Snyder Takes Sparta

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Zack Snyder is a muscular two for two. Last month, 300, his second film after the successful 2004 remake of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, stormed the box office like a well-trained army—its $70 million opening weekend was about $10 million more than the film's budget, and the third best ever kickoff earnings for an R-rated title. At press time, its gross had topped $180 million. By the time the Spartan hysteria subsides, calling the film $300 Million may be an understatement. Based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller, Snyder's adaptation brings to life the rich visuals and the rippling muscles of its namesake in the fanciful retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., in which 300 Spartan soldiers faced off against the million-plus army of the Persian Empire. In order to preserve the look of the graphic novel, similar to the way Robert Rodriguez brought Miller's Sin City to film, director and co-writer Snyder shot much of 300 against bluescreen and used the novel as a "design bible" of sorts, he says, spending 60 days on set, followed by no less than a year on effects.

As for the man candy known as the Spartan soldiers, whose heroic bods rival the film's arresting art direction, no digital enhancements were necessary—only athletic trainer Mark Twight, who put the actors through Spartan-worthy bootcamp. "That's the way Frank drew them—naked," Snyder explains. "It wasn't about vanity. Their bodies were basically their costumes." Snyder himself went to bootcamp of sorts during the production. "It was insane," he says. "I learned a ton about visual effects, fight choreography and, basically, about what I can endure." But the toughest obstacle was the meager budget. "The movie had the potential to be popular, but still, you don't know. That's just business, but that was a particularly huge challenge for me because we wanted to make it an interesting movie. I always say it's like a student film on steroids."

Snyder, seen below on the 300 set with Gerard Butler as King Leonidas, is now back to spots and in preproduction on another graphic novel adaptation—Alan Moore's acclaimed The Watchmen. He quotes some sage advice from friend and fellow commercials director Tarsem, who made his features debut with The Cell in 2000. " 'Never make a movie to make another movie. When you make a film, there's a very good chance that it will be the only one you make. That's the way the movie business works.' Even when I did Dawn, at that time I was pretty sure I wasn't going to make 300 because no one wanted to do it. So on my first film, I thought, If this is my movie, if this is it, fine. I think it's the only way you can look at it."
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