300 In Theaters
Based on the epic graphic novel by Frank Miller, "300 Movie" is a ferocious retelling of the ancient Battle of Thermopylae in which King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and 300 Spartans fought to the death against Xerxes and his massive Persian army. Facing insurmountable odds, their valor and sacrifice inspire all of Greece to unite against their Persian enemy, drawing a line in the sand for democracy. The film brings Miller's ("Sin City") acclaimed graphic novel to life by combining live action with virtual backgrounds that capture his distinct vision of this ancient historic tale - "300 Movie."
STARRING: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West, David Wenham, Vincent Regan, Rodrigo Santoro
STUDIO: Warner Bros.
RATING: R (For graphic battle sequences throughout, some sexuality and nudity)
Wild About Movies Grade: A
Behind The Scenes
HERE WE FIGHT: BRINGING THE GRAPHIC NOVEL TO LIFE
Mysterious. Fierce. Formidable. Spartans are among the most enigmatic cultures in history. Taught never to retreat, never to surrender, they are the perfect warriors. "The Spartans remain a mystery to everybody," says Frank Miller, who wrote the graphic novel 300 which inspired the film. "They are arguably unique in that they are completely a battle culture, absolutely dedicated to warfare. They have a code of honor on what it means to be Spartan, and out of that arises a heroic class like the world has never seen before."
Co-writer/director Zack Snyder adds, "Spartans live for battle. They love it," he says. "They fight as one, creating a phalanx in which each warrior's shield protects the man beside him. It's an awesome and intimidating sight, even for the masses of Persians. Though the Spartans face insurmountable odds in terms of numbers, a true Spartan warrior is always willing to die for freedom--they consider it a 'beautiful death.' They define themselves by sacrifice and freedom."
Frank Miller first encountered the Spartans when he saw the film "The 300 Spartans" as a kid. He remembers, "I was quite shaken and inspired by it because it taught me that heroes aren't the people who necessarily get a medal at the end of the story, that heroes are people who do what is right because it is right, even making the ultimate sacrifice to do it. All my life I wanted to tell this story because it's the best story I've ever encountered. And, eventually, I gained the skills as a cartoonist, such that I thought I could finally handle it."
To illustrate 300, Miller synthesized his substantial research--which took him to the cliffs of Thermopylae itself--with the trademark style he brought to such legendary graphic works as Sin City and The Dark Knight Returns. He pared down the Spartans' uniform (roughly half his body weight in uniform and weapons) down to its most essential and symbolic features and peppered the story of the historic 480 B.C. battle of Thermopylae with elements of prior and subsequent clashes between Xerxes and the Greeks.
"Frank took an actual event and turned it into mythology, as opposed to taking a mythological event and turning it into reality," says Snyder, who blended Miller's bold vision with his own to make the feature film. "That's the refreshing thing about it. He wanted to get at the essence, as opposed to the reality, of what a Spartan is. If you go to Thermopylae, the statue of Leonidas is a nude; he's got a shield and spear and a helmet and that's it. Frank went to Thermopylae and I'm sure he saw that and went, 'Okay, this is how we have to do it.'"
Walking through the underbrush of Thermopylae had a profound effect on Miller. "It's a place where great and glorious things happened," he describes. "We are talking about the crucible, the epicenter of the battle for everything that we have, for everything that is Western civilization. There's a reason why we are as free as we are, and a lot of it begins with the story of 300 young men holding a very narrow pass long enough to inspire the rest of Greece."
300 became a best seller and won Miller numerous industry awards. "The story sold itself," he comments. "I just did my best to do justice to a great moment in history. It was very important to streamline the appearance of characters to make them more dynamic and to lose the sense of this being an old story. It's not an old story; it's an eternal story."
The book gained a legion of fans, counting among them the co-writer/director and producers of the feature film. "The beautiful thing about Frank's book, and about any of Frank's work, is the prose that goes along with his drawings," notes Snyder. "It is not just an illustration; there is this poetry. The way that he structures the prose is as important as the drawings to me. I wanted to think of a way to preserve and honor his prose, as well as his imagery in the film."
