The Frank Miller graphic novel "300" released in December of 1999 was an instant critical hit. The graphic novel tells the story of the epic Battle of Thermopylae in which King Leonidas (played by actor Gerard Butler in the upcoming film) and his 300 Spartans fought to the death to save Greece from invasion by Xerxes and his massive Persian army. The Spartans valiant fight inspired all of Greece to unite and fight against the advancing Persians, securing the future for Greece and democracy everywhere. Featuring a dynamic art style from Miller with gorgeous and heavy color by Lynn Varley, "300" is considered one of Miller's masterpieces.
The upcoming film, directed by Zack Snyder ("Dawn of the Dead), brings to the big screen Miller's inspired imagery through heavy use of "green screens," where actors film their scenes in front of a large solid color screen with backgrounds added to the film via computer generated imagery in post production. This process is similar to how Miller's last movie, "Sin City," was filmed, although "300" does use more natural sets than were used in "Sin City."
Earlier this year at Comic-Con International, the first public scenes were shown to a wildly enthusiastic crowd. The dramatic look of the film, using high contrast color, coupled with the highly stylized action, went over well with the audience. Earlier this month, the public at large got their first chance to see scenes from the movie when the teaser trailer for "300" saw official release. Response in online forms was highly positive. This past August, CBR News published the very first review of the film based on a test screening held in Los Angeles. Once again, the response was very good.
Earlier this year, CBR News had the chance to sit down with "300" creator Frank Miller to discuss the upcoming film and its creation, and also shared some details on the upcoming "The Spirit" and "Sin City 2." We offer up a transcript of that discussion in its entirety.
Return tomorrow as CBR News will share an exclusive 1-on-3 interview with "300" producers Gianni Nunnari, Mark Canton and Deborah Snyder.
|As the Spartan phalanx advances, the rear columns of attacking Persians begin to fold and fall away, over the high cliff's edge and into the sea below.|
How does the approach to "300" differ from what was done with "Sin City?"
It's very close, actually. The screens were green on "Sin City" and they were blue on "300," but it was still a matter of using the live actors and creating a world around them with computers.
"300" the film will feature a number of additional scenes not written by you or featured in the graphic novel. When screenwriter/director Zack Snyder came to you with his additions to the story, what was your initial reaction?
We talked them over. I had some suggestions. He's a very good collaborator. One thing I learned in directing is that it really was in his hands and ultimately I had to defer. If he was doing anything I felt was outrageously wrong, I would have raised a stink as the rights holder. But it seemed to be in very good shape. I didn't want to be an impediment to another director.
What do you think of the new scenes and characters he's added? Do you think they fit well with your work?
It seemed to, yeah. What I saw was a rough cut. The biggest change is the Queen and that's the main change. Zack's treatment of the work is very dramatic. The combat scenes are unbelievable.
Are they any other major departures from the graphic novel?
Yeah. They all live! No, not really. It's consistent with my storyline and a lot of my shots are used, but when you make an adaptation there's an awful lot of creating that has to be done. They had terrific story boards based on the book [completed by Director Zack Snyder, a gifted artists in his own right], but the book was used as key art. Zack's a real preparer, so by the time they started shooting they really had the thing well mapped out.
Of the footage you've seen, what was the most satisfying moment you saw created in the comic come to life?
That's really hard to say. The darker part of me would say when the Spartans pushed the dead soldiers on the Immortals, because it's so perfectly realized. In general, the combat stuff is stunning, but there are hundreds of images that I was looking at and thinking if I want to pick a favorite it might be the shot of the boy stabbing his spear and seeing the shadow of the wolf with the spear going into his mouth, that was one of my favorite panels I drew and he captured it to perfection.
How much were you involved behind the scenes on the film?
Not much. I realized that with this film there was only room for one director and that is Zack. I visited the set just to check it out and I got to see a combat scene and got to know some of the crew and cast, but this is Zack's movie from start to finish.
You have a very stylized graphic sense and this movie has its own stylized presentation. Is it important to have that sort of stylized presentation in bringing the action of "300" the graphic novel to the big screen, where as in other sword and sandals films it may not be as important?
I think it's very important. Most of what makes a comic book a comic book is the drawing. For instance, if "Sin City" were not drawn in such an abstract manner, it would be known just as a good crime book, I think, but instead it has an environment of its own. An even better example is "Calvin & Hobbes." Without Bill Watterson's amazing drawings and cartoons, it would have just been a forgotten, pretty funny strip. Instead it's beloved to this day.
