/Film Interview: ‘Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ Producer Nina Jacobson Talks IMAX, Marketing and ‘Mockingjay’
Posted on Thursday, November 21st, 2013 by Germain Lussier
If you’re looking for someone to credit for the success of The Hunger Games, producer Nina Jacobson is a good start. The former Disney executive turned producer was one of the main reasons Suzanne Collins‘ book got picked up by Hollywood. Now, with the release of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, she’s right in the middle of all the major discussions: casting new roles, filming in IMAX, keeping Francis Lawrence with the franchise, splitting Mockingjay, hiding the arena in the marketing, and changing the character of Finnick Odair.
We spoke to Jacobson about all of these things as well as a few more spoilery things about the end of Catching Fire. Read the full interview below.
While promoting the first movie, you were hesitant to talk about Catching Fire. At what point during the opening weekend did you think, ‘Okay, let’s move forward’?
Nina Jacobson: We knew we were going forward. We knew we were going forward even when we were doing the press for the movie the last time. But we were still focused, in a way, on just getting the movie out. We had a pretty short post so it was a bit of a race to the finish and we just hadn’t quite shifted gears emotionally so much at the last time to Catching Fire. But we knew we were going forward.
How did the decision to film in IMAX for this one come about?
The scale of this movie just offered great opportunities. So you have a movie in which you cross the country and see the rest of Panem. You spent a great deal of time in the Capitol with incredible spectacle, and then you have this unbelievable arena. It called out for the bigger screen and a great opportunity. I know many filmmakers, and shooting in IMAX is challenging. Filmmakers love the vividness and power of those big images. And so we wanted to at least render some of the sequences in by filming in IMAX as opposed to just printing at IMAX scale.
From a producing standpoint, what challenges does IMAX create?
Well the IMAX cameras are big and heavy. And they’re loud. So you have to be mindful of whether or not they’re worth it, I’d say the image quality is incredible and the scale is amazing. But, it’s a not as mobile of a unit and it is a louder camera so you’re having to loop lines and things like that. And just getting the crew in a groove, it can slow you down a bit. But it was worth it and we talked to people who had used it. Chris Nolan had used it and J.J. [Abrams] had used it. So we talked to people. We knew what to expect and we were ready. And it was absolutely a challenge worth meeting.
For those who don’t know the books, the trailers for both Hunger Games films give little idea the games are in the movie at all. In Hollywood, the typical approach seems to be to show more to get people into the theater. Why hide your big set pieces in the marketing?
Well I think that we’re fortunate in what people love about these books are the characters. And yes, the world is incredible, the set pieces are amazing, but the way in is [through] an emotional character based premise. You care about what’s going on between these people. And so [Lionsgate Marketing Executive] Tim Palen, I think, has focused at every turn on the emotional dynamics between the characters and then showing the scope and scale of the Victory Tour, which is more on display and also the growing stakes socially and politically. And then yes, this time is the first time that we showed any of the games in the trailers, but still just really quick little looks. So the people have something to look forward to. That should be the part of the fun of going to the movie theater is to see something you haven’t already seen in the trailer.
[SPOILERS for CATCHING FIRE follow]
There’s a lot to cover in this movie, and after all that story, even more happens in the last two minutes of the film. Did that pose challenges, to make sure it was very clear that Beetee was in on it, he got electrocuted, and all these little things?
Oh it’s tricky. It’s very tricky. A lot happens. I think Francis is a very exacting filmmaker in a good way. Not “exacting” in the way of being a sort of hardass, rigid, demanding person, because he is so not that. He is one of the most kind and gracious filmmakers I’ve ever worked with. But he very much wants to know that everything makes sense for real. “What is Beetee doing that you have to be able to read it? How’s Katniss going to do it?” He always wants things to be real. And he wants to shoot them as practically as possible. So, for that last sequence, it was incredibly hard to figure out how to actually create some of the canopy, the feeling of this canopy opening up. Even though of course it’s digital, but the much of the way that you see Katniss get yanked up on that crane, that’s all practical. So I think making sure the storytelling was clear, making sure the chaos of those last moments was created, so you’re in her shoes. She doesn’t understand everything. You might not understand everything. But then it all has to come into focus at the end. But as you know we also sort of leave you with a bit of a cliffhanger.
[END OF SPOILERS]
How did the deal to have Francis do the next films come about?
Truthfully we were only a couple months into pre-production when I knew that he was the right guy to do all of them. He just had incredible kinship with the material. An incredible, dynamic kind of respect and collaboration with Suzanne and with me. I knew actors were gonna love him. He had an exquisite reputation. Of people I’ve checked out, I’ve never seen somebody who people were so keen and passionate to tell you about their experience with him. And so we were a couple months into pre-production and the caliber of the work was so great I felt like “I just wanna go all the way with this guy.” I don’t want to have to give up and then change dance partners when we’re just getting in the groove.
What about the decision to split Mockingjay?
I think we just have a lot of story to tell. And whereas you can lose peripheral characters, you can lose peripheral plot elements in the first two books and still tell the stories very faithfully. That third book really demanded there’s too much story really to be crammed into one movie without it being a very long movie. It just felt like to do justice to the books that that was the way to go.
Sam Claflin is an interesting choice for Finnick. He wasn’t what I pictured, he’s great in the movie. It does seem like a decision was made to make him less cocky, less of an asshole than he is on the page.
[MINOR SPOILERS FOR CATCHING FIRE]
Well, for one, it was a very hard role to cast because a lot of the guys can do that kind of like cocky, sexy, rock star vibe, but don’t necessarily bring the humanity that is necessary for Mockingjay. So you have to cast the guy in Catching Fire who you know can be the character in Mockingjay. Who’s a character of great dimension, who has a lot more scars and a lot more dimension than you would expect when you first meet him. He’s putting on an act but we had to know our actor could take the character beyond through the whole journey.
But and the other reason I think, honestly, he might feel a little bit less cocky than he is in the book is because that sequence in the training section where he shows her how to tie the noose in the book [NOTE: Seen in the image at the top], we shot it and then we didn’t have time for it in the film. So it fell by the wayside, even though it’s a great scene. But that training section had its rhythm and we ended up losing one of the beats that is him as this kind of cocky, tricky, playful guy. And so we really had to rely on that sugar cube scene establishing him, but we didn’t have that second scene that also demonstrates that.
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