Five years ago, producer Gianni Nunnari and Snyder were discussing future projects on which to collaborate when Snyder noticed Nunnari's copy of the graphic novel on his desk. Nunnari championed the project solo for several years. He was able to reach out to convince producer Mark Canton to get involved with him and develop the project in earnest with Snyder as director and co-writer.
"300 is an incredible work and Zack came to this project with such love for the material itself," Canton enthuses. "He also brought such an extraordinary vision for what it could be as a film that we became tremendously excited about the possibilities."
Nunnari adds, "The property itself just opened his imagination. He saw every ingredient clearly - from the visualization of the fighting to the characters themselves. We knew that what he wanted to make would be a seminal film."
"Gianni's persistence and Mark's dedication to this project convinced me," recalls Miller. "First Gianni, then Mark, were so determined and so believed in the story that they won me over. Zack really wanted to make this movie. He's really charming and was so completely focused on this project that it was very difficult to say no...so I didn't."
Snyder found his process in conceiving the feature film similar to what Miller had experienced. He wanted to eschew the precepts of realistic filmmaking and instead find a way to "make it live on screen," he explains. "I didn't want to make a film that looks like a photograph but, rather, to put you inside the world Frank created in the graphic novel. This is not an historical drama. It's not a linear story. Nor is it meant to be entirely historically accurate. Our goal was to create a true experience unlike anything you've ever seen before."
A core team of filmmakers coalesced around "300" from the moment it crystallized. Producers Canton, Nunnari and Bernie Goldmann were all captivated by the story. "Zack was so specific about how he wanted this film to look and feel," comments Goldmann, "and as the project began to take shape, there was great satisfaction in knowing that Zack would be bringing this story to life in a way that audiences have never seen before."
Snyder, in the interim, made his directorial debut with "Dawn of the Dead" and then immediately returned to the project, working on the adaptation with his writing partner Kurt Johnstad, infusing the story with additions that sprang naturally from the clarity of Miller's original vision (Michael B. Gordon had written a previous draft of the screenplay). Producer Jeffrey Silver joined the team to work closely with the physical production and visual effects aspects of the production.
"From the start, everyone on this film, from the studio to the producers, executive producers, the cast and production team, was incredibly supportive of what I wanted to do with '300,'" says Snyder. "They all grasped the vision so well and were such tremendous collaborators that it has been a truly extraordinary experience."
Snyder's decision to make the graphic novel had groundbreaking implications for the film's look. "The look development was a big part of the process," Snyder continues. "You go to the movies because you want an experience that's different. That's what we tried to do with '300.' Whether it was landscapes or battles or action or architecture, every frame in the movie is like a visual effect."
Snyder initially storyboarded the film himself, and ultimately, he and his producing partner and wife, executive producer Deborah Snyder, and associate producer Wesley Coller put together a development package to express the director's vision for the film.
The presence of Frank Miller, who also served as an executive producer on the movie, might have proved intimidating to the director, but Goldmann counters, "Frank was so nice and so helpful. Whenever Zack sought his input or approval, he would say, 'Keep going, it's great. I love what you're doing.' He embraced the movie and all the people involved in making it."
A series of tests was conducted on every aspect of the film, from lighting and costumes to the texture of the sets. One of the elements that the filmmakers wanted to explore was the photographic look of the film. Snyder had the idea of manipulating the color balance to create a process that was ultimately nicknamed "the crush." "Zack developed a recipe where you'd crush the black content of the image and enhance the color saturation to change the contrast ratio of the film," Jeffrey Silver explains. "Every image in this film went through a post-image processing. The crush is what gives this film its distinct look and feel."
"I don't want anyone to say, 'Oh, that looks like Greece or that looks like Canada,'" explains Snyder. "I want them to be, from beginning to end, inside of this experience."
