‘Hunger Games: Catching Fire’: Francis Lawrence adapts to Panem life

Nov. 01, 2013 | 9:43 a.m.

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Murray Close / Lionsgate)

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Murray Close / Lionsgate)

Mags (Lynn Cohen), left, and Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Murray Close / Lionsgate)

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Murray Close / Lionsgate)

Josh Hutcherson, left, Elizabeth Banks and Jennifer Lawrence in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Murray Close / Lionsgate)

Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in a scene from "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Murray Close / Lionsgate)

President Snow (Donald Sutherland), left, and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Murray Close / Lionsgate)

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), front, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) in a scene from "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Murray Close / Lionsgate)

Stanley Tucci and Josh Hutcherson in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Murray Close / Lionsgate)

Jennifer Lawrence and Willow Shields in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Lionsgate)

Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Banks and Josh Hutcherson in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Lionsgate)

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Woody Harrelson in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Lionsgate)

Sam Claflin and Jennifer Lawrence in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Murray Close / Lionsgate)

Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Murray Close / Lionsgate)

Sam Claflin, left, director Francis Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Jennifer Lawrence on the set of "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Lionsgate)

"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" actress Jennifer Lawrence, left, and director Francis Lawrence on the film's set. (Lionsgate)

Director Francis Lawrence, center, with actors Liam Hemsworth and Jennifer Lawrence on the set of "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Murray Close / Lionsgate)

"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" director Francis Lawrence on the film's set. (Murray Close / Lionsgate)

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark and Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in a poster for "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Lionsgate)

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in a poster for "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Lionsgate)

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark in a poster for "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Lionsgate)

Stephanie Leigh Schlund as Cashmere in a poster for "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Lionsgate)

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in a poster for "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Lionsgate)

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark in a poster for "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Lionsgate)

Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne in a poster for "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Lionsgate)

Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket in a poster for "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Lionsgate)

Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair in a poster for "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Lionsgate)

Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy in a poster for "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Lionsgate)

Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman in a poster for "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Lionsgate)

Jena Malone as Johanna Mason in a poster for "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Lionsgate)

Donald Sutherland as President Snow in a poster for "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Lionsgate)

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark and Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in a poster for "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Lionsgate)

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark and Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in a poster for "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Lionsgate)

The color wasn’t finished. The visual effects were not complete. The score, temporary. Yet those details seemed to be of little consequence to director Francis Lawrence, who chose a fine summer day to open up his edit bay and show off his work in progress, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.”

While other filmmakers might be stressed over the work to be done on such an eagerly awaited film — let alone the inherent pressure of taking over a beloved franchise — the 42-year-old Austrian director gleefully cued up scene after scene of heroine Katniss Everdeen facing the repercussions of having manipulated a government-sanctioned death match in the first film.

Dressed casually in a blue button-down shirt, jeans and sneakers, Lawrence is relaxed, even a little excited by the footage — a fanboy given the keys to the kingdom.

“I really latched on to the themes of the books overall, and I was excited to grow and create this world and cast new people,” Lawrence said.

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But condensing a 143-page script into a 2-hour, 15-minute movie is going to call for hard decisions. “It’s a real challenge to keep everything in,” Lawrence acknowledged. “There are a few scenes that didn’t make it.”

His sanguine disposition is a far cry from April 2012, when he was waiting to hear whether he had landed the coveted job of replacing “Hunger Games” director Gary Ross as the helmer of the series. Ross had abruptly dropped out of the sequel, citing unrealistic time constraints from Lionsgate, even as the first film was reaping its box-office coin (it went on to gross more than $400 million domestically).

Lawrence, best known for his work on the Will Smith starrer “I Am Legend” and the recent “Water for Elephants,” was keyed up for the job. The second film in the series was a chance to expand upon a world that already meant so many things to so many people, and Lawrence specifically connected to author Suzanne Collins’ overall themes about the consequences of war. (Lawrence is also on board to direct the next two films, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay” Parts 1 and 2.)

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In “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” Katniss (played by Jennifer Lawrence, no relation to the director) must contend with her time in the arena, where she was forced to kill other teens or be killed herself. Her rebellious actions, outwitting the masters of the game and the nation’s rulers, have now sparked talk of revolution among the oppressed citizens of Panem, prompting President Snow (Donald Sutherland) to bring Katniss and past victors of the savage entertainment back into the Hunger Games arena to fight again.

"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" actress Jennifer Lawrence, left, and director Francis Lawrence on the film's set. (Lionsgate)

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” actress Jennifer Lawrence, left, and director Francis Lawrence on the film’s set. (Lionsgate)

When Lawrence was hired to direct, Lionsgate Studio had a hard start date just 20 weeks out. But he felt the original script, commissioned by Ross for writer Simon Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire”), was too far afield from the original “Catching Fire” text. So he and Collins spent a weekend in New York poring over the book, creating an outline of all the moments the duo wanted to hit in the film — the after-effects of war, including the post-traumatic stress suffered by Katniss, her fellow survivor Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and their mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson).

With outline in hand, the pair brought in Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt to rework the script and invent new scenes that articulate the machinations between Snow and his new gameskeeper, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Coupled with a $140-million budget (far more than the first film’s $80 million), the result is a film with broader scope and scale that expands on author Collins’ themes and the physical world of Panem. Lawrence is hopeful audiences will respond.

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“I really liked the book, and I really wanted to make the book. I didn’t want to reinvent,” he said. “There is always some true adaptation to be done when you are distilling a 400-page book to a two-hour movie, but I think everybody will be really excited.”

– Nicole Sperling | @LATHeroComplex

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Comments


3 Responses to ‘Hunger Games: Catching Fire’: Francis Lawrence adapts to Panem life

  1. Dom says:

    Jennifer Lawrence is da bomb!!!

  2. Ruby says:

    Wow, that's amazing! They [director and author] should have done the same with the Percy Jackson movie series so it wouldn't suck as much as it does. It's such a waste of good movie material.

    Kudos to Suzanne Collins, Francis Lawrence and Michael Arndt! You all rock!

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