make this movie PG-13.’ So I took a moment of pause, and went ‘Hmm, and what’s the alternative?’ and they said ‘Well, the alternative is, we’ll give you 50 million dollars to make the movie, and like, five days.’ Well, not five days, but basically.

I think the experience of the movie and the success of the movie in the States so far has come from this slightly culty vibe. I think that movie-goers, and I don’t know if this is a worldwide phenomenon, but certainly in my experience, is that it’s difficult to find a reason to go to the movies these days. You have a 50-inch plasma and surround sound – why go out? Order in, it seems better.

I think that what’s happening with 300 is that people are saying, ‘At least that looks like something else, at the very least there’s a chance that I’ll see something I haven’t seen.’ And that’s a hard thing to give an audience in this day and age when they’ve seen pretty much everything. There’s not a lot they haven’t experienced. I think that what we did was the right approach. It’s doing okay.

How was it working with the bluescreen? Do you expect to see a whole wave of bluescreen movies greenlit after 300’s success?
It depends on how you do it. With 300 I don’t think there was really an option. Certainly there was no place to go to film the movie; there was no person to hire that looked like what Frank drew, so we had a lot of work to do to make the people and the environments look like the graphic novel. It’s not a thing I’d recommend; it’s not a way to make a movie, it’s difficult.

It’s so particular. We had a particular look we were going for, so it was difficult to imagine getting there any other way. But another movie? A romantic comedy that takes place in Paris? Do you want to shoot that on bluescreen? No, I think that’s a mistake. Although, I would imagine people are going to say, ‘Hey, we’ll just shoot it on bluescreen, don’t go anywhere, it’s fine.’

The truth is the technology we used on 300 was not revolutionary - the weatherman has the same technology as we do, basically. But the difference is we took it off the shelf and we went, okay, let’s squeeze every ounce of art out of it that we can manage.

How difficult was it for the actors to imagine the environments?
It is hard. I think for me, I was confident that I could do it, but I think it was hard for the actors to believe that I knew what I was talking about. Like, ‘Okay, over there there’s all of your guys on the hill, and there’s Xerxes’ guys over there. Okay let’s do it!’ And they’d be like, ‘What? Are you sure?’ And I’m like, ‘Don’t worry, it’ll be great!’ And I could tell Gerry was like ‘Okay, I hope this works, I look pretty stupid.’

There’s a guy Grant Freckleton. He’s in the making-of book. So we’d shoot some shots, we’d have the dailies and we’d give it to Grant and I’d go up there with Grant and we’d sit down, and we had a series of different skies, and atmosphere, and garbage, and all this stuff, and we’d build a frame – only one shot, it wasn’t the finished shot, but you could do it for one frame – and I could bring it down and show it to the guys. ‘This is what we shot last week,’ and they’d go, ‘Oh shit, okay, it looks cool.’ And I think that helped them a little bit, because if we hadn’t done that, you’d see a lot of apprehensive action in the movie.

Has the success of 300 opened up doors for Watchmen?
It has in a lot of ways. For me, Watchmen is a revolutionary piece of work, it’s a revolutionary project. Even knowing nothing about Watchmen’s politics, and what it says about authority and all of the things it touches on, even if you don’t know anything about that, just the idea of an R-rated superhero movie is enough to send the studio into a tailspin, because you sit in a meeting and they go, ‘Okay, so what’s the Watchmen story? What’s up with that? What are we doing with that? Is it X3?’ And I’m like, ‘You know what? It’s really not.’ And they’re like, ‘Really? Because it seems like it could be, ‘cause that’d be great.’ And I’m like, ‘Really? No. It’s rated R, and the superheroes are raping each other sometimes.’ And they’re like, ‘What?’ What are you? (puts hand on ears) La, la, la la, la!’

I gotta say, Warner Bros and Jeff Robinov who’s Head of Production over there, with 300 he said, ‘Okay, is there anything else you want to do? We really don’t want to do this.’ And I say, ‘Really, there’s nothing. I kinda think it’s cool.’ And he was like, ‘All right, fine.’ And I’m not saying it went against his instincts, but on paper it seemed like a mistake.

This is the studio that did Alexander and Troy…
Yeah, absolutely.

Have you started to think about the cast?
We’re working on the cast, you’ve probably seen that I’ve been talking to Tom Cruise for Ozymandias, but I don’t think he’s going to do it, though he would have been perfect. He was very, very interested in it, but I just couldn’t get him to go that last inch, but we had great conversations about it, and I think he thinks it’s very cool, but it’s just too much. I can’t say who else I’ve been talking to, because they’re right on the edge of saying they’re in, but they’re all cool guys.

The problem is that your average actor in Hollywood, goes, ‘Oh, a superhero movie, right. Big pay-day, you guys make a fortune on these movies.’ The trick with Watchmen is to let everyone know that it’s basically an art-film. It’s an experiment, we don’t know. It’s my feeling audiences are ready to have these archetypes reinvented, because I think that they’re beat up with Spider-Man and Superman and Fantastic 4 and X3 and X-whatever, where they’re going, okay, what else. One more diabolical bad guy, and I’m going to lose my mind – not that I don’t have a diabolical bad guy, I do, and I think that’s awesome, but he wants world peace, which is pretty good.

Frank Miller’s said no more licensing out projects, he wants to direct. How do you feel about that?
My feeling is, and I’ve always felt this way, that I’ve snuck this one away from him. He’s been super supportive of the movie, of 300, and he loves the movie, but I think that in general, his feeling is that he’s a film director, and he is, and he’s a fantastic writer and he has this particular point of view and vision that is so unique that it seems strange that other people have done his work, so I think it’s great. Good for me, because you go down the list and there’s only a few guys.

Were you worried about it coming across as a bit too camp?
If you’ve seen Dawn Of The Dead, you can see a comparison, I like to ride the edge of that, ‘cause I think it’s fun. And to me it lets the viewer off the hook with the perceived politics of the movie. It’s so over the top that you have to go ‘Look, it’s ridiculous.’ I was asked how I feel about the reaction to the movie in the political world. If anyone’s offended by the movie, it’s not my intention at all. I’m deeply sorry if anyone takes offence to the movie, because to me it’s a work of fantasy.

It’s loosely framed in history, but it’s an excuse to create a mythological experience. In some ways, when we shot the film, I tried to push the film away from reality for that very reason. As soon as you start to do the research and start to think about ‘What did Xerxes really look like?’ And as soon as you go, ‘Huh, he looked like this, maybe we should make him look more like how he did in the book,’ then you have to re-examine the whole thing; you have to take the whole thing apart, and then you are making a statement about who Xerxes is, or historically was. Also, the Spartans are depicted in a crazy way - insane fanatics.

Sam Ashurst is a London-based film maker, journalist, and podcast host. He's the director of Frankenstein's Creature, A Little More Flesh + A Little More Flesh 2, and co-hosts the Arrow Podcast. His words have appeared on HuffPost, MSN, The Independent, Yahoo, Cosmopolitan, and many more, as well as of course for us here at GamesRadar+.