"We were all in awe of the scope of what Zack wanted to do with this multi-layered effects process," Canton adds.
"The evolution of what was filmed, from the set to the final product, brings this story into another realm," says Nunnari.
Gerard Butler, who stars as King Leonidas, states, "It's almost like somebody who was there and witnessed the battle went to sleep and dreamed the whole thing again because a lot of it is very representational...a lot of it exists in the imagination, so it allows us to take it so much further. It's an incredible story, which has been an inspiration to so many people throughout history, but it's not a documentary. It is a fantastic story full of passion and politics and brutality and so many more things, existing in this hyper-real, beautiful, emotional world."
...HERE BY SPARTAN LAW WE LIE: THE STORY OF "300"
Gerard Butler became aware of the project during a meeting with Warner Bros. executives. "They said the word '300' and I knew that there was something fresh and different about it," he recalls, adding, "When I met with Zack Snyder, I knew this is a guy who understands the things you can't explain about this story and what it would require. I could write six volumes about him and his talent, his intelligence, his passion, and his goodness as a person."
Jeffrey Silver notes that Butler had qualities that made him perfect for the role of the Spartan king: "His charisma as a person and leadership qualities set a tone of camaraderie among the actors. He brought this team of Spartan actors together."
Butler relished the opportunity to dive into research on this formidable culture. "Spartans are shown nothing but pain their whole lives to teach them endurance, to teach them fearlessness and to teach them to have no mercy against their opponents," he says. "Everything about it requires a steeliness and a strength of character, from the way the men are trained to the way the women must surrender their children in the name of warfare."
Screenwriter Kurt Johnstad adds, "There is fierce competition. This code of honor and duty and loyalty is beaten into them, and then it just evolves into what they do every day. It's how they breathe...how they act and interact."
A feared and revered military king of the Greek city-state of Sparta, Leonidas rules with the guidance and support of his queen, Gorgo. "Gorgo is, by all accounts, brilliant," says Miller. "She and Leonidas watch each other's backs and she is a great contributor to his strategic thinking. There is a great depth of emotion and intellectual partnership between them. Spartan women are Spartan warriors just like the men. They send the men out first, but you'll see in the movie that the women can play pretty tough, too."
Born in the rugged north of England, Lena Headey possessed an innate strength and grace that proved essential to the role of Gorgo. "Lena is so tough and down to earth and strong. And she's beautiful, with such wisdom in her eyes," says Butler. "Lena brought incredible charisma, intelligence and fire to Gorgo."
Calling the film "a story of honor, fearlessness, passion, blood and faith," Headey was ready to portray the Spartan Queen. Gorgo is not a prominent figure in Miller's tale, so Headey had freedom in crafting the character, guided by her conversations with Snyder. "She's a really strong character in the movie, just because of everything she goes through and is prepared to sacrifice," Headey remarks. "She has already lost her husband, but to admit that would be too much, so she fights, with her heart, in the political arena. I see Gorgo as the heart and instinct of Sparta, and instinct usually guides us through to the right decision."
All that Leonidas is, as a king and as a man, is brought to bear when a messenger rides into town with a warning that the army of a thousand conquered nations is, even then, marching towards Sparta. Xerxes, played by Rodrigo Santoro, has brought the ancient world to its knees mostly through sheer audacity. "He's rich, he's arrogant, he's a very unstable megalomaniac," describes the Brazilian actor who portrays the self-proclaimed God-King. "He just wants to conquer the world. His ambition is unlimited. He wants glory; he wants victory; he wants eternal fame. Underneath all that wanting, though, he's ultimately weak and very insecure."
Santoro first met with the director as a potential Spartan, but after he left, "I said 'I think Rodrigo could be Xerxes,'" recalls Snyder.
A towering, enigmatic figure covered with exotic jewels, Xerxes is carried on a golden throne by crouching slaves. "He has a voice that is smooth and seductive and everything that a God-King should be," says Bernie Goldmann. "You see that people would follow him...that he would seduce as well as conquer."
