Talking with the Producers of "300"

Earlier this year during Comic-Con International, I had the chance to sit down with Producers Gianni Nunnari, Mark Canton and Deborah Snyder to discuss the upcoming Zack Snyder directed film based on the Frank Miller graphic novel "300." But a not-so-funny thing happened following Comic-Con - I misplaced one of my digital recorders. In all the running around and packing done during Comic-Con, I lost one of the three digital recorders I took on the trip. I knew I had packed it and didn't leave it behind, but for the life of me couldn't figure out what I did with it. Thankfully I was able to get most of the round table interviews conducted during the show from a friend, but I knew there was one exclusive interview that would remain lost if I never found the recorder. After some frantic searching, I gave up.

Then, last Friday, I was going through my luggage preparing for an upcoming trip and found it stuck in a crease at the bottom of the bag, completely hidden. It was like finding lost treasure, except without all the gold and what not. I powered the player up and sure enough I found the following interview, once thought lost.

The interview was conducted early Saturday afternoon during Comic-Con. A panel discussion was held in that giant Hall H right before the interview, but I wasn't able to attend it as I was stuck in my room working all that morning (one year I should share with you the insanity and hard work involved in covering a show like Comic-Con). I really wanted to attend the panel to see the first publicly shown footage from the movie, but duty called.

I was disappointed I didn't have time to see the footage. Back in January I flew to Montreal to visit the set of "300" and while I was there Deborah Snyder showed me some early test footage Snyder shot as a "proof of concept" for Warner Bros. This was footage shot well before production had begun in attempt to woo the Warner Bros. big wigs. It was an impressive fight sequence following a single Spartan warrior as he takes on one Persian warrior after another, finally culminating in a shot of one Spartan up against thousands. It was an impressive sequence, with vibrant colors and very stylized fighting. And while it was impressive itself, what you saw in the "300" trailer improves upon what they accomplished with the test footage greatly.

I tell you all this because I was concerned that once I walked in for the interview, Deborah or Gianni would ask me what I thought of the new footage compared to what they showed me back during my set visit. Sure enough, I was asked just that.

I walked into a private conference room at the convention center and at the end of this long room sat Nunnari, Canton and Snyder. As I entered, Deborah recognized me and said, "Jonah, you saw the early test footage when you visited us up in Montreal. What did you think of the footage we just showed downstairs?"

My worst fears were realized! I was forced to admit I wasn't able to get down to Hall H that morning and didn't see the footage.

At that moment, Nunnari - an exuberant, energetic and very engaging man - shot up from his seat and began a mock hissy fit, throwing his chair (lightly, mind you) and uttering incomprehensible curses my way, then stopped and asked with his deep Italian accent, "Jonah, I think I have an important question for you. You said you were working, right?" I said, "Well, yeah." "OK, what could you be doing that was fucking better than … [laughs]," he stopped, chuckled, threw up his hands and asked as if I had let down the entire world, "Why couldn't you have fucking been there?!?"

We all had a good laugh, Gianni quickly made sure I knew he was just messing around and we began our interview.

Allright, let's talk about global sensitivities and "300." This is a movie coming out at a time when global sensitivities are way out of whack and the entirety of the middle east is in a very uncertain place. As the producers of "300," is that something you have to concern yourselves with when releasing this film?

Canton: I think it's an advantage. I think the world is living the darkest of times and, oddly enough, every time I say that it gets darker. So, now we're in a real heightened sense of need and this story is all about people really drawing the line in the sand of democracy, freedom, sacrifice, nobility and honor. The themes are there. This is about standing up against those who'll do you wrong. To me, that's the emotional core, which we believe when you see the whole movie you'll be affected by.

Nunnari: And not just because of the war.. I think this story works everywhere.

Canton: Yes. And, by the way, this story is an important part of European history. While myself and Debbie may have primarily studied American history growing up, Gianni and those in Europe learned all about this battle. This was an enormous event for the rest of the world. Gettysburg was here, Thermopylae was there.

Nunnari: Why don't we do Gettysburgh next? [laughs]

Canton: I like it! Frank can draw it!

Deborah and Gianni, when we spoke on the set, one of the things you both said was a big hurdle you'd have to jump when promoting this film was educating the audience to understand this wasn't your typical sword and sandals film. There have been a few failures in the genre in recent years, but those were more straight forward epics while this is a different beast completely. As you've now wrapped principal photography and have had some time to think it over, what have you guys learned about how to promote this film?

Snyder: I think if you just look at the footage you'll say, "Woah, OK, there's this big monster, this guy with sword hands, the colors are different…" Even down to the fighting, it's a different way than we've seen things before. I think anything people will see related to "300" will alone show them how it's very different than anything they've seen before in this genre.

Nunnari: I don't think they'll ever do a sword and sandals film in the classic way again. It's like when they invented jeans - we went from normal pants to jeans. [laughs] It changed the world! [laughs]

Snyder: So, what, now we're jeans? [laughs]

When you read "300," was there anything that gave you a certain amount of anxiety in bringing it to the big screen? Did you ever have a, "Oh God, how do we get this on the screen" type moment?

Canton: Well, not really, but the romance wasn't in there originally. So, Zack went back and did his homework to keep up with the historical point of view of Frank Miller's and that was a really important thing to develop, the Queen Gorgo character. Her clarity and empowerment as a woman is very contemporary. Her clarity as a partner and as a wife, her role in what's going to happen and what's involved with the sacrifices she makes is important to the movie.

Snyder: And she makes a sacrifice that equals Leonidas and that was important in this movie filled primarily with men who are warriors. There are very few great, strong, powerful roles for women these days where the women can actually equal their male counterparts. It was really refreshing. Lena Headey, who plays the Queen, did an awesome job. You're not put off by her and you really see their partnership and as a woman that was important to me.

While this movie will undoubtedly catapult Gerard Butler's career into a new stratosphere, prior to "300" he wasn't all that well know, outside of his role as Phanton in 2004's "The Phantom of the Opera." During casting, what was it about Gerard that told you he was the right guy for this part?

Canton: Somewhere along the line in his challenging Zack to a sword fight [laughs] and leaping over my sofa in my office and screaming out that he was born to play this role, we came to believe it! [laughs] We knew right away and then the next step was to get Warner Bros. to agree. Yeah, he was the Phantom, of course, not many people know he was the Phantom. I've never heard him sing - I don't believe he can sing, especially with half a face! And how do you smoke and sing at the same time? [laughs] That's what I want to know.

You know, we had a moment. If it happens for him, like a Mel Gibson or a Russell Crowe, everyone works for their thing and then they find that character. The opportunity is there for him.

Snyder: It's also what helps make him such a believable Leonidas. You're not sitting there thinking it's Keanu or Brad Pitt. You buy into Gerry as Leonidas and his performance is stellar all the way through, as well as the rest of the cast. We got really lucky.

Canton: The acting is fantastic

Snyder: Absolutely. Even though we're living in this kind of fantastical world with hyper real colors and CG backgrounds, it's still at the heart all about the performances and they're really, I think, honest and emotional. I think that'll surprise audiences - there's an emotional component that most people won't expect.

Canton: The reality is there aren't that many movie stars. If the right one comes along at the right moment, you could have a very different conversation. At the end of the day you're not watching a movie star flounder in that cod piece. You're watching an emerging star in his cod piece.

Snyder: You're watching the king!

Canton: You're watching the king, exactly.

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