How do you think "300" will play with audiences today? Back when you started the graphic novel, the world was in a very different place politically than it is now. Do you think it plays differently now?
It doesn't to me. If anything it might make it a little more compelling.
When was the last time you saw "300 Spartans," the movie that kind of inspired "300?"
Before I started the book. It had a lot of interesting failures in it that helped inform the book, but it's also the thing that inspired me to study the story. I remember it fondly. "300" doesn't resemble "300 Spartans."
You've been doing a lot of work in Austin, Texas with your "Sin City" collaborator Robert Rodriguez and don't spent much time with the Hollywood machine. "300" is much more of a Hollywood project than say "Sin City" was. What got you solidly behind this project?
It was the determination of three people that did it. Gianni Nunnari, who really spear headed the whole thing and pushed to make it happen. It was Mark Canton who believed in it and also pushed it and pushed it. And it was Zack Snyder who got it and really seemed ready to go.
You're set to write and direct Will Eisner's "The Spirit" film. How are you going to try to translate Eisner's vibe to the silver screen?
I'm going to take some of the lessons I've learned from Robert Rodriguez by using the comics as storyboards and doing my best to be as faithful as possible. Now, the tone I have in mind will probably surprise a lot of readers because they're used to the sort of kinder, gentler spirit that developed after Will got drafted. This is going to be a scarier take on it, much more like the early work.
Is there a particular storyline or a handful of storylines that you're considering adapting?
There's a couple. I want to use several of the femme fatales and the Octopus [a psychopathic criminal mastermind who was never seen, except for his distinctive gloves]. Right now I'm putting together how they're all going to come together.
Have you given any thought to how you plan to bring Eisner's graphic sense to the big screen? For instance, how Eisner would incorporate the Spirit logo as part of the city scape, stuff like that.
I'll do that. I won't beat you over the head with the logo, but in the same way Robert's people were able to capture the feel of "Sin City," I think capturing the more romantic look of Eisner's city will be a lot of fun. And it'll be filmed almost entirely with green screens.
Do you think that the green screen is now one of the most important tools in bringing a comic book movie to life?
Well, as a cartoonist, it certainly appeals to me more, but I'm not saying that this is the only way at all. Look at the very first "Superman" movie. It had very little blue screen used, but it's certainly a successful movie. I happen to love the visual style of comics and I find that superheroes tend to look a little sillier in real life.
From your personal relationship with Eisner, what did you learn about his thoughts on the character that are important for you to bring through with the final product?
We really didn't talk that much about the Spirit. He was mostly interested in his newer stuff. I mainly am operating on my own understanding and love of the material. What I bring here is a determination not to just do it justice, but to make it the Spirit.
I want to talk about timing a bit. So often a film is a product of its time. Why is now a good time for a movie like "300" to come out? Likewise for "The Spirit," why is now the right time to make this film?
In the case of "300," you've got 300 special ops up against boys from the middle east, but mainly it's a timeless tale. Some stories don't exist in real time and don't get dated. If this story hasn't gotten dated since 480 B.C., I think it holds up just fine.
In the case of "The Spirit," Will was so far ahead of his time that the rest of the comic book world had to catch up. I think, especially for the uninitiated, it'll be very surprising to see his thinking and visual work.
What's your work ethic like? Are mornings one thing, with afternoons another?
Well, if I did it better, my producer here would be much happier with me. [laughs] It's all a juggling act. The thing is, once you start production and begin shooting a movie, everything else has to fall away because you have to give it 100%.
What was your reaction when you were first asked to do "The Spirit?"
Well, when Mike Hughes approached me to write and direct "The Spirit," my reaction was two fold: first it was, "I can't do that" and my second was, "Nobody else gets to touch this thing!" So I took the job. [laughs]
There's been a lot of talk that for "Sin City 2" you'll be doing a Nancy Calahan story that you had in mind for a comic book. Will you also be doing that as a comic book as well?
Yes. Whenever I can get to it.
A couple of months ago I read you were fantasizing about casting Angleina Jolie as part of "Sin City 2." Is that a real possibility?
I certainly hope so.
Have there been any discussions with her?
Robert's discussed it with her, but I haven't.
What character would you like to see her play?
Allright, wrapping up, what was the first comic you ever bought?
I was really young, OK! [laughs] "Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes." The one I remember most vividly was an 80-Page giant of Batman reprints that I found in an old department store. It had all kinds of old Jerry Robinson stuff and it looked really scary and cool. I had to cough up $.25 cents for it!
Did that spark your interest at that particular point in time to start drawing?
My mother tells me I was six years old when I told her I'd be doing comic books for the rest of my life.