Leonidas shows the Persians what he thinks of their threat by literally killing the messengers. But the politicians of Sparta do not want to fight. Theron, played by Dominic West, represents a new kind of Spartan, more interested in negotiating for power than fighting for freedom.
"Theron is not an honest politician by any means, and his duality first manifests itself in his being a treacherous appeaser of the Persians," says West. "He's the politician, not the warrior. It's always good to play a villain; they usually get the best lines," the actor smiles.
The Spartan Council sends Leonidas to consult the Oracle--a young woman corralled by Ephors, ancient men who interpret her signs. "Leonidas, through a gigantic leap of imagination, understands exactly what Persia is up to and knows how to stop them," says Frank Miller. "But he has all the odds against him. The council doesn't want to have the battle for their own reasons, so they use the Carneia celebration of the moon as an excuse not to go to war."
Leonidas would sooner die fighting than kneel before any conqueror, but if he is to take Xerxes on, it will have to be without the Spartan army behind him. "Leonidas is probably the most decisive character I have ever played, but when he has a moment of indecision, when he needs assurance that he's right, he looks each time to his wife," says Butler. "And she explains so eloquently why he has to go to war, which is, 'Go and die. I'll never see you again, but you'll do this as a free man. Don't answer this question as a king or as a Spartan citizen but as a free man.' That really is the essence of the Spartan woman."
Though she is not at the Hot Gates with Leonidas, Queen Gorgo must also face a battle on their home ground. Gorgo's sacrifice for Sparta and its future king, her son, is equal to that of Leonidas. "Gorgo is as much a warrior as Leonidas. She must rally her city and her country to her King's aid," affirms Johnstad, "while also fending off the political maneuverings of Theron."
Deborah Snyder adds, "She gives herself, but, to her, it is nothing compared to what's at risk. It means nothing because the stakes are so high."
Gorgo's words are the perfect challenge to a Spartan warrior. "His nation has been asked to do the one thing they don't do, which is to submit to another ruler," Butler avows. "There's a time to stand back and resist, and then there's a time to take action. He understands like nobody else the relevance of this mission. It isn't just a mission to save Sparta--this is his moment to show the world, not just Xerxes, for all the centuries yet to be, just what Spartans are made of."
An all-volunteer personal guard, made up of 300 of the most skilled and courageous Spartan warriors, coalesces around Leonidas. He cannot declare war, but he can give Xerxes a shock. When Sparta decides to fight, there's no holding back. "These are insurmountable odds he's facing, but perfect for a Spartan king," states Butler. "So he takes his elite force to Thermopylae to make a stand."
Dilios, a Spartan warrior and storyteller in the graphic novel, is played by David Wenham, an Australian actor whose popularity increased dramatically in North America when audiences were introduced to him in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
The character of Dilios solved for Snyder the puzzle of how to bring Miller's unique voice as a storyteller into the film. "We hit on the idea of having a narrator tell the story, which allows Frank's fantastic world to come to life," Snyder offers. "That was really important when it came to weaving Dilios's story through the movie--how awesome it is to have this storyteller that can render Frank's prose in the picture."
"I love telling stories, so to have the opportunity to be a storyteller is a gift," comments Wenham. "Dilios spends a lot of time entertaining the troops when there's down time, telling stories about the first Olympics or other tales. He is also probably one of Leonidas's best friends, and a great warrior who is highly respected among the men."
The film unfolds with Dilios as a guide; his version of events thus becomes the narrative that future generations will pass along. "Dilios is a guy who knows how not to ruin a good story with the truth, necessarily," says Snyder. "He's going to make it bigger where it needs to be bigger, and do whatever it takes to motivate and excite the Spartans. His voice provides the poetic flux of the movie."
The core trio leading the 300 Spartans is Leonidas, Dilios and an enigmatic warrior called the Captain, played by Vincent Regan. "The Captain is probably one of the most intense of the all the 300 Spartans, along with Leonidas," says Regan. "Historically, he would have been one of the three captains of the bodyguards of the king."
