Thursday, March 15, 2007

The story behind 300

When Zack Snyder presented his plans for adapting Frank Miller’s popular 300 comic book series to studio heads at Warner Bros., they expected another Gladiator. The plot suggested as much: An expressionistic retelling of the bloody Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC—which led to the decimation of the belligerent Spartan army at the hands of Persia’s enormous forces—Miller’s 300 plays out almost exclusively on the battlefield. Snyder, however, wasn’t interested in replacing Miller’s epic vision of chaos with expensive locations and stunts. Instead, the director envisioned a movie shot entirely in front of green and blue screens, adding the surrounding environment during postproduction. The final result brings to life the high contrast, densely colored landscapes of Miller’s book, engulfing viewers in a completely fabricated universe. The radical approach befuddled tradition-minded members of the Hollywood system, who viewed the pitch with typical concerns for budget and physical constraints.

“They were like, ‘Are you going to go to Morocco to shoot?’” recalls Snyder. “It’s sort of standard for them.” Snyder just went to Canada, used three small sets, and shot the whole thing on a relatively mild budget of $60 million. “We used a pretty basic technology,” he says. “Putting an actor in front of a screen is not a revolution. The weather man has the same basic technology.”

While computers have been inextricably bound to the blockbuster formula since Jurassic Park, Snyder’s project is the latest in a recent trend that introduces a new implementation of technology into the filmmaking process: While the simulated world plays a key role in the quality of the action sequences, the technique also finds quieter, dialogue-driven scenes placed within computerized environments. Given that anyone with access to basic editing programs can achieve greenscreen and bluescreen effects, Snyder’s chosen method has more in common with stage design than pricey special effects work.

Continue reading about 300 in the New York Press...


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