“You want to take this outside?” Frank Miller says to me.
Dinner’s over, and so is the visit to the set of 300. The visiting journalists have been taken to dinner at a French place a couple of frozen, icy blocks away from the hotel*, and we were joined by the producers and Frank Miller. I’m seated a little way down the long table from Miller, and spend most of the dinner in a very pleasant conversation with the lovely Helen O’Hara of Empire Magazine, but in true starfucker style, I’m always thinking about how to best get near Miller.
My opportunity comes at dessert. Some people leave, some seats get switched, and after a quick trip to the bathroom, I’m seated across from Miller. We talk politics (he calls terrorists “mujhadeen” and says they should have their own airplanes and let ours be explosion-free) and comics and TV. I don’t know how the conversation got to the Olsen Twins and Full House, but it’s when I say that I heard the idea for A Dame to Kill For came from Mary Kate Olsen that Miller invites me outside to tango. He’s joking of course – there’s no Dreyfussian punch in this story.
Dinner’s a little crazy in general. We’re all exhausted – the set visit ran almost nine hours, which is like a marathon where these things are concerned. And I don’t know about everybody else, but I have been keeping up a steady alcohol intake to fight off the creeping Canadian cold. After dinner Miller takes his leave and a few of us are left to fend for ourselves, and to have adventures that, for the sake of avoiding international prosecution, can never be written about.
In the last installment we ended as the group was leaving Mark Twight’s gym, just moments before being yoked to giant cubes of concrete and being forced to drag them around the room. Our next stop is the special effects depot, a place where I feel right at home. I don’t know if it is the life-sized horse corpse (they had used them in other films, like The Last Samurai) or the miniature of a tree with dozens of corpses hanging from it. Maybe it’s the giant animatronic wolf who, even when still, is terrifying. But it’s probably the guys impaled on spikes through their mouths who gave the room that atmosphere I find so homey.
Mark Rappaport is the guy in charge of the creature shop, and he shows us around. The spiked bastards are Persian scouts who were shown some down home Spartan hospitality. The wolf, he tells us, was a five man operation, and it has a fully articulated tongue. For the ladies, doncha know. The creature FX guys also worked on the hunchback Ephialtes and a satyr who shows up in an orgy. An orgy with a man-goat? Obviously these guys have been to Comic Con.
After the creatures we head to make-up and hair. It’s not a terribly fascinating place – chairs in front of mirrors with the kinds of make-up I used to play with as a kid (when I wanted to be Dick Smith, not when I wanted to be dicked by Smith, funny guy). Except that the make-up area on 300 has one very special treat – a room filled with nothing but scars. When your cast is a bunch of mostly naked warriors, you’re going to need a lot of scars. And this room has a lot of scars. How many? Let’s put it this way – Seal’s face has nothing on this room. The scars hang from wax paper, carefully arranged so that the make-up artists can grab the proper damage for each actor. Every day – and sometimes multiple times during the day – new scars are applied. That’s the problem with actors today, though… they want to use make-up for scars and they aren’t willing to go Method for their craft.
Next up, just before lunch, is the wardrobe room. Rows upon rows of costumes hang everywhere, along with sandals and boots and capes and something else. Something intangible. Something omnipresent. A stink. The wardrobe room stinks. It stinks so badly that I feel my stomach start to tremble and quiver. We are being shown things, but all I can focus on are the bags filled with filthy socks, which is surely only a part of the malodorous situation in the wardrobe room. I don’t want to cast aspersions on the good people who work there, and I don’t want to pretend like I’m some kind of neat freak who has ever had a bad smell generated from his person, but the truth of the matter is that the stench is almost overpowering. As a result, I don’t know what the hell happens in that room – it was like getting a nose full of some jungle fungus and tripping out for twenty minutes.
Which might be part of the reason why I am so hungry when it came time to eat lunch. Lunch is almost always a treat on set visits – they feed these people quite well, with a multitude of options when it comes to salad, the main meal and even dessert. The lunch room is set up much like your high school cafeteria, with long tables all over the place. Crew and cast sit together, except for one group, who dine in a curtained area. And who have their own food. It’s the stunt guys, and their food is some kind of high protein or high carb stuff. Many of them are dressed like Immortals, the monstrous Persians who wreak serious havoc on the Spartans, even when they’re at lunch. This is what a movie set is supposed to be like – guys eating while still in monster costumes!
After lunch we have our interviews (read Frank Miller here), and after that is the final bit of the tour – the actual set itself. Next time I’ll tell you about the wall of corpses and the massive battle we see filmed, and finish things off with an interview with director Zach Snyder.
*The doorman at the hotel seems terribly lonely. So much so that, after we ask him where the restaurant is, he leaves his post and walks us all the way. It’s so uncomfortable – are we supposed to invite him for a bite? And what sort of a tip do you give a doorman for escorting you three blocks through downtown Montreal? The answer in my case: ‘Get some friends.’