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“300” – One-On-One with Producer Gianni Nunnari

by  in Movie News, TV News Comment
“300” – One-On-One with Producer Gianni Nunnari

The long wait for the film “300” is finally over and tonight eager film goers will finally get a chance to see the Frank Miller graphic novel come to life, as directed by Zack Snyder.

Thursday afternoon, CBR News spoke with one-on-one with one of the producers of “300,” Gianni Nunnari. We spoke about what it was about this graphic novel that appealed to him, managing the huge buzz surrounding the film, a bit about bringing “Ronin” to the big screen and what’s the deal with the production on Warren Ellis’ “Ocean.”

What did we think of “300?” Don’t miss our review of the film

“300” Producers Gianni Nunnari and Mark Canton

Gianni, first off, what was it about Frank Miller’s “300” that interested you?

Well, I was working on “Alexander” and was working on a project called “The Illiad,” but had to stop with that once “Troy” came. Through all that I became fascinated with the battle of Thermopylae. I read that Michael Mann was getting the rights for Steven Pressfield’s “Gates of Fire,” and considering that “Troy,” “Alexander” and that Pressfield’s book was possibly being made, it became difficult for me to present the idea of doing another, let’s call it “sword and sandal” epic, even if this time it was covering the battle of Thermopylae. Even in my office, my people would say, “Oh, Gianni, again with these [sword and sandals] stories.” But, I really liked this battle, this heroic story, this very relevant piece of history. Ever since I was a kid I’ve liked this story. It’s one of those pieces of history that sticks with you.

So, when I saw this modern take from Frank Miller on this battle that I already wanted to do, it was heaven! Here’s a new way I can present this battle, I thought. Still, while I was going around presenting it, everybody thought I was crazy, probably including Frank Miller! [laughs] But, I told people, if we make it like this graphic novel, it will be cool. I’d tell people if you take a graphic novel out of context and change it from the original, if you go with a more traditional take, I’d tell them it wouldn’t work. For many people I spoke with, they thought this was a weak point, but it turned into a big strong point for me and [Director] Zack Snyder.

When I met Zack – whom I knew from a commercial we worked on together with Robert Deniro years before – I kept telling people what I wanted to do and how I thought it should be done. When I met with Zack, we talked about it and I asked him how he would do it and he said, “I want to do it just like the graphic novel.” For me, meeting Zack and choosing him for this movie was natural. Hiring Zack was almost like meeting a woman and saying, “Listen, why don’t we get married and live in the mountains near Colorado.” Then she would tell me, “Well, look, I’ll marry you, but on one condition, only if we could live in the mountains near Colorado!” [laughs] So, we were in the same place. Zack told me, “I want the movie to look exactly like the graphic novel.”

In my job, most of the time when you get a book, you get a writer who wants to shrink it and cut it to pieces. Then it suddenly becomes an entirely different thing when it’s done. But Zack and my intention was always to keep it on the Frank Miller graphic novel.

How did “300” originally come to your attention?

Well, it’s my habit to always double check what different takes are out there for a story I want to do. So, I wanted to do the battle of Thermopylae and we found this graphic novel. I always do this. Like, I want to do this story about Hannibal Barca and his crossing of the Alps and if there’s a graphic novel, I want to look at this. Graphic novels are a new way of exploring and bringing a classic piece of history to an audience that would also include a younger audience.

Let’s talk about the buzz surrounding this film. This buzz is substantial and you’re getting a huge promotional push from Warner Bros. How much of this push was originally planned and how much of it is a reaction to the buzz this film has?

Warner Bros, from the moment they decided to make this movie, they’ve really done everything possible to get it done. The company has been there through the full journey. I can’t speak for them, but I’m sure once they saw there was good material here, they became even more secure in their decision. They really have been just great. For a studio to be this supportive and to decide to do a movie like this, it wasn’t easy, but they’ve been great.

Did the success of “Sin City” help the production in any way?

I think the success of “Sin City” was a big plus for us and the studio. It helped the studio realize there was a market for this kind of new technique in making movies and that there was an audience interested in the graphic novel world of Frank Miller.

