The Hollywood Reporter recently went behind the scenes with ‘The Hunger Games’, the next movie franchise ready to hit the screen this March. A lot has been said about the Hunger Games, from the trailer being released on Good Morning America, to Simon Beaufoy coming in to pen the second part of the series Catching Fire. Here, we find out more as to what is going on behind the scenes of the newest phenomenon.
The stakes are a bit higher with the Hunger Games, with Lionsgate and Summit keeping their fingers crossed that another Twilight craze is about to occur. Since 23.5 million copies of the popular trilogy sold as of January, producers are hopeful. “After the trailer launched Nov. 14, we had 8 million views in the first 24 hours,” says Lionsgate Films president Joe Drake. “We were the No. 1 Twitter trend on the planet. Since then, the book sales have jumped 7.5 million copies. That kind of data gives us enormous confidence.” Lionsgate needed the boost in publicity, after the film flops of ‘Abduction’ and ‘Conan the Barbarian‘.
Director Gary Ross is known for his two films ‘Seabiscuit’ and the ever popular ‘Pleasantville’. He even admits that “You wouldn’t look at a premise like ‘Hunger Games’ and think Gary Ross.” It took a very passionate two hour speech from Ross to convince the producers to give him the project. Producer Nina Jacobson said “You could really feel his passion, and it was channeled through the young people in his life.” After Ross was signed on, he was fully committed, rewriting the script originally penned by Billy Ray, even after Suzanne Collins herself penned a draft. He knew he was being held to a strict budget, as making the film cost $90 million – $78 million after subsidies.
You might notice some familiar landmarks in the film, such as China’s Tiananmen Square, as idea playgrounds for The Capitol. But mainly, Ross wanted to get the story across. “It’s such a beautiful story about someone who has to learn to trust, who cares only about herself and her sister and learns to care about other people.”
Jennifer Lawrence has taken the lead as 16 year old Katniss Everdeen, the girl on fire. There were three big names originally attached to the role: Abigail Breslin of ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, Shailene Woodley of ‘The Decendents’, and Hailee Steinfeld of ‘True Grit’, but Ross felt none of them had the presence that Katniss required. Lawrence wasn’t jumping for joy when she was offered the part though, in fact, she waited before accepting. She feared the pop culture whirlwind that Kristen Stewart had suffered by taking on the role of Bella in ‘Twilight’. “It was the middle of the night in England, and I was in bed when I got the call,” she recalls. “I was so in love with the books and the script, and suddenly it was right in my face — and the size of the decision was terrifying.” Her mother was the one to change her mind though, reminding her that it doesn’t matter the size of the film as long as she’s doing what she loves. It almost still didn’t happen for Lawrence as days before shooting she hit a wall…literally. At the end of her 6 week training period, Lawrence was skilled at using the bow and arrow, running and wall jumping. One little mistake almost ended it for her, as she was doing a wall run she missed, catching the wall with her stomach. “My trainer thought I had burst my spleen. I had to get a CAT scan and go into a tube where they put this fiery liquid in your body.” Luckily for Lawrence, her role in ‘X-Men: First Class had her bulked up already, sparing any severe injuries.
The shoot itself was challenging while filming in the mountains. Ross himself lost 25 pounds, which he jokes that he wanted to lose that anyway. There were 100 degree days with bears, over 300 bears, that appeared when food did. It rained daily, almost on schedule at 4:00 pm. Between the rain and the lighting, there was only about 4 or 5 hours of good shooting time for the team each day. Josh Hutcherson, who plays Peeta Mellark, said Ross was good about everything, “He always had a smile on his face”, even during the harder days. “It was like going to work on a Stanley Kubrick film every day; the creepiness actually intrigued me,” Ross says. Although still, he admits, “all of us were done with it by the end of the shoot.”
The Hunger Games is set for release on March 23rd, which the studio projects to do well. Viral marketing has helped, with a District 12 Facebook page where they have voted Mayors of each district, and a Capitol Couture site that is being treated like a fashion magazine. But will it stack up to ‘Twilight’s 2.2 billion worldwide take? Lionsgate is hopeful, projecting $150 million domestically. Ross continues to be a fan of the series himself, in awe of the story. “It’s so cinematic and has such a human directorial canvas — the relationships, the depth, the intimate moments,” he says. “You rarely find all that in a single movie, along with this kind of Roman spectacle, what entertainment as a political device can devolve to. That’s a really interesting idea. It’s Survivor at large.”