Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What 300 Can Teach Us about Storytelling by Diane Gaston Perkins

In its opening weekend, the movie 300 earned a whopping $70.9 million, the best March opening ever. I did my part! In fact, I’ve seen 300 three times now. I LOVED THIS MOVIE. It is no secret that I’m a card-carrying Gerard Butler fan, so I was primed to love the movie, but even I was surprised it was as good as it was.

For those who may not know, 300 is based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller. It tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, when 300 Spartans sacrificed their lives battling the largest Persian army ever assembled. This battle is considered a pivotal event in history preserving Western Civilization. The movie was filmed against a blue screen; the setting and special effects were computer generated, making it a whole new movie-going experience.

The movie is visually stunning and the performances are superb. I was totally sucked in to the world that was created. What was it about this movie that worked so well for me?

Anyone who has seen photos like this one cannot deny the appeal of all those fantastic male physiques. Gerard Butler is truly magnificent looking. But, at least for me, the actors quickly became Spartan soldiers and I forgot it was Gerry Butler and felt like I was watching King Leonidas.

But what can I learn about storytelling from 300?

1. Have something HUGE at stake. In 300, what is at stake is Greek freedom from the Persians. History tells us that perhaps the whole of Western Civilization was in the hands of the brave 300.

2. Have strong universal themes. In 300, it is very clear to me that the themes are of honor and sacrifice, to do what is right no matter what the cost. As Leonidas said, “Spartans never retreat. Spartans never surrender. Spartans die.”

3. Also have something at stake that is more personal, more human. The movie makers used the strong love between Leonidas and his wife, Gorgo, in this way. In part, you know that each are fighting for the survival of the other.

4. Make your love scene count for something more than a love scene. Too often we read love scenes that are just kinda stuck in a story, but in 300, it is as Leonidas comes to bed with his wife that he makes his decision of whether to fight or not. Gorgo asks him, “Ask yourself, my dearest love, what would a free man do?”

5. Have a worthy villain. The comic-book version of Xerxes, as all good comic books do, is an over-the-top, fantasy character who is deliciously sinister and seductively tempting. Add that he commands a million soldiers, he seems more than a worthy adversary to King Leonidas, who looks as invincible as a man can look.

6. Make every minor character as vivid as you can. One of the things that so impressed me about 300 was how the movie makers, in very light strokes--a few scenes, a bit of dialogue--made us care about the Spartan soldiers, made us boo Xerxes minions.

7. Create images that are memorable. The movie makers did this with their computer images, but as writers, we do this with our words. We ought to use language that creates vivid images; create lines that readers will remember.

I said this same thing after watching Phantom of the Opera--maybe there is more to learn from the movie than I’ve noticed so far. Maybe I should go see it again. Anybody want to go with me? Let’s go to an IMAX theater this time!

Did you see 300? Not everyone gushes about it as I do. What did you think?
What elements of storytelling do you think are important?


This blog is also posted at Wet Noodle Posse


DLSPBS said...

i agree with everything you have put forth !!!
that said, if you know anything at all about the character of GB
then you know that KING LEONIDAS and GB are one in the same soul .
The drive that they both possess are one in the same !!!

DLSPBS said...

70% - MALE

Lois said...

I'll definitely go to see Phantom, IMAX or not!!! :) But then, you know me. . . :)

While I'm not a writer, sure there is something similiar to books and 300 (or any movie) - they are start off written and they all have to have a story, a beginning, end, middle, plot, excitment, wonder and all the like. Just sure, not ever story is a HEA or good doesn't always triumph over evil or the like, but it's all put on paper the same way. ;)

Lois, the GB Phantom fan

Diane Perkins said...

DLSPBS, I see we are kindred spirits. Tarts to the core!!! I think it is a testament to Gerry's acting skill that I forgot it was Gerry and BELIEVED it was Leonidas!!! (you lucky Tart seeing 300 in an IMAX!)

Oh, Lois, what I would give to see Phantom of the Opera in a movie theatre, any movie theatre!

Angeleno said...

How lovely to find another Gaston in Gerry's camp (my surname as well)! I loved your take on storytelling above. Very interesting!

I had the good fortune to see 300 in IMAX on opening night with a hundred or so other GB fans and a sold-out crowd here in LA, and it was everything I had hoped it would be. It is just stunningly beautiful! As highly stylized as it is, I was surprised at how emotionally drawn in I was by the end, and I believe nearly all the credit for that belongs to Gerry. He is quite simply the beating heart of 300.

And Diane, I hope you get to see Phantom in a theater one of these days!

Marcy, Los Angeles

Marg said...

Diane, you hit it right on the head. I was gob-smacked by the Phantom and am a huge fan of GB also. I have seen 300 6 times, once on IMAX. I would love to see POTO on IMAX! Gerry always becomes the character he is portraying, making it his own. There was nothing I didn't like about 300...it was poetry in motion.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Diane. I had no idea. I imagine all you historical writers as ballroom and lace kind of gals. But 300 is historical too, I suppose...

I wasn't going to see 300 because I so despised Sin City, which is made by the same team. But now, well, how can I not go?

Thanks for all the pictures. Sure woke me up this morning.

--Diana Holquist
Make Me a Match, in stores now
Sexiest Man Alive, coming Oct 07

Diane Perkins said...

Marcy!! You are a Gaston, too!!!! It is not a common name. Maybe loving Gerry runs in the family!!

Marg, you saw 300 SIX times and an IMAX showing too! I'm all envy.

Diana, Sin City is made from a Frank Miller graphic novel, but Zack Snyder, the director of 300, is best known for directing Dawn of the Dead. It is a very different movie going experience.

And to see how I connect 300 and the Regency, to go Risky Regency Blog.

Megan Crane said...

Oh, I loved this movie so much!

I saw it twice in rapid succession, and definitely want to go again.

Love, love, love.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled onto your blog because I was looking for news on Gerry and I was like Diane Perkins, why does that name seem so familiar? Then I saw the book covers on the side of the page and I was like, hey I just got her book yesterday! I haven't finish your book yet, but its good to know that a fellow GB fan wrote it. I love love love 300! I watched the movie 3 times already, the first time was at the Hollywood premiere. I did see Gerry and he was beautiful! *thud*


Candy Halliday said...

Wow, Diane!

Megan caught my interest with her hunky photos.

And now you've pointed out all of the reasons why I HAVE to see 300.

And, of course, there is Gerry. :)


Diane Perkins said...

Wow how's that for synergy! I hope you enjoy the book. If you do, look for my Diane Gaston books from Harlequin Historicals.


This should teach you to always listen to me!


Liz Fielding said...

The old movie is wonderful, too, despite Robert Taylor as Leonidas(I never could take to him). The story is just so epic. It has everything. Thanks for breaking it down into its constituent parts, too.

Can't wait to see 300.