The Captain brings with him to battle his eldest son, Astinos, played by Tom Wisdom. "In a way, The Captain makes a great sacrifice in bringing his eldest son with him on the expedition because it's seen as a suicide mission," Regan asserts. "After all, there are only 300 Spartans against a million soldiers of the Persian Empire. But he is extremely faithful to his king and his city, and he's prepared to sacrifice all that he has--his own life and also his son's life--for the ideal of freedom for his city and king, who is also a close friend."
The role of Astinos marks Wisdom's feature film debut, a detail that might have played in his favor. "I suppose one reason I was cast is because I share similar characteristics with Astinos, who is a novice in battle," he says.
Astinos and another soldier, Stelios, played by Michael Fassbender, represent the enthusiasm of the young Spartan warriors. "Stelios is very spontaneous and very passionate," says Fassbender. "He sees this as his chance to prove himself on the battlefield and die the glorious death that he craves in order to fulfill his destiny as a Spartan warrior."
"Stelios is very spontaneous, very passionate," says Fassbender. "It's his chance to prove himself on the battlefield and die the glorious death that he craves in order to fulfill his destiny as a Spartan warrior."
In Xerxes's army, the Spartans have finally come up against a worthy adversary. Xerxes has willed into being an exotic and extraordinary force comprised of physical oddities, brute strength, wild African animals, magic practitioners, and his elite guard, called the Immortals.
"The Immortals are his special force," says Santoro. "They are very skilled, scary, fierce-looking masked warriors. They are his finest men."
"Leonidas is the opposite of Xerxes, who sits up in his high tower, who bribes, who seduces, who kills his men to achieve victory," Butler remarks. "There's a great line when Xerxes says, 'How can you ever stand against me when I would gladly kill any one of my men for victory?' And Leonidas says, 'And I would die for any one of mine.' That, to me, is the essence of Leonidas."
Leonidas’s plan is to use the geography of Greece itself against the Persians, leading his 300 to the Hot Gates of Thermopylae—a narrow corridor between towering cliffs of the Aegean, which the Persians will have to pass. This natural structure provides the 300 Spartans with a much-needed strategic advantage. But it is not invulnerable, as Leonidas learns from a terribly deformed onlooker, Ephialtes, who tells him of a hidden goat path behind the rocks.
Played by Andrew Tiernan, Ephialtes is described by Deborah Snyder as "a sad character. He was outcast from Sparta at birth but all he wants is to be a Spartan."
As soon as the horizon darkens with the awesome sight of Xerxes's forces, the battle is on. "The story of the 300 Spartans is about more than just a battle," says Miller. "Leonidas knows these 300 men can't defeat the Persian army. '300' is about fighting, knowing you can't win. The act itself holds more power than the sum of the 300 warriors’ spears. These people, these men at the Hot Gates, are ready to die. In fact, Leonidas intends for them to die. He knows there's no chance of survival. He clearly doesn't care, because he knows something will be achieved. I regard the Spartans as the victors of Hot Gates. You can win by losing."
...THEN WE SHALL FIGHT IN THE SHADE: BECOMING SPARTANS
The entire core cast plunged into research on Spartan history and culture to intellectually prepare for their roles. But Snyder wanted them also to look believable and to mesh together as the kind of fighting machine the Spartan guard represents. To physically prepare them for the rigors of the demanding fight sequences, Snyder enlisted the expertise of two people with whom he had trained over the years: Mark Twight, a former world record-holding professional mountain climber, to train the actors and stuntmen in physical fitness conditioning; and veteran stunt coordinator Damon Caro, to prepare them for the fight sequences.
With a background training special operations military personnel, cage fighters, firemen, paramedics, and mountain climbers, Twight's approach included a strict dietary plan combined with a punishing regimen of physical activity. "It's the equivalent of a sprint--it's short duration, super high intensity with a nutritional program to support that effort," outlines Twight.
