Set Visit: 300

December 2005: This was a first for me in six years of working at JoBlo.com. I attended a set visit that actually took place in my hometown of Montreal, Canada. Full circle, baby! I can now die in peace. The set in question was for 300, a cinematic adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel of the same name which itself is based on a true historical account.

The $60-70 million budgeted flick (which had a two month pre-production period) is directed by madman Zack Snyder (Who helmed the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake) and stars Gerard "Heed my words, he will be a huge star soon" Butler (Phantom of the Opera, Attila, Dracula 2000). What's the film about? Read on!


Based on the epic graphic novel by Frank Miller, 300 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.


Taking into account the last wave of boring sword and sandals opus', I wasn't really looking forward to 300. That's until I heard and saw how they would execute the picture. Taking their cue from another Miller film adaptation SIN CITY, they're doing the whole of the film with blue screen. While on location, the only three "real" sets that I saw were "a rubber hill", "the wall of death" (a wall made of countless human cadavers...great stuff!) and the the "outline of a room" (defined by three long, carved with designs and semi circular spikes erected upwards). All of the backgrounds will be virtual.

Character replication is another technique that they'll use to bring this tale to life where they'll take a handful of real actors and increase their numbers via CG to make armies. What started to get me real excited about the film though was hearing that they're aiming for a unique look for it by crushing the image in post-production; acquiring a vibe akin to a water color painting in the process. WOW! Should look slick! And hearing that they're aiming for a lean (no 3-hour epic here) and mean (gory as hell) adventure...sealed my deal. I am now officially stoked.


To be up to the arduous shoot, the actors had to train hard, I'm talking Rocky in the woods in Rocky 4 hard. We met the trainer Mark Twight and he revealed that his goal was to have the actors get physically fit, not bulked with useless muscles. The training was fairly hardcore, with much suffering and vomiting taking place; especially in the beginning. A quick training session would take as little as 5 minutes while a long training period would go as long as 20 minutes. Sounds like peanuts, right? Think again. I've jolted down the training regime for ya while nobody was looking:

SPARTAN UP TRAINING: 24 pull ups - 50 deadlifts - 50 push ups (sometimes on handle bars) - 50 box jumps - 50 floor wipers (dragging a huge tire attached to one's waist across the room and back) - 50 kettle bar clean n' press and 25 pull ups. And yes that makes 300 reps in all! Get it! 300!

Quality and intensity were the key, not length. And having seen Gerard Butler wielding his sword around, basically shirtless; I can vouch for it working. Butler was a Man-imal! INCREDIBLY BUFF!! Like a true leader, director Zack Snyder trained as well; often being the first man in the gym, setting an example to his actors. I respect that!


Was I at the Circus? Nope, just the 300 set. On my trek, I met up with IMMORTALS: think the bad guys from the ROAD WARRIOR with "Gothy" makeup and eerie silver masks in tow. Then I met their leader UBER IMMORTAL, nice 7"2 fellow whose face makeup was akin to a cross between "Yellow Bastard" in Sin City and a citizen of the "Nightbreed" universe. Word has it that the latter will have a big mano-a-mano rumble (the biggest battle in the film they say) against the lead King Leonidas. My money is on Leonidas and his biceps!

I saw a picture of one villain in light yellow garb as well. He sported 33 body piercings on his body and looked "out there" to say the least. Another character we'll find in the film is named THE HUNCHBACK. He's from the graphic novel, has one huge eye, one normal eye and a mangled face. Two actors will play the role, one physical for the wide shots, another "emotional actor" for the close-ups. They went the prosthetic way with him since the film was so CG heavy already...good move.


Lots of effects work going down on this set! I'm talking miniature human puppets which will be used to represent a "mass hanging", an uber-realistic animatronics wolf head/torso (had 20 facial animations and drooled on cue) and a couple of lifelike Persian Soldier Dummies with spears coming out of their mouths! The party continued with countless handmade latex scars, a half man/half goat dummy (who partakes in an orgy in the film...kinky) and full bodied horse dummies which will be used for the horse crashing to the ground scenes. NOTE: One horse actually flips into a crowd of Spartans at a certain point in the film...fun times!


Swords, shields, spears all made of some kind of plastic. The designs were derived from historical books and of course, Miller's graphic novel. They had 125 shields, 250 spears and 75 swords (no I didn't count them, I was told). The shields had 3 stages to them, more battered each time after every battle (all 3 of them). Some of the props were leftovers from the flop ALEXANDER which they juiced up design-wise for this film. The Persian shields were draped in cow skin with black and white motif and all.


In short, the Persians were all covered up. The Spartans were pumped, basically naked, sporting red capes, loin cloths and helmets. The costumes were inspired from the graphic novel, history books and designed for high impact i.e. edgy, cool and low on details.


I know that they've added a RHYNO to the mix and an odd beast/human like entity named the TORTURER. The Torturer was tall, bald and had blades as hands with which he cut people's heads off. There was also a dynamic duo of ARMLESS GIANTS with ARROW SLINGING MIDGETS sitting on their shoulders. A couple of journalists on the scene (me included) were reminded of Master Blaster and his little friend from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome when seeing the design for them. NOTE: QUEEN GORGO, who was in one panel in the comic, sees her part considerably expanded in the film.


The cherry on top of my set visit had to do with this clip. You see, to sell Warner Brothers on financing and distributing the film, the filmmakers put together an 8-minute clip about what the film would look like and how the Blue Screen technique would come across. The scene itself had a Spartan fighting off countless Persians in gory and brutal glory. The action was heavy on "speed ramping" (slow motion to fast motion and so forth), but I was told that they overdid it for the clip on purpose since it was just 8 minutes long.

Having killed his immediate attackers, the Spartan then joined his gang of 300 and they all faced a mammoth army of Persians. Countless arrows and spears were then shot into the air by the Persians and they fell onto the small group of Spartans; sending them to the afterlife...not before they screamed "Die Free!" of course.

I dug the clip in its energy, aesthetics and graphic violence, but it looked too much like an XBOX game to me. With that said, we were told that the clip was done early and that the technology has since evolved considerably. So what we saw was not exactly what the film would deliver...and you know what...I bought it!

Eating lunch on the set of 300!


Source: JoBlo.com



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