I remember sitting with you on the set back in January of 2006 and it was cold up in Montreal. Real cold. While making movies in the cold isn’t impossible, it sure adds to the challenges of making a film. So, what, in your mind, was the biggest challenge in making “300” the film?

Really, the biggest challenge was bringing Frank Miller’s vision to reality. It started with Frank Miller, then Zack Snyder and then every producer involved help in this mission. The technology was a challenge, which is why you need a director like Zack who has the whole movie in his brain. He screened the movie already in his brain, so when you’re shooting, the most difficult part that he had to do was figure out how to transfer from what he saw in his brain to reality.

Since the public became aware of the story of “300,” a lot of people have been trying to figure out what statement you guys are making with this film. Most feel that the statement is one reflecting on the current state of world politics and the relationship the United States has with the rest of the world. But, from what I understand based on previous conversations with you, that’s not your intent. With all that in mind, what message, if any, do you hope people take from this film when they see it?

There are a lot of messages that can be taken from this film. I think really to start the message is that history can be repeated and that sacrifice, honor and loyalty towards your country and family are very important. Ultimately, freedom is the message. But really, when we started making this movie, the intention was to bring to the screen a great graphic novel based on a great piece of history. Boom, that’s it! I think it’s amazing that this glorious battle has arrived once again, 2500 years later. That since the first story was told of this battle, that in passing the word [down through the generations], we arrive here today.

(Top) Zack Snyder on the set of “300” and (bottom) Frank Miller enjoys a moment on the set.

When there is a piece of history like this that is so great, that’s been told for so long, and then they make the movie and you’re not happy with it because they fucked it up, that drives me crazy. Hopefully in this case we didn’t and people will really like it!

Now, I understand you’re working on bringing Miller’s “Ronin” to the big screen, but have you and Frank had any conversations about making a movie together based on new ideas not necessarily based on his printed work?

Oh, I will go to Frank about everything! I’ll ask him advice on how I should build my new house or what I should wear in the morning! [laughs] Seriously, I did go to Frank to see if he had a take on the Hannibal Barca story and we’re talking about that. We’re talking about of course pre-existing graphic novels like “Ronin.” Frank is such a fantastic resource and I’m very happy to have such a great relationship with him so that we can keep developing stuff together.

Let’s talk about “Ronin” a little bit. Where are things currently with “Ronin?”

We have a first draft of the script and now Sylvan White (“Stomp The Yard”), the director attached right now, is working with us. The first draft should be delivered in a couple of weeks.

Who wrote this draft?

Panel to film comparisons.

It’s a combination of writers. Right now we’re working with a young writer who’s working shoulder-to-shoulder with Sylvan.

Gianni, during the “300” press junket in Los Angeles a couple of weeks back, you mentioned that you were working on bringing Warren Ellis’ “Ocean” to the silver screen. Following the junket, I spoke with Warren about this news and he was quite shocked when I mentioned it to him and stated there was no option and he hadn’t spoken with you about it. Can you explain what happened there?

Yeah. We deal with DC Comics regularly and I’m a partner with Nick Wechsler on “Ocean.” So, we were talking about it and it is in our intention to develop “Ocean” and DC Comics knows this, so that’s why I mentioned it. I expected that DC Comics already has or had a deal or relationship with Warren Ellis. I really don’t know exactly what the connection between Warren and DC Comics is or was, but they told me they’d take care of that. Then, I find out Warren was surprised, but I was surprised myself, probably as much as Warren. Still, the fact stands, we do like the property a lot and we would love to do it.

Allright, wrapping up here, you were a producer on the Martin Scorcese film “The Departed,” which just won a boatload of Oscars. Congratulations. Tell our readers what it’s like to win an Oscar.

Wow, you know, winning an Oscar is the dream of every producer in the world. It makes you very proud and pushes you to keep working hard. But, in all clarity, when you’re making a movie with Martin Scorcese, we all know that he is the guy. Sure, everyone involved in the production contributed, but the guy that deserves the Oscar most of all is Martin. He deserves all the victory for himself.

Thanks for talking with us today, Gianni.

My pleasure, Jonah.

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