For eight weeks prior to the start of production, Twight challenged the men to go beyond their normal limits. To support fight preparation the training emphasized athleticism by combining compound movements, lifting, and throwing. Primitive tools - medicine balls, Kettlebells, rings - were used instead of machines. Each session was competitive, with a penalty-reward system tied to performance and results posted daily for all to see. "By sharing hardship together over a period of time, with team interplay where they compete against each other, they come out as a fighting force that is believable on the screen. It changes the way they move and how they behave as a unit," Twight offers.
Some of the men needed to lose weight, and some needed to put weight on, so everyone was put on a specific diet. Fassbender was one of the lucky ones. "I was lucky enough not to have to knuckle down to the cottage cheese and grape diet," he says, "in that it was in the interests of my character that I added a few pounds."
Vincent Regan underwent perhaps the most startling transformation. "Mark sent me a training DVD and I thought, 'I can't do that; I just cannot do that.'" Nevertheless, with the help of a trainer, soon he was running up steep hills and boxing, among other activities. Having everyone train together helped considerably. "Because all the actors were in it together, there was a sense that we were trying to reach one goal," Regan remembers.
With a group of ten actors, as well as stuntmen from Los Angeles, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, Damon Caro and assistant coordinator Chad Stahelski began a parallel regime, coordinated with Twight's physical fitness sessions. "It was a tremendous help as far as injury prevention, stamina, and overall focus," says Caro. "With fight choreography, you only have a certain amount of time for physical training because it sometimes doesn't mesh with the functional application. What Mark brought to the project was functional strength, not just sculpted biceps or ripped abs."
Caro and Stahelski choreographed the impressive sword and formation fight sequences. Jeffrey Silver notes that Snyder wanted the fight sequences to have a very distinctive style. "When Zack talked initially about the concept for the fighting, he said, 'Look, I don't want all that long lens mayhem. I want it to be like ballet.' He wanted every action in the fight to be carefully choreographed employing aspects of martial arts."
In keeping with the director's vision, Caro, who is a martial arts expert, was able to integrate moves from various martial arts disciplines into his fight choreography.
Caro and Stahelski's attention to detail made it easy for the actors to achieve the desired goal. "Damon and Chad are so incredibly talented," says Butler. "Everybody learned and improved together until we became one single impenetrable unit. The action in the film is mind-blowing, and that is largely due to the two of them."
"They basically trained us from scratch," adds David Wenham. "They taught us how to fight and they drilled us every day. So it wasn't a matter of just learning moves; it became instinctual."
There were eight weeks of fight training preceding production, and the training then continued throughout filming up to the days when each sequence would be shot. The constant training and rehearsing paid off. "When we actually got to the action, the guys performed brilliantly," Caro affirms. "There are many fight scenes involving complex choreography, and after all those weeks working and training together, there was just a telepathic vibe among the actors and stuntmen."
In fact, the total commitment from both the trainers and the actors resulted in the action sequences being the most efficiently shot. "You might think the fight scenes would take longer, but every move was so purposely and precisely laid out that those were the days we wrapped early," Silver attests.
THIS IS SPARTA: ROLLING CAMERAS AND TELECINES
To help realize his epic action drama on the screen, Zack Snyder assembled a diverse team of collaborators, including cinematographer Larry Fong, Oscar-nominated production designer James Bissell ("Good Night, and Good Luck"), editor William Hoy, costume designer Michael Wilkinson, visual effects supervisor Chris Watts, and make-up and creature effects supervisors Shaun Smith and Mark Rappaport. For Bissell, "300" required a bold new approach to the design of the production because of the virtual nature of the sets and his faithful adherence to the visual style established by Miller's graphic novel. "It was more operatic than realistic," he acknowledges.
Using Zack Snyder's thumbnail storyboards as a departure point, Bissell and his team created 3-D environments and concept illustrations of Sparta, the Greek terrain and Thermopylae, site of the epic battle. Snyder, Bissell and Watts then reviewed the illustrations Bissell recalls: "We asked: 'Are the actors walking uphill? Downhill? Where do they cast shadows? How little of this do we have to build?'"
