Thursday, June 13, 2013

Hot director Zack Snyder paints a powerful picture (2007)

(This was originally published six years ago. I watched “Man of Steel" last Tuesday, and remembered interviewing Ian Tracey, the unruly trucker in the film, and director Zack Snyder, years ago.)
By Oliver Pulumbarit
First Posted 18:50:00 03/02/2007

His feature film debut, the 2004 zombie flick “Dawn of the Dead,” showcased filmmaker Zack Snyder’s stylish storytelling chops. The horror movie was a hit, and Snyder would soon be counted among Hollywood’s most promising new directors. His penchant for briskly paced but suspenseful action sequences, together with his rock-and-roll visual sensibilities, make him the ideal choice to translate comic book visionary Frank Miller’s bloody epic, “300,” to the big screen.

The new movie, also co-written by Snyder, is swathed in muted colors and characterized by an unrelenting barrage of creative carnage. The adaptation chronicles the exploits of a defiant Spartan king and his army of 300 warriors, and stars Gerard Butler and Rodrigo Santoro as adversaries who command faithful foot soldiers.

Snyder, an award-winning commercial director, studied art at the Heatherlies School in London, and later, at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. He’s currently working on the movie version of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s groundbreaking “Watchmen” series, about the fateful dealings of gritty and realistic super-beings.

The filmmaker talked about “300” and his artistic idols in an exclusive phone interview, while in Beverly Hills, California.

   Was “300” easy to translate into a movie?
   It was challenging. Initially, after I first found the graphic novel, I couldn't think that Frank Miller would want me to do that as a movie. But Gianni Nunnari, our producer, got the rights to the movie. No one was doing it, not Spielberg or the other directors. My intention was to make the movie as similar to the graphic novel as I can. Frank's supportive of me; he respected me and understood that I was gonna do what I can with it.

   Were you involved with choosing the proper actors for “300”?
   I was. It’s totally my cast. I got all the people I wanted in it. After I met Gerry (Butler), it was easy to work with him, and the job he did in it was fantastic. He embraced the role and the character of King Leonidas. He carried the graphic novel around with him.

   How have critics responded to the movie?
   The critics are a hard crowd to please, but we had a screening yesterday and they were applauding and screaming! My hope is that people watch it to have an experience that they’ve never had in the movies.

   You’re currently working on “Watchmen.” Please tell us about that.
   It’s going good! We’re working on the script. We’re drawing. We’re doing it right now. That’s the only thing I’m working on right now. I’m a comic book fan, and it’s the king-daddy of them all. I think “Watchmen” is the only work by Alan Moore that I’m interested in doing, also since the others have been done already.

   Are you interested in working on your own comic book title, eventually?
   I don’t know. I’m a huge fan of graphic novels and comic books. But I feel that, right now, as far as my aesthetic goes, “Watchmen” fills my mind. But sure, if I’m offered, I’d do it.

   What got you into reading them?
   I grew up reading Heavy Metal. My mother got it for me. She didn’t know that it was too violent and too sexy! Whenever I got “X-Men,” “Wolverine,” normal comics she bought for me, I didn’t like them. But when Frank Miller and Alan Moore came along, I started liking comic books a lot.

   Since you like Heavy Metal, you must be familiar with fantasy painter Frank Frazetta.
   I love Frazetta! He’s a big influence on “300.”

   How old are you? You look pretty young.
   I’m 41. I look like a young guy! And I act like one, too.

   When you switch off your filmmaker side, what keeps you busy?
   I play Gears of War on my Xbox. It lets me unwind. I train at the gym a lot. I also read books; I’m constantly looking at them. Other than comic book fare, I like biographies, history books and war novels. I like Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian.” I recommend it!

   How is your knowledge in painting helpful to you as a director?
   As far as my personal aesthetic goes, it’s part of what I see. In that way, it’s not necessarily a tool. I tend to not turn it off when I’m looking at things.

   Judging by the movie, you certainly can appreciate Lynn Varley’s colors on “300.”        
   Oh my god. She’s amazing!

   Was it difficult to recreate that mood when you used a lot of blue screen shots, where elements were added later?
   It’s hard, but very rewarding. It’s rewarding because of the potential and endless possibilities, and working that way enabled me to realize what I imagined. I’ve done a lot of commercials on exotic locations, but they’re landscapes, instead of blue screens.

   How do you feel about being able to express yourself in the film medium?
   It’s a privilege and an honor to be in a position like I’m in. There’s no better place and resource. The studio people have been helpful. They’ve been incredible. I did a deal with Warner Bros.; I have a company, Cruel and Unusual Films. We have a two-year, overall production deal, and “300” is the first film.

   Who’s your biggest artistic influence?
   My mother is my biggest influence. She’s a painter and a photographer. She encouraged me to paint and draw. She bought me a camera when I was 9 years old.

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