Terrain sets were abstracted so that they could be used for different scenes by changing camera angles or adding elements. In this way, Leonidas and his army of 300 marched across Greece using only three constructed sets. Sets for Sparta, the Hot Gates, and Xerxes's tent were also built on stage. "The Persian messengers galloping toward camera is the only scene that we shot outdoors," says Bissell.
"The awesome thing about Jim is that he was never daunted by any of it," marvels Snyder. "In a lot of ways I think he was excited by the prospect of not being limited to what you could build, but just what you could imagine."
Each scene was conceived with a fully designed 3D environment, then rendered in color with key frame illustrations. When that was complete, Bissell was able to better assess what he had to build and adjust accordingly.
Chris Watts worked closely with Bissell and Snyder to ensure that the creative and technical details were supportive of the overall vision. "With 1300 visual effects shots, there is no shortage of technical issues," Watts explains. "But the primary challenge of '300' was creative: All of those visual effects shots need to be constructed to reflect the style and aesthetic of the graphic novel, while accommodating Zack's vision for the parts of the film that don't appear in the book."
Because nearly every set and location was enhanced with visual effects, the art and visual effects departments also had to ensure that the design and technical elements worked well together. Watts gives a simplified description of the process: "Jim designed all the sets with the visual effects in mind. All through prep, VFX artists would digitally augment Jim's set designs to give Zack an accurate picture of what he could expect as a final result. If there was a problem that we couldn't solve with the existing sets, then they designed or tweaked something else to make it work."
As part of the visual development of the film, Watts and his team tested virtually everything that would be seen in the film: the look of fire, the Spartan capes, wounds, weapons, CG blood versus real blood. "Just about everything, even details that one might take for granted, were painstakingly developed over the course of many months," Watts continues. "When we agreed on a something that worked, the details would be published in a 'style guide' that was distributed to the film's vendors. We had ten visual effects vendors on four countries, so continuity of style was always an issue"
The visual effects department also collaborated with cinematographer Larry Fong. "The graphic novel definitely influenced our look but that was only one of my challenges," he says. "My goal was to maximize mood and drama but I still needed to keep the VFX department happy with clean mattes and good exposure detail to allow 'the crush' later on down the line."
In photographing the film, Fong had to decide how to interpret Frank Miller's book in three dimensions. "Translating that through lighting and composition was sometimes tricky but great fun," he describes. "There were times when we went for a very close match to specific frames in the book, which Zack called 'Frank frames'. But obviously not every shot in the film matches a drawing, so we did have room to experiment and develop a visual style of our own. Very often I'd say it was a visceral thing more than a technical exercise."
Costume designer Michael Wilkinson also wanted to remain true to the graphic nature of Miller's drawings. In creating the costumes for the film, he maintained "the strength of line, bold silhouettes and strong drapery of the graphic novel, and used fabrics that had great texture, that the camera would love, and had a sense of life to them," Wilkinson expounds.
Wilkinson and his team scoured the world to find inspiration and the fabric to bring the designs to life. The linen for the Spartan capes they found in Russia, chosen for its beautiful texture and the dynamic way that it flowed in the action sequences. The fabric then underwent extensive testing with various dyes until the exact Spartan red was achieved. The team then put the capes through a process of "distressing" to convey the wear and tear as the soldiers go through the battles. "We looked at the book and discovered that towards the end of the novel, Frank had drawn the capes bleached and shredded," he recalls. "So, we distressed our capes by creeping bleach, dye and paint onto them to make them look like they had gone through heavy warfare."
His choice also helped illustrate the psychological toll that the battles had taken on the Spartans. "Their spirits are broken and worn down by the pummeling they get in each different battle," he offers. "So, the worn look of the costumes is also a metaphor for the life starting to bleed out of the characters."
To differentiate between the Spartan and Persian armies, the Spartan army was dressed in rich, warm earth tones, while the Persian army flashes peacock colors, exotic greens, blues and purples with gold. Wilkinson explains, "The costumes of the Greek warriors accentuate their highly refined physiques - as though their bodies are their armor - while, contrary to that, the Persian army is covered in exotic cloths, and the silhouettes are exaggerated to give the impression, to Greek eyes, of a mysterious, unknown monster approaching."
The costumes for the Persian army drew inspiration from a variety of sources. "We figured that by the time Xerxes marched from his home to Greece, he would have come in contact with lots of different races," says Wilkinson. "So, for each of the different Persian tribes, we had different influences, ranging from Africa to Egypt to Russia to Armenia to Japan to China, and everything in between."
Xerxes's elaborate costume--made almost entirely of metal rather than cloth--is based on Miller's frame from the book. "Frank's drawing of Xerxes is one of my favorite images from the graphic novel," the costume designer says. "I loved its audacity, and was inspired by Frank's preference for visual impact over historical authenticity."
Wilkinson's design for Xerxes is definitely the most complex costume in the film. "The costume consists of 18 different jewelry pieces, each using dozens of African and Middle-Eastern beads and jewelry motifs, plus 12 piercings that we created especially for the character."
Utilizing heavy leathers, bronze materials, feathers, horsehair, fiberglass and plastic resins, Wilkinson and his team of 60 costumers created all of the armor, jewelry and helmets to outfit the Spartans and the Persians. Many of the costume pieces also had to be done in multiples. For example, there were five Spartan capes for each of the main actors and 17 duplicates of the distinctive plumed helmets worn by King Leonidas.
The appearance of the characters--human and otherwise--also involved the make-up effects team, headed by Shaun Smith and Mark Rappaport. They were responsible for creating the look for Ephialtes, the Immortals, the Executioner and varied characters in Xerxes's tent, as well as the wolf young Leonidas faces and even some horses. They were also charged with creating the dramatic “Wall of the Dead,” which the Spartans build using the bodies of vanquished Persians as mortar. The make-up and effects teams utilized a rig with hydraulics to allow the Spartans to turn the wall into an effective weapon. The make-up team also had the responsibility of creating characters that do not appear in Miller's work.
Nevertheless, Snyder, the producers and everyone involved in the production were passionate about staying true to the vision expressed in Miller's work. Nunnari states, "Working together, everyone became part of this fantastic team and we all enjoyed the process of making this movie on every level."
Canton agrees. "From the inception of the storyboards from Frank's book to the shooting of the film and post-production, '300' has been a tremendously exciting journey for all of us."
PREPARE FOR GLORY: THE MUSIC OF "300"
Co-writer/Director Snyder engaged Tyler Bates, his collaborator on "Dawn of the Dead," to write and produce the score.
Snyder asked Bates to develop a compelling overall sound that would heighten the audience's emotional reaction to the Spartans' heroism and sacrifice. To do that, Bates created a sweeping orchestral and choral soundscape, recorded at the Beatles' famed Abbey Road Studios, that embraced a tonal palette unusual for studio films. Iranian-born singer Azam Ali - whose haunting, exotic vocals have also graced various television and film soundtracks, including, most recently, "The Nativity Story" - supplies the voice of Sparta and the Persian threat.
"My intent was to stay true to the inspiration of the film and that of the Spartans' freedom and will," Bates says. "The greatest challenge was to bead a musical thread throughout the film's ever-changing landscape of visual art, while sustaining its epic and emotional qualities. I had to approach it in a style as inventive as the film itself."
Snyder has nothing but praise for Tyler's score. "It moves the film into mythology," he says, "cauterizing the images as you view them, making them something they could never be alone."
Snyder concludes, "There were a lot of challenges in bringing this work to the screen, but no one involved even once blinked at anything that was asked of them. From the cast to the producers and everyone working behind the scenes--they were always there for me and for the film, physically, emotionally and creatively. The movie wouldn't look like it does without them. They were all amazing."